Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Wizard's Son (Volume 3), Margaret Oliphant

This is the third volume of Margaret Oliphant's trilogy, The Wizard's Son. It is available freely on

While the books are not bad, this will be the last book of Oliphant's that I read. It was closer to a romance than it was much of a fiction about the occult.

The Warlock himself never seems so terrible. He has certain powers of being able to appear and disappear within a certain distance of the ruined castle. He does push Walter to marry for money. However, none of this is worse than a father doing the same for his son. He seems to hold no malice. An accident years before befell the previous lord and his love interest, however it would appear that it was an accident and that the warlock had not really meant for that to happen.

The scene during the climax of the story takes place in the tower. The setting itself has a vestige of interest to me:
A great telescope occupied a place in the centre of the room, and various fine instruments, some looking like astronomical models, stood on tables about. The curtained walls were hung with portraits, one of which she recognised as that of the last Lord Erradeen. And in the centre of all supported on a table with a lamp burning in front of it, the light of which (she supposed), blown about by the sudden entrance of the air, so flickered upon the face that the features seemed to change and move, was the portrait of Walter.
 These instruments seem to be that of science. Like how the Catholics of Galileo's day shut him up in a tower to gaze at the stars. This is contrasted with religion later on about how God basically saves them and they live happily ever after with generous hearts to serve the poor and needy.

The warlock himself disappears from the area at the end, and really does very little to fight against the couple. He does resist, but no more so than any other parent might want to when a couple wants to get married that is not of their choosing. What's more, considering that he has a portrait of Walter on the wall, it would seem that he had some care for him and that he never intended him any harm. Indeed, throughout the three books, there was never a sense that the warlock wanted evil for him or wished any harm to him. In volume two, he even said that he appreciated the good that Walter had done for the poor on his estate, and that he wanted Walter to be the face of good for him.

I think if I had been in Walter's shoes, I would have been fascinated with such a warlock. I would have loved to discuss his philosophies, learned his interests, competed (perhaps poorly) in a good game of chess. In any case, the end is that Oona sets fire to the castle tower, and there must have been some kind of explosives to cause such a big explosion. By pure 'luck' or 'grace of God' they both manage to survive the blast.

I am disappointed with this story, even if it was fairly well written. It would be like ordering a spicy meal only to discover that a mere sprinkle of spice was added. It just didn't meet my expectation. I do not recommend it. I say that despite the fact that Oliphant was a skilled narrator.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Wizard's Son (Volume 2), Margaret Oliphant

This is the second volume of The Wizard's Son trilogy. It can be found and downloaded at

The second volume is almost exclusively that of character development. Walter spends much of his time pursuing his old habits, but at a higher cost. Instead of winning or losing pennies and nickles, he loses pounds.

However, he does meet with some reputable people and becomes a part of the upper social class. He becomes involved with a woman, Katie Williamson, who is from his area of Scotland. Mr. Williamson, her father, likes Walter quite a bit, as does Katie. But, the two never do fall in love. Nevertheless, he is ready for a marriage, but their relationship is interrupted by Julie, a previous friendship. Julie wants him not because of love, either, but because of the wealth and prestige.

Mr. Williamson is vastly wealthy, owning a new and modern castle, a steam yacht (at that time probably the height of private technology). Mr. Williamson does not need wealth from the marriage, but rather aspires to have a title for his daughter. Due to Julie, however, that aspiration is unlikely to take place. She interfered at the only time that Walter might have made a bid for her hand in marriage.

Slowly he is growing stronger, mentally. He voluntarily reengages with the ghostly warlock and refuses to pander to the warlock's demands. However, he is emotionally distraught, as the warlock is able to pick him apart for a do-nothing. He wants to do the right things, but is thus far always negligent and lazy.

This trilogy is not what I had hoped it would be: that of a wizard hero. But, Oliphant is a skilled narrator and character developer. I don't know if, after having finished the trilogy, if I will go on to read more of her works. The 'weird/horror' is there, but it is not very strong or very weird. However, I hold out hope that volume three will be different.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Wizard's Son (Volume1), Margaret Oliphant

This is a trilogy. There are three parts to the trilogy. The author is Margaret Oliphant. I'm not sure where I heard her name before. I found appeal in the title of the trilogy. Also, most of the writers that I read are male, and I need to read more works by female authors. She was a prolific writer and there is much material to enjoy available freely online. The Wizard's Son (volume 1) can be found freely on

This is a superficial remark: her paragraphs are quite lengthy; sometimes they span pages. However, her style is very easy to read and pleasant. In the early chapters I find that she is a master of the craft belonging to the uppermost tier of fiction writers.

