CBRIII Maneuver #17 – WebMage
Profile: Speculative Fiction, Greek Mythology, Modern Fantasy
Summary: From the back of the book, “Ravirn is not your average computer geek. A child of the Fates – literally – he’s a hacker extraordinaire who can zero in on the fatal flaw in any program. Now that twenty-first century magic has gone digital, that makes him a very talented sorcerer. But a world of problems is about to be downloaded on Ravirn who’s just trying to pass his college midterms.
Great Aunt Atropos, one of the three Fates, decides that humans having free will is really overrated and plans to rid herself of the annoyance by coding a spell into the Fate Core, the server that rules destiny. As a hacker, Ravirn is a big believer in free will, and when he not only refuses to debug her spell but actively opposes her, all hell breaks lose. After Action Report:
WebMage is book-candy. It reads fast and lacks substance. But it is a fun read and sometimes you need to pull your brain back from the heady concepts in the more serious book entries on your list. The sad part is that the concept is really awesome and in the hands of a better writer, it could have been a great series of books.
The premise of WebMage is that the Greek pantheon is real and has been running things behind the scenes for eternity. While the gods themselves don’t make any appearances in the book, the more primal concepts from Greek mythology, the Fates, the Furies, Discord and Chaos, are all present and accounted for. Like Roger Zelazny’s Amber, reality in WebMage consists of a sequence of worlds, called Decision Loci, ranging from most ordered to most chaotic. At either end of the spectrum are the Fates and Eris, goddess of Discord. Except they haven’t been sitting on their thumbs for three millennia. They’ve been busy updating the world to run on computer code. And their children have become hacker/sorcerers of the World’s OS.
It’s a really cool idea! The Fates are depicted as being master programmers, who still keep up their old jobs of creating, measuring and cutting the strings of fate for all humanity. Ravirn, a many times great grandson of Lachesis, is kind of the black sheep of his family, exiled to a somewhat remote DecLocus for repeatedly failing out of school. But he’s still a top-notch hacker who the Fates call on when their code fails.
Which is where the problems start. Ravirn is an egregious example of a Mary Sue with a heavy dosing of Black Hole Sue syndrome (Tvtropes.org for more on Mary Sue). Everything that happens in the multiverse of WebMage seems to directly involve him. He’s a nobody youngster in a family of demigods who nevertheless, fixed programs the gods couldn’t get to work, evaded the Furies for the better part of the book, went toe to toe with at least three goddesses and came out of it all with nothing more painful than a coat of emo-paint. Admittedly, there’s a sense throughout the entire book that he’s nothing but a chess piece in some great game between Chaos and Order, but he doesn’t help matters by being so incredibly stupid about the whole thing.
Aunt Atropos, at the beginning of the book, establishes that her relationship with Ravirn is going to be one of Stick and Bigger Stick. Before the book even starts, he’s been slapped with Cassandra’s Curse which literally prevents anyone from believing him when he’s talking about his Aunt. And then everyone seems to forget that mage/coders have these handy little living familiars/laptops that are very capable of speech and could have explained things just fine if anyone had thought to ask them.
The story, also like Zelazny’s Amber, is narrated first person style by Ravirn, but this only serves to emphasize how incredibly moronic he is. About halfway through the book, he realizes that his WebGoblin might be sentient, and spends the rest of the book whining about how unnatural if feels to end his spell execute lines with “Please.” McCullough has also burdened him with a personality trait of describing spells in detail every time they’re cast, even if it’s the twelfth DecLocus transfer we’ve seen. This chapter. This also extends to the weird spell casting system, which involves saying a line of code sort of like a command prompt/Run line, then having either the programmer or his/her WebGoblin whistle the actual spell. At no point is this explained in any sort of detail, except that the whistling is code and all the bigwigs can code in Hex, by being able to whistle in harmony with themselves. WHAT?!
There are some redeeming features. Melchior, Ravirn’s WebGoblin is occasionally witty and justifiably mocks his master at every opportunity. Their relationship has clearly been exported from the Dresden Files (Harry and Bob) but it still plays well.
Cerice is a semi-interesting love interest (incest notwithstanding) with an attitude and a decent head on her shoulders. I think she would have made a much better protagonist than her cousin, but Ravirn’s Black Hole Sue syndrome dictates that she’s going to be relegated to doe-eyed hanger on. The concept is brilliant and if it weren’t handled with such a hammy fist, it would be a pleasure to explore this fascinating merger of myth and code.
It is undeniably fun to beat up on these little novels. McCullough’s written four more of them, and I’ll probably pick them up on the off chance that he gets a little better with experience. And because it’s nice to have candy every once in a while.