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|The Warlock in Spite of Himself
by Christopher Stasheff
Reissued by Ace Books, 1969
Amazon.com: hardcover, paperback
Suggested by: Ross Pavlac
There are those who argue that there is no point in trying to draw a line between those works which are "fantasy" and those which are "science fiction." That argument is based, in part, on the existence of "crossover" works which, whether by accident or design, are difficult to place in one genre or the other. The Warlock in Spite of Himself (and the numerous sequels spawned by its success) makes a case in point. Stasheff creates a future setting (more than 2,000 years from now) in which a group has embarked upon a mission to bring democracy to all the scattered worlds which had been settled by human beings before the collapse of galactic civilisation. An agent of this group lands on a world settled by a group analogous to the Society for Creative Anachronism, and discovers that, due to some interesting genetic effects and an unusual native life form, it abounds in all the standard creatures normally found only in fantasy worlds. Thus, Stasheff tells a story with all the usual fantasy props, but a science fictional backstory.
Some people (not including me) will be put off Stasheff's work by his love of puns. The protagonist, who adopts the name of Rod Gallowglass, works for SCENT (the Society for the Conversion of Extraterrestrial Totalitarianisms), and he is on a DDT (Decentralized Democratic Tribunal) mission to root out any traces of PEST (the Proletarian Eclectic State of Terra.) As it happens, I'm a punster myself, and if Stasheff's inability to resist a bad pun detracts from the story, well, I didn't take the story all that seriously, anyway.
I'm not really sure why Ross put this book onto his list. There are several mentions of the church and one character's attempts to reform the society include an effort to bring about theological uniformity among the priests. There is some off-handed discussion about the dangers of allowing the state to have control over the church, but for the most part, the church is pretty peripheral to the story, which is essentially what I call "nerd wish-fulfillment." Insofar as the story has any kind of serious point (which isn't very far at all), it's more about politics than religion. Greg Slade (February, 2005)
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