Sorcerer’s World by Damien Broderick
Signet Science Fiction, 1970
Price I paid: $1.25
Klim Xaraf, son of a nomadic chief, awoke from his monumental fall to find himself the prisoner of time―trapped a thousand million years in the future.
Around him was a dying world, its incredible power sucked by necromancers through a hole to the past…it’s cities preserved in stasis, awaiting his liberation, or their final doom.
Yet Klim could neither meet his world’s challenge, nor conquer the wizards of his own, until The Powers primed him for the battle. For with their knowledge, they would erase his memory and plunge him into a nightmare training ground…where all the wonders of tomorrow were the forgotten souvenirs of an ancient yesterday.
Oh my gosh this cover. My favorite thing is that the artist apparently didn’t know how boobs work. I mean, look at that lady in the background. Those are just bulges on a chest. I don’t even know what’s going on there.
The griffin is pretty cool though. Plus, it’s in the book! The cover makes it look like perhaps our hero is trying to kill the griffin, and maybe that’s what’s going on in the artistic world, but in the book, that is not the case. The griffin’s a good guy.
I chose to read this book because, well, just look at that back cover text. There’s so much going on that I’m not exactly sure where to start. How about we start with the fact that our hero is plunged a “thousand million” years into the future. A billion years! I know I gave Edmond Hamilton grief for sending his protagonist 200,000 years into the future, but it turns out that two hundred millennia is pretty tame!
And then there’s the main character’s name. Klim Xaraf. Holy moly, all the names in this book were like that. We’re talking letter salads here…or are we? I’ll get back to that.
So Klim is the son of the chief of a tribe of nomads. When we first meet him, he’s trudging through a snowstorm on the way back to his tribe. He’s just destroyed a group of bandits and is bringing back the head of their leader as a trophy, something that he hopes will make his father proud. We get some flashbacks here where we learn that Klim’s father, Golan, thinks Klim is a no-good slacker. Klim is attempting to prove him wrong.
One gets the feeling that this part of the book takes place in our past, but it’s impossible to tell. There are no markers to help us figure out Klim’s native time or place, so it could be the past, the future, or even the present day. We are assured that he lives on Earth, so there’s that.
Klim finds some kind of bright object in the midst of the snowstorm, walks up to it, starts falling for a very long time, and then wakes up in a metal room with no exits. After raising a fuss for a bit, some voices talk to him from nowhere. After some figuring, they decide that he has fallen through one of their time portals (which was supposed to be impossible) and that maybe he can help them with a little problem.
They call themselves The Powers and there’s an extended talky bit where we get a lot of exposition. It turns out that yes, Klim has fallen a full billion years into the future. In this grimdark future, the sun is dying. The Powers are doing their level best to keep Earth habitable in the meantime, but it’s not going great. Their plan involves, for some reason I never quite discerned, time portals to the past that catch solar radiation. I guess they’re using it in lieu of real sunlight, although they also have put little mini-suns into the sky for a similar purpose. There’s just a lot going on here and it’s hard to keep it all straight.
You can say that about most of the book, really. Not only that, but between the goofy names and the prose that was purple as purple can be, it made for slow and often tedious reading.
You might ask why, if their technology is so advanced, The Powers don’t just leave Earth and take the people with them. The book even says that mankind has been spreading out into the cosmos for millions of years. Well, the answer to your question turns out to be something along the lines of don’t wanna.
I got strong Robert E. Howard vibes from this book, and for a while I was going on the assumption that it was that kind of story. The prose, and especially the dialogue, reminded me more of Clark Ashton Smith. An illustrative sample:
“Our small odyssey has revealed to me features of my soul which I have been reluctant to concede, aspects of an atavism hitherto concealed.” (124)
I can find lines like that on every single page, no foolin’.
The Powers tell Klim that the Necromancers of his own time are using the time portal for nefarious purposes, but that before he can go back to face them, he must face trials in this world to ready him for that battle. They then remove all memory of this meeting and plunge him into the world.
So much happens in this novel that it’s hard to keep it all straight. I probably said that already, but it bears repeating. Klim is all over the place. Not long after waking up on a plain, he wanders toward a forest, meets a giant cat, kills it, meets some more giant cats, gets herded to some people who are friends with the giant cats, gets sentenced to death for trespassing, undergoes a trial with some weird moving plants, and then escapes with the help of yet some more guys.
The latter guys are merchants, and Klim hangs out with them for the remainder of the book. The main fellow is named Yriah Eloh Esra. Yriah is on a quest to find the lost city of Treet Hoown, which, if successful, will grant him the hand of the queen of Asuliun the Gray, which is a place, not a wizard.
