Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Apprentice Adept [2] Blue Adept

This is Part 2 of my retrospective for The Apprentice Adept. Please see this blog post for an overview of the retrospective. Warning: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE TRILOGY.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

The best way to approach these blogs is via your own re-read. If you have not read the entire trilogy yet and plan on doing so, you may want to wait on reading this.

Book 2: Blue Adept (1981)

I wasn't expecting to like this book after forcing myself through the first one.  It's been so long since I read Blue Adept, that I honestly didn't remember it at all.

But it's actually not too bad.  And since I've conveniently gotten a lot of the complaining out of my system during the Split Infinity post, I'll spare you for the most part.  On to the book!

The Story

Stile continues his quests in both frames, Phaze and Proton, fantasy and sci-fi, shuffling between them via the Curtain.

On Proton, he's entered a new tourney with the hopes of eventually becoming a Citizen, and is also hoping to find out who's been trying to kill him with the help of his robot friend, Sheen.  Remember, his double on Phaze, the Blue Adept, was murdered.

On Phaze, he's also trying to find out who killed his Phaze-self.  He gets help from the Lady Blue (the Blue Adept's widow)—who initially doesn't like him but seems to be coming around—and his unicorn friend, Neysa.  This brings about some other challenges, which mirror the Tourney matches.

There's a lot going on in this novel, little side quests and characters and such that aid the story but really aren't worth mentioning, and like the first novel, some of it is boring, and yes, the writing style drives me nuts for the most part.  But as I said earlier, it's not too bad.  If anything, Anthony is good at clever plotting.  That's his strength, if you ask me.

Anyway, by the end we know who's trying to kill Stile.

Since the story shuttles between distinct quests in Phaze and Tourney matches in Proton, it's probably easier to discuss each world separately.  But first, let's get our bearings.

The Map(s)

So I totally neglected to talk about the map in the previous post.  Not that you're missing much, as the maps are very basic, and only show Phaze.  And to be honest, they're not very useful, I think I referred to it once during my re-read?

Like the chapter titles, the regions have unimaginative names, and all the mythical / magical creatures have their own areas where they live, denoted simply by their names.  No cool place names or cities, etc.  Except for maybe Meander River?

The maps go side by side, Split Infinity on the left, Blue Adept on the right.  Sorry if they look a little crooked, they span two pages in the book.  I did some of my Photoshop Adept magic on the first to align it; I'm quite proud of myself.  The second one wasn't printed well in the book itself.

Split Infinity

Blue Adept

Both maps are credited to Chris Barbieri.

A funny aside, I remember as a kid I used to pronounce "demesne" as "de-mes-ne"—like actually as it's spelled.  It was a number of years before I learned that it was pronounced "duh-main".  Silly me!

The Games

The first Tourney game Stile has to play here is a football game, where the rest of his team are androids.  I don't believe Anthony is a big sports fan, but from the perspective of someone who is (I wasn't when I first read this, some 27 years ago), it was actually well done and entertaining to read.

Stile played in a non-traditional manner to keep his opponent off guard, like kicking field goals early without trying for touchdowns, frequent onside kicks, etc.  Such gameplay might actually work in today's game, and be a hell of a lot more interesting to watch, but no one has the balls to buck tradition in the college or NFL game.  Reminds me of that high school team that always goes for it on 4th down and always uses the onside kick.

The football round gets most of a chapter, while the other rounds are generally glossed over.  Subsequent rounds are: riddles (okay), giant mazes (eh), slot machines (eh; this is only one Stile loses, and only because of its random nature), ice climbing (eh), flute battles (pretty good, with a clever resolution), word puzzles (okay), sewing (eh), soap bubbles (eh)... but those are peanuts compared to the climax: interpretive dance battle.  More on that later.

At the end of the day, by virtue of how far he got in the Tourney, Stile guarantees himself additional tenure on Proton, so he's not going anywhere any time soon.

The Adepts

I probably should have touched on this during the blog for Split Infinity, but again, I was too busy complaining to really explore the content and ideas in this trilogy.  Sorry about that!

Stile has been visiting different Adepts to figure out which killed his Phaze double (the original Blue Adept).  He invades each of their demesnes to figure it out.

I've never understood how the Adept colors came to be, though.  Why does Blue use the magic of music?  Or where they come from, since there's so few humans in Phaze (humans seem to be relegated to random villages).  There's some talk later of why they create elaborate castles and demesnes, but the origins and stuff have remained unanswered so far.  Anthony is not the best at world building, as too much of it doesn't make sense, to the point that it's hard to suspend disbelief.

