Sunday, December 25, 2016

Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer

Remember those cheesy movies from the 80s? You know, the big budget ones that don't stand up to the test of time, with the bad acting, laugh-worthy special effects, and stoic action hero-esque one-liners a la Arnold Schwarzenegger? This book could so easily be one of those that I can almost picture the synth music intro and the young Matthew Broderick-cast main character.

OFF TO BE THE WIZARD has been on my radar for a while. I used to be a huge gamer when I was younger. In college, I had to choose between books and games because I stopped having time for both - I chose books, because they're the least expensive and most portable of the two, but my love for games lives on.

And honestly, who wouldn't want to read about the biggest wish fulfillment fantasy ever? Because OFF TO BE THE WIZARD is about a down-on-his-luck guy in his twenties who finds a file on his computer one day. When he makes changes to this file, he can increase his height, drop a couple thou in his bank account, and even give himself magic powers.

It seems like it's too good to be true. It is. Soon, editing the file gets Martin in trouble, so he does what any rational person in his position would do: he escapes to the Medieval period to be a wizard. Specifically, 1150, because it's the best time to be alive in the Medieval period, according to this excerpt he finds on Google Books.

I know.

Surprisingly, Martin is not the first person to get into trouble like this and flee to this time period. There are other wizards here, too. On Wednesdays, they wear robes. He's allowed to sit with the cool wizard kids, provided that he undergoes some tests to ensure that he isn't going to ruin the good thing they have going on. If he passes, he gets to stay. If he fails, he gets stripped of his "powers" and sent back to his time period to deal with the major mess that he created without any sort of help.

The beginning of OFF TO BE THE WIZARD is great. Martin did what most people in his position would probably do - experiment, rationalize it to himself, and push his luck while trying to figure out how much he could get away with. Things sort of fell apart when he actually got to "Medieval times" and I think a huge part of that is due to how historically inaccurate the time period was. I know it's ridiculous to expect a fantasy novel to stick to the facts, but having anachronistic language and behavior, and then referring to one of the greatest female monarchs of that time as "passive" (Empress Matilda sneers at your passivity, and raises you alliance to Anjou) is...well, just plain silly!

Another thing that bothered me is something that bothered a lot of other female readers - there are no female main characters in this book, and only one female character who is referred to at all, Gwen. To be fair, Gwen is a great character, and her inclusion in the story isn't as a love interest, which I found incredibly refreshing. That doesn't stop Martin from hitting on her awkwardly, though. Apparently most women who discover the file on their computers don't go to Medieval times because they don't think it would be a friendly time period for female witches (LOL, understatement). Instead, they choose to go to Atlantis...which apparently exists in this bizarre little universe.

What bothered me about this is that one of the characters - not the hero - essentially says that he wouldn't want to go there because he's afraid to see what a world run by women looks like. There's a few other cringe-worthy moments, where the characters say vaguely misogynistic things like this:

"He toyed with the idea of hitting on her by not hitting on her. He would be friendly and professional, maintaining a facade of pleasant disinterest, all the while scheming to initiate a romantic relationship. (39%)

That's Martin, in one of his early attempts to woo Gwen.

"I don't see the point in getting a woman to like you if you're not going to go out with her." (38%)

That's one of the other characters - Gary, I think. He says a lot of stuff like this. I think it's supposed to be funny, like, "Oh, you." It wasn't. He was an incredibly annoying character, and I wanted him sent back to his time period, stripped of his powers, because what a jerk.

These moments are few and far in between, and a few of the characters actually try to correct the other characters on their sexism, like Phillip, who repeatedly tells Martin to leave Gwen alone and who snaps at Tyler for his sexist comments. But Phillip also said that thing about not wanting to see Atlantis because of its being a woman-run world, so boo on you too, Phillip.

It actually made me think of this YouTube comment I saw recently, where this male commenter was complaining that this one channel I follow has gone downhill because of the female writers. He said, paraphrased, "It's because women aren't funny. Some can be, but most aren't." Which isn't necessarily true, in my opinion. I think there's just a difference in what both groups are willing to tolerate, and most women in particular just don't find crude, sexist digs as funny as some men do. I want to be clear: I'm not saying that this author is sexist, just that this book appears to be written with a mostly male audience in mind, and it shows in the humor used and the characters represented.

For the most part, I did like this story, and how it's CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT meets The Matrix. I thought it was unique and clever, and had a lot of fun and silly observations in it, and I appreciated the nerdy inside jokes, too. I wish it had just been a bit better developed, especially the third act, which although it made me laugh incredulously, felt like it had jumped the shark just a little bit.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

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