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Can a simple agrarian society save their world from the aliens stealing their resources?
A Spell for Chameleon

By Piers Anthony

1977 Ballantine Books & Del Rey

Bink will turn twenty-five very soon. If he doesn't figure what his magic talent is, he will be banished to Mundania where the non-magical live out their boring lives. In Xanth, every living thing is magical or has magic. Bink knows he isn't magical. He is a normal human. But all humans in Xanth must have magic.

Every person's magic is different. Some can make a pink spot on a wall, others a blue spot, useless but magical. Some can make a pit appear in the ground, or cast a clear shield to trip up any unsuspecting creature, useful if something is chasing you. The really powerful magicians can whip up storms or transform anything into anything else. They are the rulers of Xanth.

Bink travels to the good magician Humfrey's castle to find out if he has magic even though the price to ask a question is a year's service to Humfery. On the way, he meets the stunningly beautiful but intellectually vacuous Wynne and the absolutely average Dee. Humfrey tells Bink that he has magician strength magic, but it can't be identified. Unable to demonstrate his magic, Bink is banished to Mundania. He doesn't get far before the evil magician Trent intercepts him, and he meets the ugly, but brilliant, Fanchon.

The three of them, Bink, Trent, and Fanchon break back into Xanth, each with their own agenda. Trent wants to take over Xanth. Fanchon, who cycles into Dee and Wynn every month, wants to find a spell to make her normal. And Bink wants to find his magic talent and stay in Xanth.

A Spell for Chameleon is a well-crafted story that takes the reader on a journey through a land of the impossible and makes it all seem plausible. As the first of the Xanth novels, it doesn't have as many puns as I remember the later stories, but there are still plenty of fascinating dangers such as sneeze bees, talking trees, hawk moths, healing springs, and love potions.

Reviewed by Romana Drew January 1, 2019

The Molecule Men (and the Monster of Loch Ness)

Two short novels by Fred Hoyle and Geoffrey Hoyle

1971 Harper & Row

The Molecule Men

The Molecule Men is the story about an alien invasion by a shape-shifting creature, but nothing is quite what it seems. First, the main character, Dr. West, encounters an odd passenger in the airport, R. A. Adcock. Later he meets Adcock again in a courtroom. Adcock can barely talk. Then, in the middle of the trial, he hurls himself through a window and turns into a swarm of giant bees. From there, things get even stranger.

It's a little hard to believe that Dr. West, a university professor, has such easy access to the Prime Minister of Great Britton, or that the PM spends so little time actually being Prime Minister. Also, the disappearance of all the cabinet members doesn't seem to cause much of an upheaval.

From the language to the setting, this book is uniquely English with lots of details of London. Although The Molecule Men was published in 1971, it feels as if it were written in 1951. This is a man's world. Not in a macho superman kind of way, but simply by the invisibility of female characters.

The Monster of Loch Ness

There is something at the bottom of Loch Ness according to Tom Cochrane and the Loch Ness Researchers. Both the turbidity and temperature readings are impossible. There has to be something either stirring up the lake or heating it. There is even a credible sighting and photographic proof of a flat-headed monster with a long neck and humps on its back.

A trip through the Loch Ness Visitor's Center will dispel any lingering doubts you might have. No monsters live in Loch Ness. Also, it assumes the temperature gradient and deuterium levels in the lake remain stratified and constant, yet lakes typically turn over every fall. As the weather cools, the surface water to sinks to the bottom and the bottom water to rises to the surface mixing everything. This makes the story was a bit hard to believe, but never fear, nothing is quite what it seems.

This is hard science fiction. From water temperature readings to deuterium levels, the author uses science to explain the abnormal findings and freak storms plaguing the area. As it turns out, something does live in Loch Ness, something alien.

The book has excellent descriptions of Scotland and a very British, or Scottish, use of language. For an American, some of the word usage may seem odd, but rather than distracting from the story, it adds character to the writing style and flavor to the setting.

The Authors

Fred Hoyle (1915 - 2001) is a well-known astronomer and Cambridge professor who wrote many nonfiction books and coauthored several science fiction books, most with his some Geoffrey.

Geoffrey Hoyle (1941 - ) co-authored most of his father's, Fred Hoyle's, science fiction books. He has also written a couple of books on his own.

Both The Molecule Men and The Monster of Loch Ness are well-written and entertaining stories. Although a bit out of date, they are worth reading.

The Flying Sorcerers

by David Gerrold and Larry Niven

1971 Del Rey Books

The Flying Sorcerers is the story of two sorcerers, or one sorcerer and one hapless human, depending upon your point of view. A researcher from Earth visits a primitive planet and gets stranded. He is determined to get back to his ship and go home, that is if Shoogar, doesn't kill him first.

His translator tells the natives his name is, as a color a shade of purple-gray, so they call him, Purple. His technology looks like magic to them. That is a threat to the reining sorcerer, Shoogar. So, of course, Shoogar must duel with Purple for the right to be the town sorcerer.

Although there is much talk of magic and spells, this is hard scifi. Shoogar may think he is using magic, but the descriptions suggest that he relies on basic chemistry and physics to make his spells work. On this pre-industrial world, Purple must build a flying machine to cross the ocean. In doing so, he restructures the entire society. It is a fascinating look at problem solving, sometimes farfetched, but always interesting.

I read this many years ago and had forgotten most of the story. I did remember Purple and was delighted to find that this is his book.

The Flying Sorcerers is a somewhat silly story told in a unique and fascinating way. However, the treatment of women is abysmal. And the names get a bit old. They are all 'in jokes,' such as Wilville and Orbur, the bicycle makers who build a flying machine called the Cathawk. This is called Tuckerization. I think David Gerrold and Larry Niven have carried the idea about as far as possible.

This is not a great masterpiece of literary fiction, but it is a good fun read. I highly recommend it.

Reviewed by Romana Drew September 2, 2018