Book Review – The Flying Sorcerers by David Gerrold & Larry Niven

Title: The Flying Sorcerers
Author: David Gerrold & Larry Niven
Format: Paperback
Written: 1971
Published: 1975

The Flying Sorcerers begins when the local aliens discover an Earth man in their neighbourhood. They assume he is a magician, because he is using his spell devices to throw fire at the mountains. This is a terrible breach of protocol, since he has neglected to first introduce himself to the local magician and offer the appropriate gifts. Clearly a duel is required, and Shoogar sets out to destroy Purple. The situation rapidly goes from bad to people fleeing into the wilderness in a desperate attempt to save their own lives. It doesn’t really work.

This is a very funny novel, but definitely not one for the easily offended. The level of sexist humour is so outrageous that I wonder if anyone would have the courage to publish it today. Puns fill the pages, and many of the jokes are groan worthy. Clever, but still a bit painful mentally.

One of the best aspects of this novel is that it is told from the perspective of the aliens. They do not comprehend that the crazed magician, Purple, is from another world. As readers we have insight into the beliefs and expectations of Purple, and the narrative character is able to explain his culture through contrasts to Purple’s strange rantings and actions. The cultural clash is the primary focus of the story, but it is presented in a way that is still subtle enough to be effective.

Cause and effect are hilarious in the story. Purple and the locals have dramatically different ways of understanding what is going on around them. Both impressions of reality blur in unexpected ways, and the final resolution fits so perfectly that there is catharsis for the reader regardless of which side you are cheering for.

My main criticism of this book is the development of a subplot involving the narrator’s first wife. It had a lot of potential, but did not seem to serve any particular purpose in the overall story. I kept expecting something impressive from it, and instead it was neatly wrapped up with only a single important scene that was somewhat lacking. There was the possibility for it to be heart wrenching and poignant, but instead it fizzled out.

Unlike some science fiction from this period, the technology does not jolt me out of the story. The science used is a blend of the impossibly futuristic and the mundane, which provides a good balance for readers born after it was written. I give this book 4 out of 5 pages.

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