In a world where magic is commonplace, what use is an expert-level computer programmer like Wiz Zamult? The only person who knew the answer was the great wizard Patrius, but bringing Wiz to this medieval world cost Patrius his life. Moria, a beautiful red-headed hitch witch, is tasked to be Wiz’s caretaker. However, Moria dislikes Wiz as much as he is infatuated with her. Somehow, this helpless stranger is the key to stopping the federation of evil wizards called the Dark League.
Wizard’s Bane is not the kind of book I would’ve picked up on my own. However, as a fun challenge, it was chosen for me by someone whose literary opinion I’ve come to value highly. Plus it didn’t hurt that the eBook version is free from Baen Books as part of their most awesome answer to online piracy — eBook readers, check out the Baen Free Library. Despite not being my usual mug of ale, Wizard’s Bane proved to be a lot of fun.
Mr. Cook doesn’t attempt to create a complex story. It’s a somewhat satirical, but straightforward good guys versus evil guys story, which proved refreshing. Especially if, like me, you’re reading a lot of the dark and gritty stuff that the likes of George R.R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie have made popular. In fact, Wizard’s Bane is the kind of book that’s ideal for one of those picture-perfect fall days — or in my case, a very rare fall-like late summer day — all golden with a clear sunny sky and a gentle breeze, which sets a romantic mind to dreaming of adventure.
There’s nothing about Mr. Cook’s writing style that particularly stands out, but there’s nothing to fault about it either. Its simplicity fits the story very well. There are, however, several missing and misspelled words that should have been caught by editing or may have stemmed from conversion to the eBook format.
What is intriguing about Wizard’s Bane is Cook’s idea of snatching a regular guy from Earth and plunking him down in a fantastical world where magic is a driving force behind almost everything. In addition, Wiz is a straight-up geek with no athletic ability, and his social skills are a little weak. So, as lost as anyone from our modern world would be, it’s even more so for a guy whose sole talent is working with computers.
This isn’t a completely original concept. Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court immediately comes to mind; even Wiz notes the similarities of that classic with his predicament. However, there’s a big difference. Twain’s character, Hank Morgan — at least as I recall — was a fairly confident guy who quickly realized how to take advantage of his (then) modern knowledge. Wiz Zamult doesn’t have that luxury. In fact, the reason Wiz is such a good computer programmer is because early on in his life, he chose to master computers as compensation for his many shortcomings. Just doing the minor day-to-day chores required in a primitive world proves a challenge for him. It’s believed that Wiz is to be a hero in the struggle against the League, but he seems to be a useless and dangerous burden to Moria and others.
I’m an IT professional myself. (Me, a professional? I know, my boss can’t believe it either.) So this story was particularly fun for me. There’s a lot of inside humor that mostly computer folks will get, especially UNIX admins or programmers, but it won’t be distracting for non-technical people.
Years ago, when I studied computer electronics, this occurred to me: Deep inside all that computer hardware, where millions of teeny-tiny electric pulses pass along the countless paths in conceptual patterns to ultimately do things undreamt of mere generations ago, technology has blurred the line between science and magic. I dismissed those oddball ponderings as the products of an overactive imagination fueled by a passion for fantasy fiction. Besides, I’d rather have been reading instead of going to night school anyway. Apparently Rick Cook had similar ponderings himself, except he crafted them into a light-hearted, witty tale that’s a perfect book to spend a leisurely afternoon with.
Wizardry — (1989-1996) Due to Rick Cook’s health problems, the final volume, The Wizardry Capitalized will be published online. Wizard’s Bane and The Wizardry Compiled are available as free e-books at The Baen Library.
Publisher: What do you get when a computer geek crosses a wizard? Answer: A very angry wizard — and a computer geek in a lot of trouble. Spells are a lot like computer programs: they’re both formulas, recipes for getting things done. And they both can be buggy. The spell that called master hacker ‘Wiz’ Zumwalt to the world of the Black League was very buggy. The wizard who called him is dead, Wiz is magically in love with a red — headed witch, who despises him, and no one — not the elves, not the dwarves, not even the dragons — can figure out what this computer wiz is good for. Oh, yes. The entire Black League wants Wiz dead — he might be good for something after all — and they’ll stop at nothing to get what they want.
Omnibus editions of the first four novels:
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That was my view as well, as you'll see in my soon-to-post review