Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Retrospective Conclusion - The Apprentice Adept



So did I really just spend over a year trying to do this Retrospective on The Apprentice Adept?  And it's only three books?

Man, I'm slow.  Been busy with work and stuff, you know.  Well...that and the fact that the trilogy wasn't as engaging as I remembered.  I promise to be faster on my next Retrospective (fingers crossed behind my back).

Biggest takeaway from this: I read a lot of crappy fantasy back in the day.  Getting something like this traditionally published now would be nigh impossible.  Fantasy has matured quite a bit, and today's generation of authors, publishers and readers are very different.

Before you continue:
  • This is the final part of my The Apprentice Adept retrospective
  • See this blog post for an overview of the retrospective
  • These blogs are most effective with your own re-read of the series
  • Warning: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE TRILOGY

Letters to Me

As I was going through this trilogy, I recalled that I had actually written to Piers Anthony a number of years ago.  I rooted around in my garage and found his response...dated JewelLye 25, 2000 (Anthony uses pun versions of the months, inspired by Xanth).

After reading it for the first time in probably 15 years, I can easily infer what I asked him:
  • I can't find Thousandstar, when are you going to self-publish it?
  • Why do you add on to series that seem complete?
  • Should I try to get published with a standalone novel or the first in a series?
  • Why don't you do more horror?
  • Have people tried to make movies of your books?
Not surprisingly, I brought up the first two in my Retrospective Overview.  You can read the letter yourself in full below:



He gives a reasonable explanation for continuing a series.  I understand the urge to make something open ended (I'm doing that for my The Hope of Memory trilogy), and you can definitely do that and still make the series feel complete...but I suppose the challenge is how you continue the series.  Later works in a series / universe will always be compared to earlier ones, and audiences are harsh critics (and hypocritical; you want more, but not at the expense of tarnishing an "original"...typically you can't have one without the other).

Also note that he mentions balking at writing a book called The Sopaths because it's "so horrible."  He did eventually self-publish this book in 2011, and it's got some really harsh reviews on Goodreads.  I might have to check it out for myself, despite that...

References on the Web

There's not much Piers Anthony fan-related content out there.  Like David Eddings, Anthony's heyday was before the internet, so only the most passionate of fans have made some fan sites centered around the prolific author.

I remember there being a few, but it seems they have been swallowed by the void of the internet.  I could probably find them in the Wayback Machine, but honestly it's not worth it.  About the only real fan site existing now is a Wikia for Xanth (incomplete), with some attempts at Incarnations of Immortality and The Apprentice Adept content.

Beyond that, you're likely to only find articles and blog posts complaining about pedophilia and misogyny in his books.  As a kid it really wasn't so overt, but yeah when you read some of his stuff today, it's a bit cringey.  Although I think people need to realize that Anthony grew up in a much different time (he was born in 1934, remember), and his worldview is much different than someone born in the 70's or later.  Not trying to defend him, just providing a little perspective.

Hi Piers

Of course, if you're looking for Piers Anthony on the web, the place you'd want to go is his personal website, Hi Piers.  Where the did name come from?  Glad you asked.  Before the internet he had an 800 number you could call to get author info and stuff.  It was 1-800-HI-PIERS.  I believe it's listed in a lot of 80s and 90s books, in the Author's Notes at the end.

Funny aside...after he shut down the 800 number, it was reused as an adult sex line.  I remember him mentioning somewhere that angry parents wrote him about that, as kids were trying to call the number listed in the older print runs of the Anthony books they had.

Anyway.  If you want to see what a website in the early days of the internet looks like, visit Hi Piers.  It's hosted by Earthlink, which is enough to make me cry (my parents still use an Earthlink address, and they pay a monthly fee for it).  But looking at his site, it's clear that web design has come a long way.  I remember in college in the mid-90s, using the Netscape Navigator browser to look at sites with horrible design exactly like Anthony's, all hosted on Geocities.  Ah, memories.

There's not much to the site these days, beyond his monthly newsletters, where he rambles on about what movies he's seen, what books he's read, politics, sex,  hatred of Windows, etc.

Author's Notes

This is something I kind of missed while re-reading The Apprentice Adept.  I'm not sure when Anthony started doing it (mid-80's I'd guess), but many of his books have an Author's Note at the end.  In it, he usually talks about what happened during the writing, things that inspired it, etc.  For the Xanth novels, he always lists out readers who contributed puns to the book.

