I have to hand it to Mr. McCullough: he's taken a dangerous road and
navigated it well. Science fantasy is, in my opinion, the most
treacherous of genres besides satire. Most often, when you mix magic
and technology, you end up with a horrible bastard mix that starts
showing its seams before you're halfway through the book. Straight
and simple, it's a world-building problem, and a hard one at that.
So when I started reading "WebMage," a book where magic comes from the
Greek pantheon, is now controlled by computer, and the protagonist is
a magical hacker by way of being a many-times great grandson of one of
the three Fates, I set a pair of world-building litmus tests for Mr.
McCullough's work. First: does mentioning something mean that it
would show up again later as important to the plot? Second: are
coincidences important to the plot? When either of these happen, it
means that the world-building is shallow, and you're probably going to
wish you could spit out the prose like a bite of rotten apple.
I congratulate Mr. McCullough on passing both of my tests. What's
more, he passed in style, where things that felt coincidental
initially turn out to not be later on, and in retrospect the signs
were there, but fairly subtle.
He's also created a fairly fascinating world, somewhat redolent of
Zelazny's "Amber" universe, where titans (or their descendants) walk
mostly unnoticed amongst ordinary humans. The families of Fate are
set up in an interesting balance of concord and conflict, with prickly
etiquette regulating their interactions. Magic is powerful, but
clearly limited, and behaves by precisely intimated rules. And the
interface between magical and computer technology definitely tickles
my inner geek (snarky laptops, ltp protocol for teleports, addresses
that are MRLs, etc).
Oh, I've nits to pick, of course. There's a bit too much feel-good
21st Century morality going around, and the whole love-interest angle
is fairly forced. On the other hand, for a first novel, it's quite
good, and I'll definitely be looking for more things from
Mr. McCullough in the future.