Young Wizards: Lifeboats

Hey, it’s been a while since I did a book review! My whole “read every book on my Kindle” project really slowed down when school started. I wonder why?1
This one is a bit of a cheat on that project, because I just got the book a week or so ago and have been slowly reading it since then. Nonetheless, I’m going to do a review.
So, let me start this off by saying that Diane Duane is one of my favorite authors. Seriously, she’s wonderful. The Young Wizards series is one of those things that I read growing up – I got the first book, So You Want To Be A Wizard, when I was in elementary school, and I (technically) own every book in the series now.2 It’s also wonderful because it feels like the characters grew up with me: when I started that first book, they were excited kids being dropped into a world of magic and adventure, just like I was when I first opened the book. By the time of Wizards at War – my first hardback in the series, which somehow gives it more weight both literally and metaphorically – they were in high school, taking the same classes I was. (And, in their spare time, fighting in a galaxy-spanning war, which I can’t really lay claim to without getting so metaphorical that I lose track of what I’m trying to say.)
Lifeboats is part of a three-piece cycle that Duane wrote, a ‘transitional trio’ that leads from A Wizard of Mars into the upcoming new book, Games Wizards Play.3
Some bits of the afterword, read last night right before I went to bed, stuck with me. And I think they’re very true. The book4 takes advantage of something Duane does that few other authors have taken advantage of: the ability to sell directly to the reader. Her eBooks Direct store sells DRM-free versions of most5 of her (and her husband’s) books. It’s a wonderful thing, and I’ve bought quite a few books that way. It’s a nice feeling to know that 100% of your purchase is going to the author, rather than being filtered through a supply chain and a publisher or two.
More importantly to the book, though, is the fact that Lifeboats was written entirely without the intervention of her publisher(s). It was direct-to-ebook, and that afforded her more freedom than normal. Going through a publisher, a book has to be marketable. It has to be something that people will buy. Market forces stop for no man.
Lifeboats, then, wasn’t a labor of economic forces. It was a labor of love. It was free to be whatever Duane wanted it to be.
And that showed: it expanded on a few side references from earlier books6 while dropping a couple others7 that I must now desperately hope get explained somewhere along the line.
And it was able to be something other than an adventure story following the hero around.
This wasn’t a ‘save the world’ kind of adventure. This was a ‘the world is doomed, try to save what’s left’ sort of thing.
The setting is a planet, close to the galactic core, that lives in the shadow of a moon almost the same size as the planet. The moon is an oppressive presence to our Earthling heroes, weighing down on them from above and providing a constant reminder of the doom that’s already underway: that moon is disintegrating, and as it does so it’ll wrack the planet below with tidal forces, earthquakes and tsunamis, all while raining pieces of itself down from above. A thousand Chicxulub impacts a week, and eventually something that’ll look like firing a bullet through a billiard ball when the metal core of the moon falls out of orbit and hits the planet with all the force that a sextillion tons of iron pick up by being in free-fall for weeks on end.
The main characters aren’t the main characters here: they’re just a viewpoint into a massive evacuation operation, a network of worldgates8 being used to evacuate the planet’s entire population, as well as a sizable chunk of the ecosystem as a whole and as much of the civilization’s cultural artifacts as possible. From Earth alone, something like 60,000 wizards were brought in to orchestrate the operation, and tens of other planets were also tapped for their wizardly resources. The scale of the operation is mind-boggling.
And we never get to see it, because we’re watching through Kit’s eyes as he acts like a cog in a much larger machine, keeping one of the worldgate complexes running while hundreds of thousands of people walk out of one of a set of small ‘feeder’ gates and into the larger upstream gate.
The book gets to spend more time looking at the relationships between the characters, expanding on the sort of thing that gets a few pages of introspection in one of the novels, but gets nearly a third of the book here.
And, quite frankly, I think that’s wonderful. It’s an expansion of the universe in all the best ways: the characters get more time in the spotlight, there’s a heck of a lot of world building, and we get to see people just… doing their jobs. It felt like a behind-the-scenes look into a world that I love, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
My only complaint is that it didn’t make good before-bed reading, because I wound up too invested in it and stayed up too late reading. And that’s the best problem for a book to have.

  1. Probably something to do with the fact that I’m taking 130% of a regular credit-load. Whoops. 
  2. I say ‘technically’ because there’s a few that were loaned out to people and never returned. I’m a bit more careful about keeping track of who I loan books to, these days. 
  3. I have a lot of excitement for that book and I have no idea when it comes out or anything. At this point, I know I’ll enjoy it, it’s just a matter of waiting or it to be released. 
  4. Actually more of a novella, I think, though the distinction between the two is a bit fuzzy and tends to change depending on who you ask and what time of day it is. 
  5. Not all, some aren’t available due to licensing restrictions from the original publishers. 
  6. I love any reference to the Crossings, and thus was overjoyed by the opening sequence of Lifeboats
  7. What happened at the Kola Superdeep Borehole? 
  8. Or, y’know, portals, for those who like the more boring words for things.