I read her biography on She apparently was the sole provider for her three surviving children after her husband's death. I can't help but wonder if a part of her is in the main character's mother. She works hard to support her son who does not realize what she does for him and he takes her for granted never really knowing the position that she is in. He is considered to be a lazy do-nothing kind of young man. The cause is argued that her nagging of him is one cause, while the other her effort to protect him from knowing the perilous nature of their financial situation.

Things, however, take a drastic turn. I am unsure as to why they take such a turn. One idea is that Captain Underwood may be the cause. He is thought to maybe have a solid network of people that he knows of both high and low class. He asked Walter Methven what he would do if he suddenly came into wealth. Later on that day, a distant relative of extensive wealth and royal blood but no heir, makes his appearance and makes him his heir.

The way people treat Walter between the day before and the day after is classic.
He stumbled over the housemaid's pail, of course, but did not call forth any frown upon that functionary's freckled forehead as he would have done yesterday. On the contrary, she took away the pail, and begged his pardon with awe—being of course entirely blameless. He paused for a moment on the steps as he faced the raw morning air going out, and lo! the early baker, who was having a word with cook at the area over the rolls, turned towards him with a reverential look, and pulled off his cap. These were the first visible signs of Walter's greatness...
This story is not a fast action novel. It's quite slow and deliberate. That said, it's skillfully written and well described. It was written in the Victorian era, I believe, where that is the style. The characters are well defined as are the gorgeously described settings.

The joy of wealth, for Walter Methven, comes with a heavy price. He takes on a new name: Lord Erradeen. With it comes a heavy price. When he is taken to Scotland where his inheritance is, he is confronted by a ruined castle. This does not mean that he is poor. He is in fact quite wealthy, even though the ruined castle only has a few rooms in any condition to live within. This in itself would be enough to make him comfortable as he begins to network within the social web that surrounds him.

Unfortunately, the castle is also haunted with a ghost. Most likely it is the ghost of an ancient ancestor who is referred to as a warlock. The warlock attempts to gain control over Walter. A part of that control involves making him evict a small village of people who had a bad year and are therefore being evicted from their homes.

Walter, having been recently poor, however, cannot stand to let the eviction take place and stops it at the last moment. This is where part 1 of 3 ends.

I really enjoyed this first book and look forward to reading the second.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Green Odyssey, Philip José Farmer

This is another book I vaguely remember reading in my teens. Yet, I cannot for the life of me remember any details. I just remember that for awhile I was afire over reading Farmer's books after reading this one. But, people change and perceptions change. What I might have valued more than 20 years ago has changed considerably. Thus far, I am finding that this novel might be one of those books that I no longer appreciate.

This book is more fantasy than science fiction. I find that to be the case for a lot of science fiction. There are some fantastic machines, but science is used to describe their fantastic machinations.

I am probably more of a feminist today than I was then. Although I believed in equal rights, I did not always understand when some things were sexist. I have noticed that about racism as well. Here's to personal evolution! Well, I guess a part of this reading journal entry will be a part of that analysis.

The main character, called Alan Green, is a handsome man from earth who has had the misfortune of being marooned in another world. But thanks to his good looks the best looking and demanding women are weak in their knees over him.

There was only one way to handle her; that was to outtalk outshout, outact her. It was hard going, especially when he felt so tired, and when she would not cooperate with him but would fight for precedence. The trouble was, she didn't feel any respect for the man she could shut up, so it was absolutely necessary to dominate her.
Obviously this is quite chauvinistic and misogynistic. It's definitely a blow to how I see Farmer.

Now that I have finished reading through the book, I can say that the misogyny was limited to a few pages.

The adventure basically begins with a daring escape. He manages to do this with the help of a merchant (who later tries to betray him) and the wife he acquired while on the planet.

He encounters pirates, cannibals, barbarians, and a witch. They have sailboats which use rollers and steady wind to cross a vast plain. While trying to get to a city where there are some captured Terrans, the ship is destroyed by a wandering island which is, in essence, a giant lawnmower a mile wide that can take down everything in its path, but is programmed to avoid spaceships.

Farmer's universe has mankind on planets everywhere. They were spread there by an unknown cause, stranded, and then slipped into barbarism with some, like earth, managing to regain interstellar technology that allows them to respread.

It's an adventure book, but I didn't enjoy it as much as I did when I was younger. Not just because of the sexist paragraph I cut-and-pasted above, but because the style is rather shallow. Its narrative is 3rd person limited, but even the main character seems a two dimensional character. Wikipedia writes, "While that story was almost universally regarded as unique and excellently written, Odyssey was frequently criticised for being clichéd and generic." I have to agree with that criticism.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Meeting of the Minds, Robert Sheckley

The "Meeting of the Minds" recently became available for free on

This is a kind of pioneer story, I believe, of a certain sub-genre of science fiction made popular by Star Trek, the Next Generation. The Borg is a collection of individuals which function, essentially, as a single entity. They are connected by a hive consciousness. Earth and other civilizations are under dire threat from this technologically more advanced culture (is that the right word?).

