Tue
Apr 8 2014 11:00am

The Contradictions of Diane Duane

Diane Duane The Door Into Sunset In all her genres, Diane Duane is one of my favorite writers.

She spreads her talents around, too. She writes in multiple genres and forms—scripts to novels, tie-ins to original fiction, young adult urban fantasy to historical fantasy to science fiction to second-world fantasy. And whether she’s writing Y.A., as with her Young Wizards series, or Star Trek media tie-ins, she always brings an inimitable playful voice and a startling sense of “Yes; that’s right; that’s just like people.” to her work.

Spoilers for The Romulan Way and The Door into Sunset.

She hits several of my reader kinks perfectly—her characters snark, and struggle, and have relationships that feel extremely authentic. I don’t just mean romantic relationships, though there’s that. But she’s a good enough writer, and confident enough in her characterization, that she doesn’t feel constrained to force fictional people to be consistent. Real people aren’t consistent, after all. They have trends, certainly; but very few people are completely predictable.

If we were, there would be no murders.

Likewise, her worlds are very like the real world in that they’re contradictory and chaotic. The people in them are products of their cultures, but never stereotypes, and never one-note. Her mad inventiveness makes me think she must be a hell of a player to game master for—the sort who weasels a way out of every trap that’s so damned clever you let them get away with it.

And the way her sense of whimsy informs everything she does, from fight scenes to love scenes to cultural studies of made-up people (Her original series Star Trek novelizations Spock’s World; My Enemy, My Ally; and The Romulan Way are generally considered among the best of the bunch, in part because of their insights into the histories of the alien races they address—which are also suitably confounding).

So I’d like to talk about one particular example of that wonderful chaos, which is my single favorite battle scene in fantasy literature. It’s in Diane Duane’s The Door into Sunset (1992), book three in the Middle Kingdoms tetralogy. (A sadly unfinished tetralogy; I believe Book 4, The Door into Starlight, is probably the current epic fantasy record-holder for Being Unfinished. And you know as well as I do that that’s saying something.)

The scene I love—the scene I often go back and study when writing battle scenes myself—is the literary equivalent of the storming Normandy sequence of Saving Private Ryan. Except it was published six years before Saving Private Ryan was released, and it’s high-medieval warfare with sorcery. And there’s no irritating steadicam shaking.

The scene, in cinematic terms, would be a single tracking shot. It follows the point of view of one of our protagonists, the usurped prince of a kingdom our heroes are trying to win back through a combination of sneakiness, politics, and force of arms, as he leads his forces into a pivotal combat. The scene is written in tight limited third person, stream-of-consciousness, as Freelorn fights, marshals his forces, retreats, charges, suffers under the fog of war, dodges frantically from one near-death experience to another, and discovers that he and his honor guard have been cut off from the rest of the army only when he hears his allies calling the order for troops to go and support him at bay.

If you like the way Joe Abercrombie writes fight scenes, it scratches the same itch, but it’s funnier.

And then there’s the scene in The Romulan Way where McCoy has to filibuster the Romulan senate until a horta eats through the floor to rescue him. And the most perfect talking shark in all of fiction, in Deep Magic.

Just read her stuff. You won’t be sorry.


Elizabeth Bear is the multiple Hugo award winning author of over 20 novels. Her most recent, Steles of the Sky, is out from Tor—today.

11 comments
Merchanter Pride
1. MerchanterPride
All of this is precisely true. Also, and very improbably, she has written a number of the entries in Tom Clancy's Net Force Explorers, the YA spinoff of the adult Net Force series, itself a spinoff of the Op-Center series. They're all shockingly good. Especially the second volume, The Deadliest Game, probably the best imagining I have ever encountered of what we can expect from fully immersive VR MMOs. Give it a read and you'll be even more excited for the Oculus Rift, recent events notwithstanding.
E M
2. herewiss13
I cannot endorse this post strongly enough.
Christopher Bennett
3. ChristopherLBennett
You've touched on one of my two enduring questions about Middle Kingdoms/Tale of the Five: "Will Book 4 ever be finished?"

My other enduring question is, "How the hell do you pronounce 'Herewiss'?"
Vanye
4. Vanye
Diane has been in my top 3 favorite author list for, well, pretty much ever. Since I first read her Trek novelizations in the mid 80's. I didn't know she'd done any of the NetForce books. I'll have to hit up ABE and see if they have any for reasonable prices.

I hope that someday she can get book 4 done. I would love to see how it ends...
Vanye
5. Vanye
@3ChristopherLBennett
I've always pronounced it Hair-a-wiss. Rhymes with miss.
Vanye
6. LesleyK
Yes, this. I've been introducing people to Diane's amazing work as long as I've read her. Her Star Trek tie-ins are without peer and the Wizard books are fabulous, with terrific characters of all types and stories that don't always offer easy resolutions.

One nit-pick, the talking shark is in "Deep Wizardry" :)
Christopher Bennett
7. ChristopherLBennett
@5: Yeah, that's one of my hypotheses, along with "just like it's spelled." But knowing Duane, I can't help think that maybe it's got some sort of pseudo-Welsh or -Irish pronunciation, like "Hroo-iss" or something.
Paul Weimer
8. PrinceJvstin
Doctor's Orders is one of the few Star Trek novels I remember reading. (along with John Ford's).
Lee Whiteside
9. LeeWhiteside
This appears to be the most recent word on the fourth book from Diane.

http://dianeduane.com/outofambit/2011/07/15/since-you-were-asking-the-door-into-starlight/

She does have an e-book omnibus edition available now.

On a side note, I have had Diane and Peter Morwood as guests at two conventions and they are very good guests and fun to chat and hang with.
Vanye
10. Amber V.
I will never not wish that Diane's Romulans were canon. They're certainly my canon.
Vanye
11. David F. McCloskey
I am glad that Diane Duane is getting a mention recently.

I discovered her writing through her work for the now defunct Star*Drive novels, which were novel companions to the TSR Alternity campaign of the same name.

Her short stories, and especially her Harbinger Trilogy in that universe, are astounding. I have read them over and over constantly over the years, and still elicit the same profound feelings as the first time.

Her characters dig into your chest, her world building is subtle, complex, yet unobtrusive, and her domain of language and plot makes the flow of the story smooth.

I would have loved to read more about those characters, and although it is one of my favorite space opera trilogies, I still get sad when it ends.

Good thing is that I found soon after that she had a large amount of published work to enjoy!

Long live Diane Duane!

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