Friday, 25 May 2007

David Zindell's Lightstone

On the recommendation of my compatriot and fellow Story-Games hanger-out Mike Sands (thanks, Mike), I'm reading David Zindell's book The Lightstone. I have to tell you, this man's blurb writer has not done him justice.

I'm fairly sure that I've picked up his books in the library, read the blurb, and put them back, dismissing them as Just Another Genre Fantasy Phonebook - thick, full of names, and unoriginal. Assorted group quest for Maguffin to prevent dark lord taking over the world, yawn.

And yes, an assorted group is questing for a Maguffin (the Lightstone, a golden cup with magical powers), to prevent a dark lord from taking over the world. And yes, Bad Fantasy Name Syndrome (it's a really bad idea to give your hero's brother, horse and beloved names which all begin with A and differ only by a few letters). And yes, excessive Tolkein influence - mainly from the Silmarillion, which even provides a couple of the names as well as the cosmological backstory. But.

Amid all this stale genre stuff, I find the central character genuinely engaging and fresh: trained as a warrior, but blessed/cursed with an empathic power which makes him feel any violence he does to someone else as if it's done to him (which mitigates the usual crass cruelty of the genre). There's a fair bit of Buddhism (almost certainly more than I recognize; I know a bit about Buddhism but I'm not an expert), which makes for a different flavour and is well-handled. And Zindell does something I've never seen done before, which is obvious to me and which I've been planning to do myself sometime: he has the hero learning meditative practices which help him to deal with the trials he encounters.

So far, I'm enjoying it a lot - thanks again, Mike.


The Gamester At Large said...

Good to hear you are enjoying it - I wasn't sure about making recommendations to someone I only know online.

You've pretty much summed up what makes the stories, too. A generic fantasy backdrop to tell a story about Valashu dealing with all the terrible things going on.

Tolkien isn't the only place he has nods to either - I noticed what appeared to be a Star Wars line in the third book recently. There's also plenty of references to the Arthurian romances and a few other mythologies. Zindell's earlier science fiction stories explore a lot of the same issues, and some of the cosmology in the fantasy books is very similar (possibly they're identical - connections between them would not really break any of his world).

Mike Reeves-McMillan said...

Yep, it's a good one.

The Arthurian romances, definitely - it's a Grail quest, basically. They're questing for a mystical cup with healing powers, and the hero has visions of it. Also, Zoroastrianism (the equivalent of Tolkien's Morgoth has the name of the Zoroastrian evil principle, which I won't attempt to spell correctly from memory but which is often written Ahriman).

But despite having all this recognizable ancestry, it still works for me, because of the characters and the story.