Got all that straight? ‘Cuz I sure as hell don’t.
I was struggling while I read this book. I was wondering what the hell was going on, and whether I should care about anything that was happening.
And then, hand on my heart I swear this, I had a major realization on the exact middle page of the book.
It wasn’t because of the plot or the writing. Nothing revealed this discovery to me, it just happened to fall into my head like a bolt from the heavens. What I did was…I read a guy’s name backward.
Yriah Eloh Esra.
Hairy Hole Arse.
Folks, I’m pretty sure our author is taking the piss out of…something. Maybe us.
It calls into question all the things I found annoying or tedious about this book. Was it all on purpose? Was the author writing the prose that purple on purpose? Was the meandering, pointless plot just a dig on books that do that without realizing it? Is this novel a slightly less Nazified version of The Iron Dream?
I haven’t been able to figure out exactly what’s going on here, but whatever it is, I was suddenly enjoying it a lot more.
I had to go back and check on other names to see what they spelled when they were backward. Klim is easy, Xaraf stumped me. The best I can figure, and this might be a stretch, is that it’s a reference to Farex, a brand of baby food that’s common in Australia. The author’s from Australia, and seeing as how Klim’s tribe is named Tnafni (infant), I think I might not be far off.
Another guy is named Osneve Elcit Seteno, which turns out contain the phrase “one testicle.”
Bear in mind that there were lots of names of people and places that didn’t seem to spell anything backward, but I suppose they might have been anagrams or something. I’m very, very bad at figuring out things like that, so maybe you should get this book and take a look yourself.
Knowing that the plot of this book might be purposefully wearisome and meandering didn’t make it any easier to read, though.
Milk and Hairy get to Treet Hoown, which at first is invisible but appears when they present a thingy that the griffin gave them earlier in the book that I forgot to mention. They explore the fallen city, where they find that its ruler, the War Master, and all its people are in some kind of stasis. Several close shaves later, Klim manages to free everybody from the stasis, where it turns out that the War Master is a terrible and evil person, so Klim kills him. A beautiful princess thanks him for freeing her and offers to marry him so he can be ruler of Treet Hoown, but first Klim has to go with Yriah to his hometown to declare for that princess.
They’re able to take a flying bubble there, which is great, and when they arrive, it turns out that there’s YET ANOTHER QUEST.
So the princess of Asuliun, Aniera, has a terrible illness. The purpose of this whole quest thing was to find someone who was worthy of doing the second quest, which is to find an island with an alien on it that, when bonded with a human, renders the human immortal.
So Klim and Yriah go to that island, face some dangers, and find the alien.
They get back to Asuliun. It’s too late; the princess is already dead.
The griffin shows up again―actually I just checked and it turns out to be spelled gryphon―and tells Klim that he has passed all the tests and is now ready to go back to his own time to fight the necromancers. Because Yriah doesn’t have much else to do with himself these days, he gets to go too.
And that’s…where the book ends.
I guess it’s probably intentional that the quest that kicked this whole narrative off is left completely unresolved. Still, what a weird way to end the book.
Apparently Damien Broderick redid this book some years later as The Black Grail. I’m interested to see how that turned out.
Broderick is also, from what I see here on the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, a major scholar and literary critic who focuses on science fiction. His fiction is influenced by postmodernism and his own scholarly ideas. That’s pretty cool.
The SFE also calls him a “prankster,” which perhaps explains a bit about this novel, although I’m still not sure exactly what was going on with it in the big picture. Yeah, it’s a pretty schlocky book with ridiculous proper nouns and a bad plot and prose that’s so bad that it’s both hilarious and nigh-unreadable. But there’s also that hidden layer of funny, something that I probably would have missed if not for a lucky stray thought that ran through my head. So what is this book? Is it satire? Is it a loving tribute?
The dedication to this book reads, in part,
For the Monash Student Loan Committee
who made it necessary
So here’s my working theory:
This was Damien Broderick’s first novel. He’d written some short stories before this, and perhaps some scholarship/fandom stuff, so he knew about science fiction. One day he got a student loan bill that he couldn’t make that month. It happens. It’s happened to me a great number of times. Unlike me, Broderick decided to do something about it. He wrote a novel. Being genre savvy, he wrote something trite and uninteresting because he knew it would probably be more likely to sell to SF publishers of the time. At the same time, though, he decided to have a little fun with it. He threw in things that he expected the publishers―and perhaps much of the target audience―to miss, just because he found it hilarious. He took some clichés and common tropes and cranked them up to eleven, played with them, exposed them for what they are, and hopefully used them to make that student loan payment.
I hope someone else knows more than I do and can tell me if I’m close.
(I really hope that someone is Damien Broderick).