Some elements of the story are hugely improbable. The story begins as an exploration of the planet Mars. While there, the explorers unwittingly take on a dangerous intelligence. I say intelligence because I am not entirely certain whether it is a kind of insect-like android or a biological entity. I believe it is robotic, as it is mentioned that it is programmed, but missing much of its memory. The entity calls itself the Quedak. It also identifies itself as an organism. Unlike the Borg of Star Trek, it has no problem assimilating animals to assist it in its mission to take over humankind.

The first of the improbabilities is the primitive technology of humans. While on the one hand humans are able to go to Mars (for the second time) to look for remnants of past civilizations. On the other hand, they still rely on technologies which are anachronistic considering the required technological achievements required for a Martian expedition.

The other improbability, although more easily accepted within the realm of suspended disbelief, is that such a creature would remain dormant during the entire return trip from Mars. Considering that this was the second visit to Mars, it stands to reason that the trip would be a lengthy one. Surely it would have become active during this trip. However, if that had been the case, surely the story would have been lost.

Socialism vs Individualism

This short story may be a commentary on the competing ideologies of socialism and individualism. This story was published in 1960. At that time, the USSR was the biggest competitor to the United States of America. The USSR's propaganda promoted a society which functioned together as one while the USA's propaganda supported freedom of the individual.

George Orwell's Animal Farm explored the ideas of socialism quite well. One of the ways in which Sheckley's "Meeting of the Minds" differs is in how the animals have become of a single mind. The political nature of this story becomes vividly clear:

"...the Quedak state is a federation in which the various member parts retain their idiosyncrasies, their individual needs and desires. They give their knowledge, their power, their special outlook to the Quedak whole. The Quedak is the coordinating and command center; but the individual parts supply the knowledge, the insights, the special skills. And together we form the Great Cooperation."
 Eventually, it's discovered that the Quedak communicates by using radio signals. A coming storm knocks the Quedak's means of communication out, and allows for the men to track and kill the Quedak. Doing so returns the individuals to themselves. They are no longer under the control of the Quedak.

It's a good story, and reminds me a lot of the essence that made up the Borg in Star Trek TNG and later.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Wolves of the Calla, Stephen King

Image from Corey Morgan
This is the fifth book of The Dark Tower series, by Stephen King. It's of equal length to book four, and thus the exponential growth of page numbers seems to have comAmazon, the book ranges in price from $.69 for a second hand copy to $20.85 for the library binding. The ebook is a reasonable $7.29.

The introduction is new for this novel, which is good. The rampant growth in the books' girth from book one to book four was quite impressive. However, the growth at this point seems to have subsided. It is roughly the same length as book four.

The story begins away from the main characters. A village gets raided for 1/2 of each twin set of sons and daughters every 24 or so years. This time, they want to fight back, and look to hire the young gunslingers, Roland and his two partners, to protect the village. It has a more than passing semblance to the western movie, The Magnificent Seven (itself an appropriated from the movie, Seven Samurai). King acknowledges that this, among many other novels, contributed to the creation of this book.

For the most part, this book has been the most difficult to get through. The side story about Callahan is entertaining. But for the most part, the book feels tired and uninspired. I'm more than half way through it. Books like this are like a tar pit: you struggle to get through it and you can't really do anything about it. You've already stepped in it (this is book five, right?). Gotta slog through it...

OK, finished slogging now... the book is done. This one was not fun. It had some enjoyable moments, but for the most part I didn't like it. Had it been book one and not book five, I likely would have walked away from it. However, one must sometimes read through or miss important parts that need be known in book six. And, even if books six to eight are as sluggish as book five, I will probably still read every word just to see how the Dark Tower series ends.

There were no really brilliant parts to this book. It was uninspired and dull. I will have to write later if it was worth it after I have finished the series.

Suspension of disbelief is an important component of a book. You have to accept things like robots with antennae which, when shot or cleavered off with a titanium plate, disconnects them from the controller and they 'die.' I can accept that. What is harder to accept is the role of the android (not really a robot, Stephen), Andy (short for android perhaps?) warns the town that these wolves are coming. They decide to seek out the help of Roland and his posse. Then, later on, it's revealed that Andy is in fact a spy and agent for those who seek to harvest some kind of telepathic essence that twins are born with. Why would Andy betray both those who control him and those whom he has fooled into believing he was a kind of simpletonish friend?

But, this wasn't a huge drag on the book. Again, one must suspend disbelief or else miss out on a reading science fiction, horror, and fantasy.

I kind of like the cameo Stephen King does at the end. He becomes a part of the narrative as do some of his books. I find that interesting and wonder where he will go with that.