This comic fantasy novel introduces a new fictional world, a highly original mash-up of technology and magic. ‘Scriptlings’ are magicians’ apprentices. They learn from their masters how to cast spells using dead languages such as Sumerian and Latin. Casting spells is presented as being similar to computer programming, and throughout the novel Suciu plays on the similarities between modern technology and magic. The cast list features three magicians, two scriptlings, and The Tribe, a people nomadic through both space and time, reincarnated over thousands of generations throughout human history. Oh, and a magician’s familiar who (usually) takes the form of a goat named Gertrude.
As you may have guessed, The scriptlings revels in its geekiness. The reading experience is greatly enhanced if you have any knowledge or interest in computer games or fantasy literature. Computing references abound – but you don’t have to have a degree in programming to get the jokes. For example, one of the minor characters is a virtual assistant who appears in a character’s field of vision. He looks like a staple and is in fact named Stapley. As Suciu freely admits in an endnote, he is quite clearly a spoof of Microsoft Office’s Clippit/Clippy (Yes, that irritating paperclip with the suggestive eyebrows. Blast from the (90s/00s) past).
The scriptlings is stuffed full of jokes. I particularly liked one character’s casual reference to having attended a conference with the theme of Investigating the Merits of Esperanto as a Candidate Dead Language in Modern Spell Casting. I can just imagine a group of magicians earnestly debating this topic, taking sides for and against Esperanto, and tempers flaring as the debate gets heated – perhaps ending in an undignified scuffle. It reinforces the image I have of magicians being academics.
For me however, it was the playful inventiveness that made this book comic, rather than the jokes as such. The fun comes from the openness to playing around with ideas and language. It’s somewhat like a Jasper Fforde novel for technology instead of literature. The plot is twisty, with many threads that are carefully untangled over the course of the story. The set-up is surreal, but internally coherent, to the extent that I read the following passage and actually found myself nodding in agreement, and thinking, “Of course, that makes sense!”
“Have we all been so blind as to not understand the dangers posed to us by the advent of computers? All this seemingly inoffensive computer does is cast very simple, all-but-diluted spells over and over again. No harm done, I hear you say, but you couldn’t be more wrong. The bitter truth is that Magic is not an inexhaustible resource. We didn’t know that until recent years. How could we have? Until now there hasn’t been anything in the world as voracious as computers constantly feeding on Magic. How else can we explain the decreasing numbers of Magicians over the last decades?”
I received a free ebook of The scriptlings in return for an honest review. I’d never actually read an ebook before; I had to commandeer my partner’s Kindle to read it. I was curious about how ebooks would compare to printed books (pbooks?) and was surprised at how pleasant the reading experience was. For me, ebooks can’t replace printed books: I love the tactile nature of books and am proud of my (weird, useless) ability to date a book to within a few years by sniffing the pages. But I can see that ebooks would sometimes be more convenient, and may read some again in the future.