This omnibus volume of the first three books of the “Hainish Cycle” is also available under the title “Worlds of Exile and Illusion”. I chose to lead with the simpler, more plainly descriptive title, mainly because it happened to be this edition that I borrowed from the public library. To be sure, it’s a bit of a misnomer. The first three installments in Ursula Le Guin’s multiple award-winning series are really more on the order of novellas, weighing in at 117, 113, and 160 pages, respectively.
Winner of the 1970 Hugo Award for Best Novel, this book by the author of “A Wizard of Earthsea” more than deserves to be in the company of such books as “Stranger in a Strange Land,” “Dune,” “Foundation’s Edge,” “Ender’s Game,” “American Gods,” “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell,” “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” and “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union”. It packs a powerful impact on both mind and heart. It is rich both in world-crafting inventiveness and in human detail. It is—it is, straight-up, devastatingly beautiful.
In a basement room made larger on the inside than it looks on the outside (thanks to a bit of sci-fi know-how), the Bequest is home to the real gadgets, weapons, and vessels of exploration that Wells wrote about. Stuff like the tripods that attacked the Earth in “War of the Worlds”, and the anti-gravity element Cavorite that propelled “The First Men in the Moon”; and not just stuff from Wells’ books, but from other writers such as Jules Verne. How did these amazing things make the jump from imagination to reality?
High school sophomore Joey Harker has such a poor sense of direction that he sometimes gets lost in his own house. One day, during a social studies exam in the form of a scavenger hunt around the downtown area, he walks into a patch of fog and comes out in another reality altogether. A world where McDonald’s sports a single, green tartan arch, and where his parents have a daughter his age—but no son.
Polly Mayer is an in-house lawyer for a property development company. Her brother Don is a jingle-writing musician. For whatever reason, these two siblings have been chosen to be the next pair of contestants in a multi-dimensional game designed to answer the question, “Which came first—the chicken or the egg?”
Pratchett specializes in examining the nature of our civilization through the lens of a silly, off-bubble fantasy world. Baxter, I take it, likes to play with ideas related to time travel, alternate history, and parallel worlds. Put these two creative minds together, and you get a fascinating world-building experiment that shows what might happen to mankind if (or maybe when) we suddenly figure out how to “step” from one possible Earth to another.
Nita (full name, Juanita Callahan) is a bookish, 13-year-old girl living with her florist father, her ex-dancer mother, and her younger sister Dairine in a Long Island suburb of New York City. She constantly gets beaten up by schoolyard bullies and doesn’t know what to do about it. One day, while fleeing from a confrontation with her nemesis Joanne, Nita finds sanctuary in the children’s section of a public library. There, on a shelf full of career-advice books like “So You Want to Be a Doctor…a Writer…”and so on, she finds a book that just has to be a joke: “So You Want to Be a Wizard.”