Most authors who include some kind of "Afterword" usually just thank people who helped get the book published and absolve themselves of any liberties they took when telling the story.  Anthony has always provided a bit of extra perspective on the writing of the book, a "behind the scenes" if you will...something you don't see often.

Sadly, these weren't present in The Apprentice Adept, otherwise I might have had more to talk about.

The End?

Will I do another Anthony Retrospective?  I'm not sure.  While not a very popular author today, his effect on the landscape of fantasy and science fiction back when it became a mainstream genre is considerable (I believe Ogre, Ogre, the 6th Xanth novel, was the first fantasy paperback to hit the New York Times Bestseller list), and it's important to talk about him and his contributions.

To be totally honest, though, I'll be donating my copy of The Apprentice Adept—I can tell you with all seriousness that I won't be reading it again.  I do still have my copies of:
  • Incarnations of Immortality (first 5 books)
  • Cluster (5 books)
  • Tarot (3 books)
  • Xanth (first 9 books)
  • Battle Circle (3 books)
  • Anthonology (short stories)
I'm kind of scared to read any of them again, for fear of destroying more childhood nostalgia.  But it could be a good way to clear out more shelf space.

If I decide to do another Anthony Retrospective, it'll be after a few more important ones I want to do first.

Next up: Dragonlance Chronicles and Legends!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Apprentice Adept [3] Juxtaposition (1982)



I started reading this right away after finishing the second entry, Blue Adept.  Like the others, over the years I had completely forgotten what happened in this book.  It starts out alright...but unfortunately fizzles out and the endgame of the trilogy is somewhat lackluster.

So...not as awesome as I remember it.  Clearly this stuff was much more interesting when I was a teenager, first starting to read fantasy and science fiction.


In other words: I didn't know any better.


Before you continue:
  • This is part 3 of my The Apprentice Adept retrospective
  • See this blog post for an overview of the retrospective
  • These blogs are most effective with your own re-read of the series
  • Warning: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE TRILOGY


Blog

Anyway, there's a ton going on in this book, and events are rather complicated.  I've had a tough time writing this particular blog... every topic I try to talk about makes no sense without a bunch of caveats and "because X and Y happened, remember?"  Summarizing events didn't help either, because the simplest things ended up three paragraphs long.

So what does that tell us?


First, it speaks to how complicated Anthony's plotting was in what seems to be a rather simple trilogy.  Parts of the story drag, but he managed to pack a lot of content into three normal sized novels (each book is about 135K words).


Second, it tells me that perhaps I should "retrospect" this book differently than I have in the past.  Ideally a reader of this blog should have already read the series, and thus an in-depth recap is not necessary.


(That drives me nuts about some TV recap columns today, by the way... the writer simply summarizes the episode without adding anything new or interesting to it.  I know what happened in the episode, I just watched it!  I want to know your reaction and thoughts on it, analysis, blah blah.)


Last—and most importantly—it tells me that I spent way too much time trying to write a Retrospective on an obscure 35 year old book that hardly anyone is reading these days.  So I'll just get on with it, rather than try to be clever.


Citizen

Stile wins the Tourney and becomes a Citizen.  Shocker!  It seemed the obvious conclusion, given he's an Adept in the other frame.  The final three matches of the Tourney are:
  • A fierce game of backgammon (I've actually never played backgammon, so maybe this match wasn't as exciting as it should be)
  • A number guessing game (a throwaway match to move the story along)
  • An extemporaneous poetry battle (yeah!)
That's all it takes to be a Citizen.  And once a Citizen, all the others want to bet with Stile on random stuff, and he finds a way to amass a vast fortune through some clever betting... it's entertaining, but it's a bit too clean.

We do—finally—get to see more about the inner workings of the Citizens, which is something that's been lacking in the entire series.  Despite this, it's not that exciting.  They generally sit around in their estates and bet on stuff.

Cover

So here we have another cover by...wait.  No, it's not Rowena Morrill.  For some reason, they changed the artist for the third volume, and it's none other than our old pal Laurence Schwinger!  If you remember, he did the covers for David Eddings' Belgariad, which I covered in an earlier retrospective.



This cover is very simple, and easily my favorite of the trilogy.  It shows Stile and the Lady Blue on their honeymoon.  Stile is on the unicorn Clip, while the Lady Blue is on her steed, Hinblue.


