Review: Libriomancer, by Jim C. Hines

This is the start of a new urban fantasy series that is based on perhaps the greatest fanfic idea in history: mages whose fundamental magic is to pull physical items out of books. Need a ray gun? A magical potion? Excalibur, the Sword of Kings? Just pop down to your local bookstore, flip to the right page, and pull it out.

Now, there are limits on this. Some of them have to do with the way the magic works, but others are put in place by the ruling society of mages. So, no sentient nanobots, no atomic weapons, and no One True Ring to rule them all. Still, you can be bitten by a vampire or werewolf if you stick your hands into the wrong book, and heaven help you if you spend too much time with the History of the Black Plague. But what happens when mages start going missing, impossible artifacts start appearing, and the folks who are supposed to stop all of this are asleep at the switch?

Here’s where we find Isaac Vainio, a would-be Libriomancer who got kicked out of the order, left with the menial task of checking the latest from sci-fi and fantasy for overpowered weapons and dangerous infections. He’s not merely a nobody. He’s a has-been nobody, forbidden from even using the limited powers he once wielded. But he’s the one who has to pick up the flaming spider and charge forth against the darkness. Yes, a flaming spider… I’m sure I read that somewhere…

Anyway, it starts with this ecstatic-fanboy premise and takes us on an amazing trip, showing us both how it all got started, how it can go terribly wrong, and the actions we have to take to keep us all from being plundered by the Uruk-hai or the battle-droids. This is the most fun I’ve had with urban fantasy in a long time.

So I Skipped Comic-Con

The travelling version of Comic-Con came to Austin over the weekend, and I had planned on going, or at least stopping by on Saturday. I’d never been to a Comic-Con, and I’ve heard so much hype about them, I figured I should see at least one to check it off my bucket list. And this one promised something pretty spectacular, a gathering of the Star Trek Next Generation cast for a 25th Anniversary panel.

But in the end, I blew it off.

So, the obvious question is why, and I’m afraid I don’t have some flashy answer. I like cons. I like some of the shows and actors that were going to be represented there. And I have nostalgia for ST:TNG, given that I met my wife the year that show started. In theory, this was a good show for me to attend. But ultimately, I think what killed it was that this is a media con, not a literary con. It’s about the show and the actors, not about the writers.

I’ve met actors at other cons, and these were actors from shows I really admired. I met Ellen Muth from Dead Like Me. I met Richard Hatch from both the old and the new Battlestar Galactica. I’ve met Michael Dorn from Star Trek, the Next Generation. Plus, because Austin is one of those odd little off-Hollywood towns, I’ve run into folks like Sandra Bullock and Quentin Tarantino just wandering around the city minding my own business. These are all great actors, but when I’ve seen them I haven’t had anything to say more than, “I like your work.”

And that’s been about it.

But a writer? Oh, man… I went totally fanboy over Jack McDevitt when I met him. I’ve almost managed to keep my cool when talking to Elizabeth Moon, but only because I’ve seen her a dozen times. And C. J. Cherryh? Larry Niven? Neil Gaiman? I’ve seen them, but I was so tongue-tied I couldn’t do much more than say hello as ten thousand questions raced around my brain. God help me if I ever come face to face with Jim Butcher, Aaron Sorkin, or Ronald Moore.

And it’s not just because I’m also a writer, or at least, it’s not directly that. I get excited about meeting writers because I want to hear more about the stories. I want to know the back-story that never made it into the book, the little detail that made my favorite character more real, and even some hints about what might be coming next. It’s the story that grabs me, even in the movies and the TV shows. Yes, I appreciate that there is good and bad in the actors’ execution, and good is definitely desired, but what really turns my crank is the story, the lines, the writing. Maybe that comes from being a writer myself, but more likely, it was my love of story that got me interested in writing.

Strangely, my one real regret of not going was missing another chance to meet Wil Wheaton. You may recall him as Wesley Crusher on Star Trek or know him from more recent appearances on The Big Bang Theory, but that’s not why I wanted to meet him.

You see, I remember him mostly as Gordie Lachance, the story-telling kid from Stand By Me. But it’s not that I wanted to talk to him about that film. Rather, I wanted to talk to him because he ultimately followed the path that his character did. He went on to become a writer. And that’s why I wanted to meet him.

(But alas, the only thing on the program where I was sure to see him was too late on Saturday for me to go to, and it was likely to be swamped as well.)

So, maybe some other time. I just hope that when it happens, I’ll have more to say than, “Um, uh, poker… I like your poker. Writing stories, yeah.”