Shoogar is the greatest wizard his village has ever known. His powerful spells strike terror in the hearts of even his most formidable enemies. But the enemy he faces now is unlike any he has known before. The stranger seems to have come from nowhere and is ignorant of even the most basic customs or principles of magic. And yet, he has an incredibly powerful magic of his own.
There is no room in Shoogar’s world for an intruder whose powers match his own, let alone one who calls on science rather than the gods to perform his spells. So, before the blue sun can cross the face of the red sun once more, Shoogar must make his supremacy known. And the showdown is about to change the villagers’ lives in ways they could never have imagined.
First published in 1971, this stand-alone novel was co-written by David Gerrold, author of The Man Who Folded Himself and the popular Star Trek episode “The Trouble with Tribbles,” and Larry Niven, author of the acclaimed novels Ringworld and The Mote in God’s Eye.
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I was awakened by Pilg the Crier pounding excitedly on the wall of my nest and crying, "Lant! Lant! It's happened! Come quickly!"
I stuck my head out. "What's happened?"
"The disaster! The disaster!" Pilg was jumping up and down in excitement. "I told you it would happen."
I pulled my head in and dressed. Pilg's joy was a frightening thing. I felt my fur rising, fluffing out in fear as I wondered....
Pilg the Crier had been predicting disaster for weeks — as was his habit. He predicted his disasters twice a year, at the times of the equinox. The fact that we were leaving the influence of one sun and entering that of the other would make the local spells completely unstable. As we approached conjunction — the time when the blue sun would cross the face of the red — Pilg had increased the intensity of his warnings. This was disaster weather: something dire would certainly happen.
Usually it did, of course. Afterward — and after we of the village had somehow picked up the pieces — Pilg would shake his heavy head and moan, "Wait until next year. Wait. It'll be even worse."
Sometimes we joked about it, predicting the end of the world if Pilg's "next year" ever arrived. ...
I lowered the ladder and joined Pilg on the ground. "What's the trouble?"
"Oh, I warned you, Lant. I warned you. Now maybe you'll believe me. I warned you though — you can't say I didn't warn you. The omens were there, written across the sky. What more proof did you need?"
He meant the moons. They were starting to pile up on one side of the sky. Shoogar the Magician had predicted that we were due for a time of total darkness soon — perhaps even tonight — and Pilg had seized on this as just one more omen of disaster.
As we hurried through the village I tried to get Pilg to tell me what had happened. Had the river changed its course? Had someone's nest fallen from its tree? Had the flocks all died mysteriously? But Pilg was so excited at having finally been proven correct that he himself was not sure what exactly had happened.
One of the hill shepherds, it seemed, had come running into town, panic–stricken and shouting something about a new magician. By the time I got this information out of Pilg, we were already at the village clearing where the frightened shepherd was leaning against one of the great housetrees, gasping out his story to a nervous group of men. They pressed in close to him, badgering him with questions. Even the women had paused in their work, and hanging back at a respectful distance, listened fearfully to the shepherd's words.
"A new magician," he gasped. "A red one! I saw him!" Someone handed him a skin; he sucked the Quaff from it noisily, then panted, "Near the cairn of the wind-god. He was throwing red fire across the mountains."
"Red fire. Red fire." The villagemen murmured excitedly among themselves. "If he throws red fire, he must be a red magician." Almost immediately, I heard the word "duel." The women most have heard it too, for they gasped and shrank back from the milling group of men.
I pushed my way through to the center of the crowd. "Ah, Lant," said one of the men. "Have you heard? There's going to be a duel."
"Is there?" I demanded. "Have you seen the runes of the duel inscribed across Shoogar's nest?"
"No, but —"
"Then how do you know there's going to be a duel?"
"A red magician —" gasped the shepherd. "A red magician —"
"Nonsense. No red magician could have the powers you describe. Why don't you wait until you know something definite before you start spreading silly rumors that frighten women and children?"
"You know Shoogar as well as we! As soon as he discovers there is a new magician in the district, he'll —"
"You mean Shoogar doesn't know yet?"