That's one of his weaknesses, and what makes much of his fantasy writing seem frivolous, in my opinion (his older science fiction is fantastic).  Anyway, let's run down through the Adepts we've met so far in the first two books.

  • Yellow — (Book 1) Yellow is a woman who makes potions. She's an old crone but uses a potion to appear young. She likes to capture animals that come too close to her demesnes.
  • Black — (Book 1) Black is a man who uses "line" magic.  He can create massive black lines that form into anything he wants.  A maze, a castle, a dragon... you get the point.
  • Green — (Book 2) Green is a man... but that's all we know. Stile briefly meets him at the Unolympics (Olympic games for Unicorns... yes, I know... frivolous, remember?).
  • White — (Book 2) White is a woman who uses symbols for her magic.  She draws on the ground and it does something.  Typically white, she lives in the frozen mountains to the north.  What that has to do with symbol magic I have no idea.
  • Brown — (Book 2) Brown is a little girl who creates golems, inanimate objects that are given magical life.  They are clearly the analog to robots in the Proton-frame.  A golem of Stile was used in Phaze to cover up the Blue Adept's original murder, but Brown was only "fulfilling an order."
  • Red — (Book 2) Red is the one who makes amulets, and is ultimately the one Stile has been looking for (since an amulet tried to kill him when he first arrived in Phaze).  Her double in Proton was "disposed of" and the curtain crosses her demenses, so she can move between frames easily.  She's also a contestant in the Tourney, one of the final six as we learn in the epic interpretive dance battle that ends this book.

We know that there are also Purple, Orange and Gray Adepts, but we haven't met them yet.  Will they factor into the final novel?  I honestly don't remember at all.

The Cover

But first, the cover.  Another one by Rowena Morrill, in Phaze again (no nudity allowed in the US!), showing Stile's encounter with the Red Adept.

It's another decent cover, a typical fantasy-style cover of the day.  Stile's small stature is not readily apparent here (the book says he's 4'11", which is really small for a grown man), as he looks no smaller than the Red Adept.

It wasn't all that apparent on the cover for Split Infinity either, because Neysa is supposedly a runt of a unicorn... but I don't know why I'm criticizing the accuracy of a fantasy novel cover.  As we've learned from my previous retrospectives, artists get the simplest of details wrong, which drives me nuts.

For instance, Stile is supposed to be floating the entire battle.  I guess that would look weird as a still image, though, but a good artist could probably figure out a way to make it work.

And then you have the European cover... I think those are the Mound Folk?  I seriously don't know WTF those are.

The Oracle

Wait, we can't forget about the Oracle!  An 80's fantasy novel can't go without some form of prophecy to remove the illusion of freewill from the plot (and generally muck things up).

The Oracle is in Phaze, and answers one—and only one—question for each person.  Basically, you go to the Oracle's residence and ask your question to an intercom and it responds.  That's it.  We don't actually see an Oracle.

This plot device has been used throughout both books, but I haven't mentioned it yet because it was basically a throwaway fantasy convention until the end of this book.  Stile used it in Split Infinity when he wasn't sure how to proceed.  He asked, "What is my best course of action?"  The answer was "Know thyself."  Basically, figure out you're the Blue Adept, duh.

In this book, when Stile finally confronts Red, they have a chat about why she's trying to kill him.  It goes something like this:
Local vampires don't like living near Red, and ask the Oracle how to be rid of Red's yoke.  Oracle answers: "Bide for two months."
Red hears of this and likes it not, so she asks the Oracle what her fate in two months will be.  Oracle answers: "Blue destroys Red."
Red decides to take the initiative and has the Blue Adept in Phaze killed.  Then in Proton she tries to depose of his double, Stile—but it turns out he's not that easy to kill.  And this whole thing becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If Red hadn't asked that question, would she have still murdered the Blue Adept?  Or would something else happen to cause Blue to kill her?

Stile even decides he can safely fight the Red Adept once the Lady Blue reveals her Oracle question and answer.  She wanted to know what kind of children she would have, and it said "None by One, Son by Two"—implying that Stile, as the second Blue Adept, would be the father.  He figures the Oracle is always right, so he won't die confronting Red since he and the Lady Blue haven't, um, consummated their marriage (oh yeah, they get married towards the end of the book, forgot to mention that).

Prophecy is hard to use effectively in fantasy, because you don't want it to dictate too much of the plot.  In this trilogy it's used fairly well, and adds to the mystery of why someone would want to kill Stile.  I mean, we know why Red took action, but not the real why as to how Blue would destroy Red—if there is one.  The Oracle could just be playing them off each other.

