Sorcerer's Son/The Crystal Palace Critical Essays

Phyllis Eisenstein


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Phyllis Eisenstein did not prepare to write Sorcerer’s Son, her second published book, by absorbing the conventions of heroic fantasy; in fact, she says, the heroic fantasy novels she had read could be counted on one hand. She did enjoy the type of logical fantasy promoted in John W. Campbell, Jr.’s magazine Unknown/ Unknown Worlds, in which magic follows rules and so can be studied as a science. Above all, she enjoys exploring human characters.

Eisenstein’s is a rather unconventional, uncommercial approach to a frequently conventional and determinedly commercial subgenre. After Sorcerer’s Son initially appeared on the paperback racks, readers began to realize that it was more than a routine adventure story. It remained in print, even achieving hardcover publication in England. Rather than turning out a sequel that would merely pave the way for more sequels, Eisenstein went on to speculate how her characters could (and would need to) change. Because her publisher demanded more of the original mixture, The Crystal Palace’s publication was delayed, and casual readers may have had trouble connecting the novels.

Both books are focused on the same major human question: How can a young person find a livable balance between independence and involvement? Magic appears to offer a chance to achieve power without depending on other people. If that is true, why does one need other people?

Both novels contain sorcerers who have decided that normal people are of very little use, that demons are more useful but even less deserving of sympathy, and that other sorcerers are too dangerous to accept as true companions. Consequently, the more power they acquire...

(The entire section is 703 words.)