The man looked blank.
I raised my voice. "Has anyone thought to tell Shoogar?"
Silence. No one had. My duty was clear. I must prevent Shoogar from doing something rash. I hurried through the trees toward the magician's nest.
Shoogar's nest was well suited for a wizard, a squat misshapen gourd hung from a forbidding black ogre of a tree well beyond the limits of the village. (The Guild of Advisors was afraid to let him move closer; he was always experimenting with new spells.)
I found Shoogar already packing his travel kit. His agitated manner told me he was worried. Then I caught a glimpse of what he was packing and I was worried. The last time he had used that ornate bone — carved tarinele — was when he had hurled the curse of the itching red boils at Hamel the Failure.
I saw what he was packing in on top of the tarinele and I flinched. "I believe that's against the Guild rules," I said.
For a moment I thought he'd hurl a spell at me. I cringed and instinctively made a spell-cutting gesture (forgetting for the moment that Shoogar himself had made the protective amulets I wore; he couldn't possibly break through his own protections; at least not for a few more days — they would expire with the coming of the blue dawns).
"You!" he snapped. "What do you know of magic? You who call yourself my friend! You didn't even have the courtesy to inform me of this intruding sorcerer!"
"I didn't even know of him myself, until just a few moments ago. Perhaps he only arrived today."
"Arrived today? And immediately began throwing red fire about? Without first informing himself of the local gods, tidal patterns, previous local spells and their side effects? Ridiculous! Lant, you are a fool. You are an idiot of the first circle where magic is concerned. Why do you bother me?"
"Because you are an idiot where diplomacy is concerned!" I snapped back, my fur bristling. (I am one of the few people in the village who can bristle at Shoogar and survive to tell about it.) "If I let you go charging up the mountain every time you felt you had been wronged, you'd be fighting duels as often as the blue sun rises."
Shoogar looked at me, and I could tell from his expression that my remarks had sunk home. "Smooth your fur, Lant. I did not mean that you were a complete fool. I just meant that you are not a magician."
"I'm glad you are aware of my skill as a diplomat," I said, and allowed myself to relax. "Our abilities must complement each other, Shoogar. If we are to succeed in our endeavors, we must maintain a healthy respect for each other's powers. Only thus can we protect our village."
"You and your damned speeches," he scowled. "Someday I'm going to make your tongue swell up to the size of a sour melon — just for the sake of some peace and quiet."
I ignored that remark. Considering the circumstances, Shoogar had a right to be testy. He closed up his travel kit, tugging angrily at the straps.
"Are you ready?" I asked. "I'll send a message up to Orbur, telling him to ready two bicycles."
"Presumptuous of you," Shoogar muttered, but I knew that he was secretly grateful for the thought. Wilville and Orbur, my eldest two sons, carved the best bicycles in the district.
We found the new magician near the cairn of Musk-Watz, the windgod. Across a steep canyon from the cairn, there is a wide grass covered mesa with a gentle slope to the south. The new magician had appropriated this mesa and scattered it with his devices and oddments. As we pulled our bicycles to a shuddering halt, he was in the process of casting a spell with an unfamiliar artifact. Shoogar and I paused at a respectful distance and watched.
The stranger was slightly taller than me, considerably taller than Shoogar. His skin was lighter than ours, and hairless but for a single patch of black fur, oddly positioned on the top half of his skull. He also wore a strange set of appurtenances balanced across his nose. It appeared that they were lenses of quartz mounted in a bone frame through which the stranger could see.
The set of his features was odd and disquieting, and his bones seemed strangely proportioned. Certainly no normal being would have a paunch that large. The sight of him made me feel queasy, and I surmised that some of his ancestors had not been human.
Magicians traditionally wear outlandish clothing to identify themselves as magicians. But even Shoogar was unprepared for the cut of this stranger's costume. It was a single garment which covered most of the stranger's body. The shape of the cloth had been woven to match his own precisely; and an oddly bulging shape it was. There was a hood, thrown back. There were high-flared cuffs on the pantaloons to allow for his calf-high boots, and over his heart was a golden badge. Around his middle he wore a wide belt, to which were attached three or four small spell devices.