The... Interpretive Dance Battle?

That's right.  After a pretty cool battle between worlds, where Stile and the Red Adept move back and forth across the curtain trying to kill each other, Neysa and Sheen helping Stile in the Phaze and Proton frames, respectively, it all culminates in the next round of the Tourney.  Red is also one of the six contestants left in the Tourney at this point, and she and Stile must face off in an epic interpretive dance battle in the final chapter, with the exciting one word title of "Dance."

It's some Arabian story, where they are prince and princess of different lands, and scorn all their suitors, but dream of each other and eventually fall in love.  Which is amusing because the Red Adept is like a foot taller than Stile, and apparently hates men.  So the stage is set!  Literally!

They have to lie with each other and pretend to like it, dance and pretend-kiss, all kinds of pretend-stuff that's amusing when just the chapter before they had been trying to kill each other.

And at the end, as you can imagine, Stile wins after goading Red into getting angry about him getting close and pretend-touching her.  She really does hate men!


Book 3 — Juxtaposition


Book 1 — Split Infinity

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Apprentice Adept [1] Split Infinity

This is Part 1 of my retrospective for The Apprentice Adept. Please see this blog post for an overview of the retrospective. Warning: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE TRILOGY.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

The best way to approach these blogs is via your own re-read. If you have not read the entire trilogy yet and plan on doing so, you may want to wait on reading this.

Book 1: Split Infinity (1980)

Well, it's certainly taken a while to post the first entry in this retrospective.  You can always chalk it up to being lazy and busy with more "important" things (like work), but there's also a reason I wasn't entirely prepared to accept.

I didn't like the book anymore.

Now, as I explained in my overview post, The Apprentice Adept was one of the first fantasies that I ever read, along with The Belgariad and The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.  I thought it was great, I re-read them so many times...

...but honestly, this will be my last.  I haven't read them in at least 15 years, and I must say, the years have not been kind to them, and I clearly have much different tastes in fiction now than I did at 13 years old.  Not to mention actual writing skills.

I'd rather not complain in these blogs, but from a writer's perspective, there are a few things I must talk about.

Show Don't Tell

The age-old writing adage.  I haven't read Anthony in so long, I forgot how much "telling" he does.  It's out of control.  He doesn't let the reader infer anything from the text; he literally explains everything as if you're a total dumbass.  And he uses semi-colons every other sentence; he can't seem to help it.  It gets annoying really quick; I couldn't stand it.  I ended up skimming over much of the text, to be honest; he spends pages explaining something that should take less than one.

See what I mean?  I totally forgot how much he did that, but before I even got to the second chapter, it all came back to me.

So not exactly the smoothest prose to read, but Anthony always has interesting ideas.  It's what drew me to his work.  That and the "I do what I want" attitude, though that can only get you so far, I suppose.

The Story

Before I complain too much, there's still a story here.  So on to the content itself.  The book is really slow for the first half, but it has an interesting fantasy / science fiction hybrid going on.

To summarize, our hero Stile is a serf on the planet Proton.  In this futuristic society, serfs go naked (so basically 99.5% of the population) and work for Citizens.  The serfs play the Games a lot.  It's essentially a bunch of competitions between serfs and there are rankings, etc... it's complicated to explain and not relevant to the summary.  Suffice to say, Stile is really good at the Games, and suddenly someone is trying to kill him.  With the help of a nubile female robot named Sheen, Stile hides... and abruptly finds himself in a fantasy world when he passes through a mysterious shimmering curtain in the air.

This fantasy world is called Phaze and set on the same planet as Proton (occupies the same space in a different dimension).  Everyone on Proton has a double in Phaze.  Only when your double dies can you pass through the curtain between worlds.  With the help of a nubile female unicorn named Neysa, Stile discovers his double was an Adept, one of very few color-based magicians of this world, who was murdered.  It seems that whoever killed his double in Phaze is also trying to kill him in Proton.  Why?

And so the stage is set.  Stile moves between worlds via the curtain, and between non-human girlfriends (Sheen and Neysa), trying to stay alive.  In Proton he competes in the Games while in Phaze he seeks out the Adepts, trying to figure out which one he is/was.  The Adepts all go by colors... Stile eventually finds out he is the Blue Adept.  Spoiler!

Anyways, the book essentially ends with Stile realizing his powers and making peace with his disparate robot and unicorn girlfriends.

