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)
Retrospective Conclusion

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