He had also set up a number of larger devices. Most of them had the blue-white glimmer of polished metal. (There is little metal in our village — it rusts quickly — but I am a man of the world and have traveled much. I am familiar with the sight of metal, having seen it in the highlands; but nothing so finely worked as this.)
These devices stood each on three legs so that they were always level, even where the ground was not. As we watched, the stranger peered into one of them, peered across the canyon at the sacred cairn of Musk-Watz, the god of the winds, and then into his device again. Muttering constantly to himself, he moved across the clearing and adjusted something else. Evidently this was a long and complicated spell, though just what its purpose was neither Shoogar nor I could fathom.
Occasionally he would refer to a large egg-shaped nest, black and regular of shape, sitting on its wide end off to one side of the pasture. As there were no trees in the area large enough to hang it from, he had set it on the ground. (An unwise course, to be sure, but the shell of that nest looked like nothing I had ever seen — perhaps it was able to resist marauding predators.) I wondered how he had built it overnight. His power must be formidable.
The stranger did not notice us at all, and Shoogar was fidgeting with impatience. Just as Shoogar was about to interrupt him, the stranger straightened and touched his device. The device responded by hurling red fire across the canyon — directly at the cairn of Musk- Watz!
I thought Shoogar would suffer a death-rage right then and there. The weather gods are hard enough to control at best, and Shoogar had spent three long lunar configurations trying to appease Musk-Watz in an effort to forestall another season of hurricanes. Now, the stranger had disrupted one of his most careful spells.
Redder than ruby, eye-searing, bright and narrow, straight as the horizon of the ocean (which I have also seen), that crimson fire speared out across the canyon, lashing Shoogar's carefully constructed outcrop. I feared it would never end: the fire seemed to go on and on.
And the sound of it was dreadful. There was a painful high-pitched humming which seemed to seize my very soul, a piercing unearthly whine. Under this we could hear the steady crackling and spattering of the cairn.
Acrid smoke billowed upward from it, and I shuddered, thinking how the dissipating dust would affect the atmosphere. Who knew what effects it would have on Shoogar's weather making spells? I made a mental note to have the wives reinforce the flooring of our nest.
Suddenly, just as abruptly as it had begun, the red fire went out. Once more the silence and the calm descended over the mesa. Once more the blue twilight colored the land. But across my eyes was a brilliant blue-white afterimage. And the cairn of the wind-god still crackled angrily.
Amazingly enough, the cairn still stood. It smouldered and sputtered, and there was an ugly scar where the red fire had touched it, but it was intact. When Shoogar builds, he builds well.
The stranger was already readjusting his devices, muttering continuously to himself. (I wondered if that were part of the spell.) Like a mother vole checking her cubs, he moved from device to device, peering into one, resetting another, reciting strange sounds over a third.
I cast a glance at Shoogar; I could see a careful tightening at the corners of his mouth. Indeed, even his beard seemed clenched. I feared that a duel would start before the stranger could offer Shoogar a gift. Something had to be done to prevent Shoogar from a rash and possibly regrettable action.
I stepped forward boldly. "Ahem," I began. "Ahem. I dislike to interrupt you while you are so obviously busy, but that bluff is sacred to Musk-Watz. It took many cycles to construct the pattern of spells which...."
The magician looked up and seemed to notice us for the first time. He became strangely agitated. Taking a quick step toward us, he made a straight-armed gesture, palms open to us, and spoke quick tense words in a language I had never heard. Instantly, I threw myself flat on the ground, arms over my head.
When I looked up, Shoogar was still beside the other bicycle with his arms outstretched in a spell-breaking pattern. Either the stranger's spell had miscarried, or Shoogar had blocked it. The stranger threw no more spells. Instead, he backed toward his oddly shaped nest, never taking his eyes from us. He continued his strange words, but now they were slow and low pitched, like the tone one uses to calm an uneasy animal. He disappeared into his nest and all was quiet and blue.
