I wrote a review of “Fain the Sorceror” by Steve Aylett several years ago. I’ve decided to post it here for no good reason.
The late Robert Jordan claimed he would not stop writing “until they nailed shut his coffin”. This was probably a wise move, for had he stopped writing, his imagination may have started working, thereby ruining his chances of getting in the bestsellers list.
With this in mind it is somewhat of a surprise that Steve Aylett, who puts more ideas into one sentence than most writers are allowed in a lifetime, decided to write Fain The Sorcerer, a story in the, laughably named, Fantasy genre. Admittedly, he did chose to avoid the ubiquitous bickering crowned idiots, terrible lords and tedious peasants with uncertain pasts and instead writes a fairy tale, reminiscent of the work of Jack Vance.
However, instead being clever Fain is on the surface, at the start at least, stupid albeit benevolent. Yet who can say that, given the opportunity, they would not travel back in time to repeatedly throttle a clown? On the other hand, Fain abuses his wishes with such abandon that if the story were a tabletop roleplaying game the dungeon master would probably have caved his players head in with a copy of the Fiend Folio.
And the game metaphor can be extended. Fain’s ability to travel back in time reminds one of a video gamer, who given a choice between good and evil naturally choses the most stupid option and thereby spends (some might say wastes) half-an-hour trying to get some sort of space soldier to jump onto a one metre high ledge.
In some ways the plot is reminiscent of the film Primer as Fain repeatedly travels back to same place. However, Aylett does not decide to give up telling the story half-way through in the hope that somebody writes it up on wikipedia and instead ties things into a logical conclusion and Fain learns his lesson. As does the reader.
But what is it that we learn? That fishes aren’t wishes. The princesses might not want to be rescued. And that you should never review a book that you last read 3 years ago after drinking most of a bottle of wine.