Wizard’s Bane is the first installment in The Wiz Biz series, by Rick Cook. The series, as the name of the first book implies, belongs to the fantasy genre. However, a single detail makes it much more interesting than it would look at first: the main character is not a wizard, but a programmer directly taken from the Silicon Valley. The end result is an unorthodox and extremely funny story loaded with insider jokes and references that will appeal to fans of the genre and programmers alike. The story begins in a world other than the ours where two great magic factions battle for the future of humankind. At one side is the band of benign wizards called the Council of the North; at the other is the Dark League. As the power of the Council fails as the war drags on, one of its wizards takes a desperate risk: he summons the help of an inhabitant of our world, with the help of a minor witch. The summoned savior is a systems programmer called William Irving Zumwalt — or Wiz, as he is known to his friends. In the summoning, however, the wizard dies, victim of the Dark League’s magic, and Wiz is left in this different world to fend for himself (or almost). His only help is the beautiful red-haired witch, called Moira, under whose care Wiz is put by the Council, while they decide what to do with him. Not surprisingly, Moira has the temper of a angry dragon and despises Wiz because the wizard died summoning him into her world.
Wiz soon finds out that he has no magic of his own, and no talent to learn it either. The Council, not knowing what to do with him and without any power to send him back, sends him to a refuge. Lost in a world full of dangerous creatures, Wiz turns to the only thing he knows to do well: programming. He discovers that magic is real (unless, of course, it’s declared integer) and the true adventure begins. Against the powers threatening him, Wiz has as his only defense a magical interpreter, based in a programming language similar to list, and an spell editor, a demon properly named Emac.
As I said, the book is really interesting. Although is has a few flaws and some small plot holes, it’s well-written and serves as excellent reading. The story was able to keep my attention, and the only real complaint I have against the book is that it’s too short, which results in some parts having a somewhat compressed narrative that doesn’t flow so well. Even so, it was certainly worth the time I spent reading it. I’m already halfway through the second book, Wizardry Compiled, and the story is even funnier and interesting.
The best thing about the series, however, is that the first and second books are free. The series is part of the Baen Free Library, a site from the publisher by the same name, which gives away some of the books from its series without cost and in various portable formats so that readers can decide if they want to buy the other books. This is a quite interesting strategy, and it certainly worked for me. I had never heard about the site before until I stumbled on it following some links while navigating the Web. I read the first book, liked it, am reading the second book, and have already ordered the third and fourth books, which will arrive in a few weeks. As many series are available in the site, there is a lot of reading material for future readings as well, spanning both the fantasy and science fiction genres. If you like that kind of book, be sure to visit the site and download some of them. If the other are as good as those I’m reading now you will not be disappointed.