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The Prodigal Nerd: Off to Be the Wizard, by Scott Meyer

A few years back I wrote a piece examining how magic functions in a variety of nerdy IPs like Harry Potter, Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance cycle, and a few others. It was in preparation for the entrance of magic into the MCU via the standalone Doctor Strange movie. I have since had the opportunity to dive into another series that concerns magic, and I think it’s a really interesting addition to the world of magic in nerdy pop culture.

But first, simulation theory…

You’re probably aware of the idea of simulation theory, whether you realize it or not. It’s the basis for quite a few of your favorite sci-fi books and movies. Think The Matrix, Total Recall, or maybe Ready Player One. In its most stringent form, simulation theory is the idea that all of reality, all that we experience, even our own bodies and consciousness, is in fact an artificial simulation of some sort, most likely a computer simulation. In short, it’s the idea that we are simply sub-routines in an incredibly elaborate computer program, governed by the rules of that program, and maintained (and presumably observed) by who- or whatever created the program and the means of running the program.

The really fun part is that legitimate, straight-laced, academic-minded scientists and philosophers actually give the idea some credence, at least in so far as to say that it can’t be ruled out as a possibility.

So if all of reality is really an elaborate and intricate computer simulation, what would magic look like in that setting? It might look a lot like having access to the program’s code and the knowledge to alter it. Enter Martin Banks, in Scott Meyer’s novel Off to Be the Wizard.

Review: Off to Be the Wizard

Martin is a 20-something corporate data entry drone who spends his free time snooping around in corporate mainframes just to see what he can find. One evening he stumbles across a truly massive .txt file, and as a matter of habit searches for his own name. To his great surprise, he finds it.

After poking around in the block of text associated with his name, he finds a number that he believes corresponds to his height, and decides to add three inches to it. He changes the value, hits enter, and is immediately stretching the inseam of his pants. He finds what he believes to be GPS coordinates, changes the values to the corner of his apartment, hits enter, and immediately finds himself in the corner of his apartment. He finds what he believes to be his bank account, moves the decimal point over a few places, then checks his banking app to find that he now has $8500 instead of the $85 he had before.

Over the course of a week or so, Martin of course gets himself into trouble, mostly with the bank account. Two U.S. Treasury agents come calling to find out how he has had nearly $100,000 added to his bank account without any deposits actually being made. Fearing life in prison, Martin makes his escape to the one place he can think of where magic is accepted as possible, but not feared and persecuted – England, in the year 1150. Using the File he has discovered that defines and governs him inside the Program, Martin is now a time-travelling wizard.

Upon arrival in medieval England, Martin is greeted by Phillip, who he assumes is the local charlatan posing as a wizard in order to secure his place in the town of Leadchurch. It is only after challenging Phillip to a wizard’s duel, which Phillip seems loathe to participate in, that Martin discovers the next truth he has to swallow – he’s not the only, nor even the first, person to find the File. From there, Martin is introduced to the rest of the “wizards” residing in medieval Europe, and the book progresses into the central conflict, concerning Merlin, Camelot, Tolkien characters, and a whole host of other medieval England magical tropes.

off to be the wizard cover

Off to Be the Wizard is fun. It’s the first novel in a series that is six novels deep at this point, and they’re each just fun. As you can probably guess by the title (and the series’ other titles – Spell or High Water; An Unwelcome Quest; Fight And Flight; Out of Spite, Out of Mind; and The Vexed Generation) there’s a healthy amount of tongue-in-cheek here, and nothing is taken overly-seriously. For readers who are very serious about solid plots with no holes and world mechanics that are deeply thought through, this will be a problem.

But if you’re looking for a fun summer read (or listen; I’ve been going through the whole series on Audible…), Off to Be the Wizard is a winner in my book.