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Literature / The Flying Sorcerers

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The Flying Sorcerers is a comedic science fiction novel by Larry Niven and David Gerrold, published in 1971.

It tells the story of a human astronaut stranded on an alien planet, who is perceived as a magician by the native inhabitants due to his technology. In the course of trying to get back into space, he causes havoc in the native culture, by speeding up technological development (so he can build a flying machine to get to his pick-up point) and by introducing foreign ideas and values.

The story is narrated by Lant, one of the natives of the planet.

This novel contains examples of:

  • Alien Sky: The Flying Sorcerers is set on a planet with two suns (a big red one and small blue one that orbits it) and no less than eleven moons ("...three body formation makes capture easy..."), as a plot point. The system also has no other planets and is inside a giant dust cloud, so there are no visible stars, although the formations of the moons are observed in a similar way to how we observe constellations.
  • "Blind Idiot" Translation: In-universe. The computer used by the human explorer to translate his words into the native tongue has a tendency toward this. For instance, when the explorer is introducing himself, his name is rendered as the phrase "as a color, shade of purple-grey". He spends much of the book being called "Purple" because of this, but he eventually sets them straight: His name was Asimov ("as a mauve").
  • Clarke's Third Law: The astronaut, with his advanced technology, is regarded as a wizard by the locals.
  • Curse of The Ancients: We get to hear the traveler's translator-recorder's version of what he is really saying when he discovers the locals have sabotaged his spaceship.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: The astronaut's attempt to explain to the stone age natives how he got to their planet implies some kind of warp drive: "I went around... the distance".
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: The Flying Sorcerers has a human on an alien planet. The story is told from an alien's point of view and the cultural differences are Played for Laughs.
  • Oh, My Gods!: The Flying Sorcerers is a comedy in which most of the names are shoutouts to creators in the science fiction world. The two suns are Ouells and Virn, there's Caff the goddess of dragons, Rot'n'bair the God of Sheep and his arch-enemy Nilsn, Hitch the god of birds, and Elcin, the "great and tiny god of thunder, lightning and loud noises."
  • Planet of Steves: The native women originally did not have names. When the wizard Purple started giving them names, this raised a furor among the men (because having names made the women vulnerable to sorcery), but the women did not want to go back to being nameless. The solution was to give all the women the same name: Missa.
  • Shout-Out: Most of the names in the book are shout-outs to other SF authors or prominent SF fans. The wizard who is killed when the traveler falls on him from the sky is named Dorthi.
  • Unusual Euphemism: The human explorer's swear words when he discovers his spaceship has been sabotaged become this as a result of his computer's tendency toward "Blind Idiot" Translation.