Except for the crackle of cooling rock which still reached across the canyon to remind us that Musk-Watz had been defiled.
I turned to Shoogar. "This could be serious."
"Lant, you are a fool. This is already serious."
"Can you handle this new magician?"
Shoogar grunted noncommittally, and I was afraid. Shoogar was good; if he were not sure of his skill here, the whole village might be in danger.
I started to voice my fears, but the stranger abruptly reappeared carrying another of his metal and bone carved devices. This one was smaller than the rest and had slender rods sticking out on all sides. I did not like its looks. It reminded me of some of the more unpleasant devices that I had seen during the dark years.
The magician watched us all the time he was setting it up on its three slender legs. As he turned it to face us I tensed.
It began to make a humming noise, like the sound of a water harp when a string bow is drawn across its glass tubes. The humming rose in pitch until it began to sound disturbingly like that of the device of the red fire. I began gauging the distance between myself and a nearby boulder.
The stranger spoke impatiently to us in his unknown tongue.
"You are discourteous," rumbled Shooter. "This business can wait, surely?'
The spell device said, "Surely?"
I landed behind the boulder. Shoogar stood his ground. "Surely," he repeated firmly. "You violate custom. In this, my district, you must gift me with one new spell, one I have never seen. Were I in your district —"
The spell device spoke again. Its intonation was terrifying and inhuman. "New spell gift — never known — surely."
I realized that the stranger had spoken first. His device was attempting to speak for him, but in our words. Shoogar saw it too, and was reassured. The device was only a speakerspell, and a poor one at that, despite its powerful shape.
Shoogar and the speakerspell and the stranger stood on that windswept mesa and talked with each other. Or rather, they talked at each other. It was infant's talk, most of it. The thing had no words of its own. It could only use Shoogar's; sometimes correctly, more often not.
Shoogar's temper was not improving. He had come to demand gift or duel from an intruding warlock only to find himself teaching a simpleminded construct to talk. The stranger seemed to be enjoying himself, unfortunately at Shoogar's expense.
The red sun was long gone, the blue was near the horizon, and all the world was red-black shadow. The blue sun settled behind a clump of deep violet clouds. Suddenly it was gone, like a taper blown out by the wind. The moons emerged against the night, now in the configuration of the striped lizard.
During certain configurations Shoogar's power is higher than during others. I wondered if he were master or servant to the striped lizard. He was just drawing his robes imperiously about his squat and stubby form. Master, apparently, from his manner.
Abruptly, the stranger repeated his palms–out gesture, turned, and went back to his nest. He did not go inside. Instead, he briefly touched the rim of the doorway, and there was light)! Garish light, it spurted from the flank of the nest, bright as double daylight.
And such a strange light. The ground and the plants seemed to take the wrong colors and there was something not right with their shadows, an odd blackness of shade.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Flying Sorcerers"
Copyright © 1971 David Gerrold and Larry Niven.
Excerpted by permission of BenBella Books, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is the worst book I¿ve read in a very long time (the memory of woman runneth not to the contrary), so bad I¿m almost tempted to try to make rachelmanija review it because she could be funny. I thought initially the book might be a parody of the ¿white man space explorer comes to uplift savage natives¿ trope, especially when I got to the Wizard of Oz homage, but the book was really just trying to be funny while using the White Man¿s Burden as the humorous vehicle. See, they really are savages! His condescension is fully justified! They don¿t name their women, they just beat them, until the noble space explorer shows them that women can be allowed to work (and sit while they work) and have names! There¿s a Wright Brothers thing with Wilville and Orbur (I¿m not lying) building an airship, except not really because the noble space explorer has to teach them what to do, in the process introducing money, betting, and theft, among other innovations, to the savages. The worst part is: I just ordered another David Gerrold book, before I read this.
