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.

Next:

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.

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

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.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Apprentice Adept - The Retrospective

Anyone who's read my previous Retrospectives (The Wheel of Time and The Belgariad/Malloreon) might have noticed a mention of Piers Anthony.  He's another of the first set of authors I discovered as a teenager, when I first started reading fantasy and science fiction.

Piers Anthony has been active for nearly 50 years, having published a whopping 166 novels through December of 2013, according to his website.  His very first book was Chthon in 1967.  He's still writing today, though I feel his quality has dropped off considerably and he self-publishes everything now, aside from his long-running Xanth series (easily his most popular work, and the only thing he still has on a traditional publisher, with 39 total entries).

Anthony himself is a fascinating writer, though.  Here are some fun facts:
  • He's 81 years old.
  • He lives on a tree farm in central Florida, near Inverness
  • He hates Windows and devotes sections of his newsletters, blogs and author's notes to complaining about Linux alternatives and how he can never get things to work correctly, even though he could save himself so much time and heartburn by simply using a Windows machine that works perfectly fine and can do everything he wants it to do.
  • He hates editors tampering with his work (more on that later) and is very outspoken about it.
Photo courtesy of hipiers.com

I could fill a whole blog post about him and his quirky ways, but I have other things to talk about.  In my Retrospective Conclusion post, I'll provide some references if you want to research him more.

The Quest for All Novels
Back to his works.  I became obsessed with Piers Anthony after discovering him and in the mid-90's began a quest to collect all of his novels, many of which had gone out of print by that time.  Every time I went to a used bookstore, I'd check the Anthony section for something I was still missing.  Every town I visited when travelling - I always made a point of finding at least one used bookstore for an Anthony check.

There were two books I had particular difficulty acquiring: Thousandstar and Pornucopia.


Thousandstar is the fourth book in the Cluster series.  I would always find the others in that series, but never Thousandstar.  Don't know if it had a shorter print run or that I was just unlucky.  Either way, I must have checked 40-50 bookstores (I'm not joking) before I finally found it.  Sadly, I don't even remember where that was... I want to say Chicago, or maybe one of the places I went to in Iowa.  Somewhere in the Midwest, as I lived in various places around there between 1991-2002.  But it was a joyous day when I did.


Pornucopia was somewhat of a legendary book at the time.  It was an erotic fantasy, totally different from anything else he had done, with a very small print run.  Only once did I actually handle one of the original hardbacks: at a bookstore in Chicago, that wanted $90 for it.  At the time I barely made enough to make ends meet and $90 was way too much for me.  I just wanted to read it... I wasn't concerned with what edition anything was.  So I had to content myself with looking at the copy they had and walking away.  If I found it today I'd buy it for sure, though.

Anthony later self-published a lot of his out of print works and I was able to read Pornucopia then.  He even wrote a sequel, The Magic Fart.  They are interesting reads, to say the least.

Of course, it's much easier to acquire his works today.  Anthony has self-published many older titles and websites like eBay provide older editions at the click of a mouse button.  But at the time, it was fun filling out my collection and reading a lot of Anthony's lost gems.  Most of his early work was science fiction, and nearly all of it was great.  I carted the Anthony books (over 100 at that point) along with me every time I moved, and finally was able to showcase them properly when I bought a condo in Reston, VA.

Losing Interest
It was during that time (2005 or so) that I stopped collecting his novels.  I had been very disappointed with his recent work, particularly the ChroMagic series, which I thought was utter crap, and decided to move on.  I stopped reading him and before I moved across the country in 2011, I donated the majority of his books to the local library, keeping only my favorites, mostly 70's and 80's works.

Unfortunately Anthony had a penchant for extending series further than they needed to be, tacking on volumes that weren't necessary, in my opinion.  He'd write a great series with a good beginning and end, then ruin it with a few extra books.  It was like whoever originally published it knew it was best left alone, but he didn't care and simply took it elsewhere.  He did this with a number of series:

Xanth - 9 with Del Rey, 30 more with 4 other publishers 
The Apprentice Adept - 3 with Del Rey, 4 more with Ace
Bio of a Space Tyrant - 5 with Avon, 1 more self-published
The Incarnations of Immortality - 5 with Del Rey, 3 more with 2 other publishers

Now, I can't fault Anthony for wanting to write whatever he wants.  He clearly earned that over the years.  Much of this activity he says is from editors tampering with his work, and he simply decided to take his business elsewhere.  Obviously I don't know for sure, but it always happened after a clear closure on each series.  And the quality dropped off each time, so maybe editors tampering with his work was a good thing?

Or maybe I'm just reading too much into it.  Ba-dum-tish!

The Apprentice Adept
This brings me to the focus of this Retrospective, The Apprentice Adept.  A fantasy / sci-fi trilogy published between 1980-1982, he later extended it to seven volumes between 1987-1990.  The focus of this Retrospective will be the original trilogy only.  I'm not going to cover the four extra he tacked on later, which really should have been a separate sequel series rather than entries in the original one.  I wasn't a fan of them and besides, they were part of the Anthony books I donated in 2011, so I can't even read them now without buying them again.

The original trilogy was the first Anthony I ever read.  I honestly can't remember the last time I read them, though... it has to be at least 15 years ago.  I've forgotten much of what happened, so this will be a unique Retrospective.  I remember them being great, but that was with a teenager's mindset and experience.  I've read so much since then... how will I feel about them now?

As always, there will be spoilers for the entire series in each blog post, so if you don't want the series spoiled, you should hold off reading these until you've read the entire series.  If you don't care or have already read it, then dive on in.  Check the links below or the Fiction Retrospectives link at the top of every page.

Book 1 - Split Infinity (1980)
Book 2 - Blue Adept (1981)
Book 3 - Juxtaposition (1982)