The Cover

You can't have a Brad Murgen Retrospective™ without a commentary about the cover, now can you?  Thankfully there's no Darrell K. Sweet on The Apprentice Adept (though he did do the cover for the extension of this series, volumes 4-7 that we aren't covering, as well as many other Anthony titles).

The US cover is done by Rowena Morrill.  According to Wikipedia, she's "credited as one of the first female artists to impact fantasy cover illustration."  And an interesting aside, two of her paintings were found in one of Saddam Hussein's "love shacks" (safe houses) after the fall of his regime.

Iraqi dictators notwithstanding, it's a good cover, I like it.

Of course it's set on Phaze.  In fact, all of the US covers by Morrill are on Phaze.  Can't be on Proton, everyone would be naked!

Contrast that with a European cover, of a naked Sheen (Stile's robot lover):

Boring Chapter Titles

One of Piers Anthony's many quirks is that when he titles chapters, they are always one word.  I'm pretty sure it's 100% of the time.  I don't know why he does it, it seems... unimaginative.  Or lazy.  I don't know, it's something that's always bugged me.

Chapter titles should be used to evoke anticipation or mystery to the reader, or to sum up a theme for the chapter.  For example, I pick up a book and look at the table of contents, and see some interesting chapter titles.  That makes me more likely to read it.  Or with a series, you can maybe infer what's going to happen later based on the titles, and it heightens your anticipation.  Every time I got a new The Wheel of Time book, the first thing I did was read the chapter titles in the table of contents, and try to guess what was going to happen.  It was great fun.

Not so with Anthony.  Here are the chapters in this book:
  1. Slide
  2. Sheen
  3. Race
  4. Curtain
  5. Fantasy
  6. Manure
  7. Neysa
  8. Music
  9. Promotion
  10. Magic
  11. Oracle
  12. Black
  13. Rungs
  14. Yellow
  15. Games
  16. Blue
  17. Tourney
  18. Oath
Exciting.  Chapter titles really are an art, in my opinion.  It's just as important as the content of the book, or the marketing blurbs, or the synopsis, etc.  I'd rather not have chapter titles if this is all I'm going to get.

Sex Sex Sex

Another of Anthony's quirks is how much he focuses on sex.  He does this a lot, even in his Xanth series, which is generally marketed towards pre-teens.  It's prevalent throughout many of his works and sometimes it's downright uncomfortable.

This series doesn't have a ton of sex, but the characters are naked most of the time (because Proton) and Stile wastes little time entertaining thoughts of relations with Sheen and Neysa.  It wouldn't be all that bad, except it doesn't have much bearing on the story and it's treated so matter-of-fact.  It's just like, this hot female is really into me, let's go back to my apartment, oh she's a robot, that's okay let's get it on!

Anthony does this frequently, so it's hard to characterize his writing at times.  I mean, books with real depth and an important message have been banned for much lesser offenses, but you could easily find this naughty stuff in school libraries when I was a kid.

That said... whether it detracts from the story is up to your own personal tastes.  It doesn't bother me all that much, but it does get old and in my opinion it was completely irrelevant to the story Anthony is telling.

On to the Next Volume

That's about all I have to say about Split Infinity.  I'm not sure when I'll get to the next volume, Blue Adept.  I still have a backlog of regular books to read through.  And writing to do.  But I'll squeeze it in at some point.


Book 2 — Blue Adept

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Hope of Memory [Update 29] Rom Tar Fourth Draft

Wanted to make a quick post to start the New Year, and provide an update.

Rom Tar
I finished the fourth draft of Rom Tar last month, after three months of hemming and hawing and making various edits from the copious "Things to Remember" list that I maintain as I edit and re-read the series.  I use this list to make sure details and events stay consistent across books.  Like when I re-read The Distant recently, there were some details I totally forgot about, and wanted to mention again in Rom Tar.  So I have my "Things to Remember" list for that.

I also spent a lot of the last two months fleshing out a huge timeline for events before and after The Hope of Memory, so that the additional history presented in Rom Tar makes sense, and to pave the way for future expansions of the story, if/when I decide to do that (looking more likely every day).

The fifth draft of Rom Tar will be my "audio" draft.  This is where I read the entire book out loud and correct wording and dialogue that sounds wrong.  I started doing this with Wilders and it's very helpful to identify those trouble spots.

I didn't participate in NaNoWriMo as I alluded to back in October.  It was more important to finish the fourth draft of Rom Tar.

A New Novel
However... I have started writing a new novel that has been brewing for the last year.  Enough of the outline and notes have been written, so I finally stopped putting it off and set finger to keyboard.  It will be a shorter novel, perhaps half of one of The Hope of Memory.  And I'm not writing this one longhand, I'm typing it up.

