“Interim Errantry 2: On Ordeal,” or, “origin stories are actually interesting when they’re new”

Diane Duane
And really, that’s the long and short of it: the origin stories for three characters in Diane Duane’s marvelous Young Wizardsseries. And they were very interesting origins – the third, there were hints about in the rest of the series, but the first two were entirely new. The second was very unexpected, as well – more vicious, and sadder, than I’d thought.
But rather than talk about this book specifically, I think I’d be happier talking up the series as a whole. I haven’t really had a chance to write about it here before, but it’s been one of my favorites for ages. I received the first book in the series as a birthday present years and years ago,1 and promptly fell in love.
It’s been mentioned in both college and graduate school application essays. It drifts through the way I look at the world. I can name chunks of my value system that clearly come from these books, and I can trace my interests – up to and including my major and planned career path – back to the way these books taught me to look at the world.
Before I ever read Peter Parker’s thoughts on responsibility, these books were teaching me that having power meant you should use it to help others.
And they taught me that names, and really all words, are very powerful things.
They’ve been hugely influential to my life, and I happily recommend them to everyone. Start at the beginning: the first book, the delightfully-titled So You Want to Be A Wizard, should be in your local library. If not, I’d recommend picking it up directly from the author: she certainly deserves your patronage. Regardless, go start reading.


  1. I don’t remember exactly how many years it was, but I can tell it was sometime that in elementary school, based on where the birthday party was and who I can recall being there. 

Games Wizards Play

Oh man oh man oh man, I love Diane Duane. She’s one of those writers that I’ve been reading forever, I grew up with her work.1 And I think all of it is wonderful. Duane does a good job of keeping her website up to date, and I follow her blog and her Twitter account pretty closely, so I’ve known this book was coming out soon. Unfortunately, I was on a bus driving around California when it actually came out, and didn’t have any time to spare for reading2 so it had to wait until now.
But man was it worth it. I loved this book, oh so very much. It’s full of beautiful little hat-tips – S’ree’s appearance, early on, was a nice little moment, and it allowed the slow-burn story of what she’s doing with her life to expand a little more. Sker’ret also poked his head in once or twice, and he’s doing quite well for himself, apparently. Carmela, who over the course of the series went from “deeply annoying” to “quite possibly my favorite character” has become a wonderfully-Involved3 person, a bit of a power player on the galactic playing field. Which I love, because she’s not a wizard – she’s just got a talent for languages and a skill for making connections.
The core plot of the book was an interesting one- once every eleven years, all the young wizards of Earth get together, throwing their best and brightest into an Invitational where they show off their spellcrafting skills. Our main characters are a bit too long in the tooth for that, though, and instead get tapped to mentor the younger folks. Dairine got paired with a young Iranian girl whose introduction had my laughing at how uncomfortable Dairine got, while Kit and Nita, always a team, got handed someone who I, personally, referred to as “an annoying startup of a human being.”
And with that as the backdrop, they were off to play. Nita and Kit spend a lot of time worrying about the change in their relationship, trying to figure all that out.4 Nita, of course, has to deal with the mess of visions that the future is throwing at her – which are, intentionally, baffling to both her and the reader. Dairine, meanwhile, has showed some of the most amazing growth as a character that I’ve ever seen – when she first was introduced, she was a powerhouse burning like a star: fierce, bright, untamable. Since then, her power levels have dropped rapidly, to a far more normal level, and while she spent a while being very upset about that, the loss of first her mother and then Roshaun forced her to grow up fast. And she did: as a mentor, she’s amazing, becoming both a friend and a protector for her mentee. I adored it.
One moment that I wasn’t quite sure I liked: the introduction of two queer characters. The first was something that’s been a long time coming, I’d say – a bit character from two books ago reappeared as a wizarding friend of the main characters, and mentions in passing that he’s gay. Nita has a little epiphany at that,5 and while still staggering from that finds out that another of those bit-characters is asexual. Plot wise, that one-two punch made sense – it was the confusion from the first coming out that led to the conversation about the second, but taken from the standpoint of a reader like me it seems a little bit forced. This is, what, the tenth6 book in the series, and you introduce your only two queer characters within a couple pages of another? It whiffs a little of tokenism.
That little bit aside, I’m going to have to stop myself now, because otherwise I’ll get into too spoilerific of territory. There are a couple new characters introduced that had my cackling with laughter or almost literally pushing my nose into the book to read with more scrutiny,7 and in a similar vein we got to see a lot more of Irina and find out more about her life.8 And the end of the book, oh lord, that ending. It’s a good thing neither of my roommates were around while I was reading it, because the delighted noise I made would probably have frightened them. It’s a perfect ending, in Diana Wynne Jones territory, and it made me so happy. This has been one of my favorite books I’ve read in the past year, and I seriously recommend it to everyone.9


  1. The other one is Tamora Pierce; the last time she came out with a new book, I stopped everything I was doing and reread the entire series up to that point, then the new book itself. 
  2. “You’ve got spare time? Nonsense, go practice your music!” 
  3. A term I’m borrowing from Iain Banks’ Culture series; to be Involved is to be a player on the galactic scale. 
  4. Ah, high school. 
  5. Which I found a little bit entertaining, because I can remember the same sort of epiphany waaaaay back when I first found out that not everyone is straight. What a weird time that was. 
  6. I’d originally written “thirteenth” here, but Diane Duane corrected me, and I’ve updated this page to be correct. 
  7. You’ll know who they are when they show up, they’re rather unforgettable. 
  8. Which was something else I absolutely loved about this book – the way that Nita, and Dairine, are both surrounded so constantly by figures of massive importance, and neither of them let it slow them down. Dairine goes through some tough negotiations with Irina, the bloody Planetary, and Nita gives a nickname to a being that exists on a scale quite a few orders of magnitude larger and more powerful than her.
    Which actually made for some very interesting foreshadowing for the reveal at the end of the book. 
  9. Bonus points if you pick it up from the author herself – she sells books and ebooks directly, on her website 

Dark matter just past the moon→

Ars Technica:

In a new study published in the Astrophysical Journal, Gary Prézeau has proposed that Earth and other planets and stars in the Milky Way galaxy are surrounded by theoretical filaments of dark matter called “hairs.” By finding the roots of these hairs, he reports, physicists could uncover a trove of dark matter.

Thanks to one of my favorite books, Diane Duane’s Wizards at War, the headline “Scientist says huge clumps of dark matter may lie just beyond the Moon” sounds… oddly threatening.

Young Wizards Advent Calendar→

Diane Duane:

There is a very soft clunk as a large platter bedizened with a desperately ugly folk-art painting of an apparently dyspeptic turkey is placed carefully on the floor.
Crunch!
“Oh goodness me Juan, will you look at what’s happened to your Mama’s platter,” announces one of the people in the kitchen in a tone totally bereft of either shock or dismay. “Whatever will we tell her.”
A glance through the passthrough. “That there was a terrible accident?”
“You’re on.”
And after a thoughtful moment:
“Sweet Powers, is that lead in this glaze? You people may not be much at the technology end but you are such gourmets.”

This is from the December 3rd entry of the advent calendar, just a short excerpt, but I feel like it captures the characters1 wonderfully. Plus, an interesting little discussion on varying tech levels amongst an intergalactic-scale society.


  1. Unnamed, so if you haven’t read the books you’ll be a bit baffled by it all. 

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.