The Flying Sorcerers is a difficult book for me to get a good handle on. Through much of the book it seems as though the two authors had different ideas about the tone of the books, as it is goofily humorous at times (mostly as a result of the rampant Tuckerization of names such as the bicycle making Orbur and Wilville), and a serious work of science fiction concerning the effects an outside visitor might have on an isolated culture at others.The story takes place on an isolated planet, surrounded by a dust cloud with two suns and five moons. Consequently, the planet's weather, tides, and seasons are so complicated that true science (which relies upon a certain level of predictability) is unable to take root. The inhabitants, unable to see the stars, are completely unaware of anything outside their corner of the universe. A sort of pseudo-science has evolved, that the inhabitants refer to as magic, and one of the primary characters in the book is the village wizard Shoogar.Into this world comes an off world visitor whose name translates as "As a color, shade of purple-grey" ("as-a-Mauve" or Asimov, another Tuckerization), and they promptly dub him "Purple". Purple's technological devices are seen as magic by the inhabitants, and the villagers are scandalized by his disregard for their gods and customs. The main character of the book, a native named Lant, tries to figure out the visitor and mediate between him and Shoogar, leading to much frustration and cross-cultural misunderstanding. Eventually, Shoogar (with Lant's help) decides he must get rid of the visitor, by destroying his means of transportation (described in the book as a flying egg). He succeeds, but the ensuing explosion drives all the inhabitants of his village out of the area, turning them into refugees.They eventually find a new home on a peninsula later turned into an island by the erratic tides of the planet, but Purple is there already, thrown miles away by the explosion that destroyed his egg. Purple eventually decides he must build a flying machine (a ship won't work, the waters are too treacherous) and return to his original landing spot to call down his mother ship and leave. Much of the book details the somewhat unintended effects of this effort, as Purple converts the natives to an industrial society, introducing concepts like money, assembly line production, division of labor, and sexual equality along the way. Eventually, Purple succeeds and leaves, but it is clear that the natives will never be the same.The story is interesting. Purple's unintended changes to Lant's culture have far reaching ramifications, most of which are followed up upon in the course of the story. The story is told from Lant's perspective, and while the reader can figure out what devices Purple has, and what concepts he is introducing, by having a native narrator, the viewpoint of the natives is made quite clear ¿ including their misconceptions concerning the nature of Purple's devices and outrage at some of Purple's actions. Overall, a very solid and well-done science fiction story provided one can get past the groan inducing names.
Sometimes one is able to retreive a piece of one's past and experience it anew. Such is the case with this book. Years ago when I first was getting into science fiction, I picked up a coverless copy of The Flying Sorcerers from a sidewalk sale at Page One bookstore. (I didn't know then how blatantly illegal that was.) I read it and enjoyed it and later discarded it when I started running out of book space. Now, years later, I've picked this book up again (cover intact) in an effort to spend a gift certificate. The Flying Sorcerers tells the tale of a space traveler who encounters a group of "primitive" natives and incurs the wrath of the native wizard, who sees him as a rival. The traveler, called Purple by the natives, loses most of his equipment and then has to work with the natives and their primitive technology to get himself back to his mother ship. The story is a comedy of errors, told from the native point of view, and filled with all sorts of in jokes for science fiction fans. (I don't recall if I caught any of them the first time around, and this time I probably still missed a lot.) I enjoyed it more, however, for a humorous look at cross cultural mis-communication. I recommend that you check it out, even though for me it's good enough to keep... again.--J.
A delightful and creative book
It works on many levels, interaction between a technological man and a magician, helping the world's geniuses to discover the technologies he needs, and interaction with a primitive culture. It also is shot full of humor and plays on famous names. The two highly successful authors have crafted another gem. The name of the famous main character is revealed in the book by the way the natives sound it out. The name itself has 3 syllables that the natives interpret into six words. It is simplified to Purple. carefully read the first contact and sound out the name.
Without doubt the funniest Sci Fi story Ive read! Mr. Neiven, what is Purples real name? I have been wondering for 20 years??