The book is called Hop Limit and it's about the afterlife.  I would like to try and publish this one professionally... might be a little easier to do so with this one versus The Hope of Memory.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Hope of Memory [Update 28] World Notes

First off, all versions of The Distant and Wilders are available again.  All issues have been fixed.  Yay me.

Secondly, I'm still working on Rom Tar, of course, though it's slow going.  I have tons of notes on details that I wanted to add into the book, but I'm having trouble working some of them in without it sounding forced.  Others I've decided to not bother with (not important enough).  Hopefully I can get them all taken care of by the end of the month and move on to the next draft.  At that point the content will be set in stone.

World Notes
Thirdly, I've spent a lot of time during the last few months writing what I call "world notes."  Basically the additional history and background that I hadn't outlined prior to writing the trilogy.

Most of this content will not be in the trilogy, but it's important that it's all there so I know where everything has come from.  I'm also outlining what happens after the trilogy is over... that way I can work clues in now.  So that way if I ever decide to continue the story (not out of the realm of possibility), it will make sense in the context of everything else and not feel out of place or tacked on.

And fourthly, I'm considering doing this for the first time.  If you don't know what that is, check here:

I generally like getting a first draft done as soon as possible, and I'd really like to get a jump start on the next novel I have planned.  But I also want to get Rom Tar finished so I can move on for sure and not have some other thing hanging over my head.

So I'm still undecided.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Hope of Memory [Update 27] Status Report

I haven't posted in a while... not that anyone has noticed.  This is more for my own records and transparency than anything else.  But I've been working a lot on Rom Tar, don't worry.

However, as I was re-reading The Distant to ensure Rom Tar was consistent with it, I realized that some parts are simply bad.  Like cringe-worthy, and it was pretty upsetting, considering I went over that book so many damn times.  I thought it was good, but apparently my writing and editing skills have actually progressed a lot in the last 3 years.  And perhaps that's part of the perils of self-editing, I don't know.

As such, I've removed The Distant and Wilders from purchase temporarily while I work through a "second edition" of The Distant.  So you can't buy them right now.  The Distant will get a second edition update.  Very little of the storyline will change - one minor scene will be cut, otherwise it's a lot of cosmetic and wording issues.  Wilders will be largely unchanged, aside from a few inserted details and some Kindle formatting issues.

I figure if I'm going to make an update, I might as well do it now to both, since I hardly sell any copies at all.

If you've bought the Kindle versions of those books, you'll get any updates automatically when I publish them.  If you got a trade paperback, then perhaps one day that old edition will be a collector's item.  If you provide me with proof you have a First Edition copy I will send you the Second Edition for free.

They should be available again very, very soon.  I'm working hard to get them done.  Kinda embarrassed I let The Distant sit out there for so long with these issues, but we all make mistakes, I guess.

EDIT: Both ebooks are back online.  :D  Trades unfortunately will be another two weeks, due to the proofing process.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Hope of Memory [Update 26] Wilders Released!

It only took 2 1/2 years, but I've finally released Wilders, Book 2 of The Hope of Memory.  It's now available in trade paperback and eBook formats.

The trade is through CreateSpace.  It's available both through the CreateSpace site and Amazon (US and many of their international sites).  Here are the US links:

CreateSpace - Trade Paperback | $11.99
Amazon US - Trade Paperback | $11.99
Amazon US - Kindle eBook | $2.99

For the Amazon version, I've enabled most of their features, because I can.  The book has:

Matchbook = If you buy the Trade paperback, you can get the Kindle eBook for FREE
Kindle Lending Library = If you have Amazon Prime, you can borrow the eBook for FREE
Lending Enabled = You can lend your copy of the eBook to other users
KDP Select = Occasionally Amazon may offer the eBook for FREE for a limited time as part of a promotion
No DRM = I don't care about DRM anymore

The eBook is exclusive to Amazon for at least 90 days, to be able to use these features.  If I get feedback that people would rather have the eBook in a non-Kindle format, I may switch it.  But you can get the Kindle app on any phone or tablet now, so it's not like it isn't accessible to virtually everyone.

Rom Tar
Yes, I know there are three books in a trilogy.  I've been editing Rom Tar for about a month now, and it definitely won't take 2 1/2 years to release.  Primarily because I don't need to write another book before this one is complete (I wrote Rom Tar before editing Wilders).

There are some sections I need to rewrite, but nothing major.  I'm really looking forward to getting the third book out... writing a trilogy is harder than it seems.  I'll have a preview of the cover up soon.