Compare that to the European cover, which makes absolutely no sense.  It's a demon carving a naked woman out of stone?  Love the marketing blurb, though, which is something you'd never see printed on a book today:


"Twin sagas racing to fireburst conclusions"





Clef

Stile's been the main character for this trilogy, but Anthony takes a detour in regards to Clef, a Proton serf that Stile defeated in the Tourney back in Book 2.  He's a gifted musician, and apparently the one destined to separate the frames (Proton and Phaze) by playing the Best Gosh Darn Music Ever on the Platinum Flute.  And all according to prophecy, of course.  Shocker!

I will say it's a nice play on the "hero of prophecy" trope, because fantasy at this time (early 80s) typically focused on a singular hero destined to save everything.  Stile certainly is the spearhead in "saving" Phaze (separating it from Proton to prevent its exploitation), but Clef has a huge amount of responsibility, maybe even more so than Stile.

In fact, many of the other side characters throughout the series are pulled in to perform monumental tasks, while Stile simply directs everything, much like a conductor.  Essentially, all his good deeds in the past reap considerable rewards in the future.


Adepts

Alright, so there were a few new Adepts here, and clarification on an old one:
  • Green — We met him in Book 2, but it's not until this one that we see his magic...which is still unclear.  He can turn invisible, but I've read on other sites that he uses hand gestures for magic.  Whatever.
  • Orange — A crazy old man who can control plants...he tries to stop our heroes and fails, of course.
  • Translucent — He has control over water and creatures within.  Also tries to thwart our heroes.  Also fails.
  • Tan — Hurting for colors here apparently...but Tan has an "evil eye."  He factors in the climax of the story.
There's a Purple Adept that was mentioned, I believe...but is not in the trilogy (I honestly don't remember at this point).

Map

We have another new map, revealing a bit more of the world, stretching as far as the West and East Poles.  Hey, it's a fantasy.


However, if you compare it to the previous maps, you'll notice it's actually different.  The Goblins are now to the west of the Yellow Demesnes, the curtain to the east of the Red Demesnes follows a considerably different path, etc.  It's not the best map to begin with, but they could try to at least be consistent.  Perhaps they wanted to illustrate how the curtain moves later on?

Most likely Anthony had no map in mind (I believe Xanth is his only other work—out of like a dozen series—that had a map, and that's just an analog of Florida), and probably didn't want one, but this was 80's fantasy, and every trilogy needed a map back then.  So they did the best they could.

Map credited to Chris Barbieri.

Oracle

Oh, so the identity of the Oracle is finally revealed, and it's none other than a computer that got stuck in Phaze when the frames separated.  I think there was an explanation as to how it still worked in Phaze (machines aren't magic), but I missed it and can't be arsed to search.

Essentially, the whole trilogy could boil down to this: the Oracle computer wants to get back to Proton, so it gives people ambiguous answers that incites them and sets events in motion to achieve the juxtaposition and eventual separation of frames.

Keeping true to the dual-identity nature of the series, even the Oracle has an analog stuck in the world of Proton: the Book of Magic, a hidden tome with countless spells that pretty much anyone can use.  Hey, a super powerful object that no one knows about until halfway through the last book!

Anyway, of course Stile gets it with very little hassle and Sheen ends up using it later during the final battle, becoming a sort of "Robot Adept."

Ball

Like Star Wars and Anakin Skywalker, we now must bring balance to the world.  In Phaze, they've been mining so much Protonite, that it has thrown the frames out of balance.  So to fix it, they've gathered this giant ball of Phazite (the analog to Protonite) on the Phaze side, and must roll it to a certain area where it can cross the curtain into Proton.  Doing this restores the balance, like moving weight from one side of a scale to another.

Of course, it's not that simple, because many Citizens and Adepts stand to lose power if balance is achieved.  So with the juxtaposition of the frames, we have fantasy creatures fighting robots and androids, and it's just a mishmash of all manner of strangeness.  The task of transporting the Phazite to the curtain takes up the last chapter of the book, which is 60 pages long.

It's basically a massive Tourney game for the fate of the two frames...an epic match of Phazite Ball!

Suffice it to say, they succeed in getting the ball to Proton...but only because of a very fortuitous reversal spell cast from the Book of Magic.  At the end, the goblins had taken over the ball and successfully rolled it away from the curtain, triumphant in their victory, without understanding that the reversal spell had switched the directions of the world!  North became south, east became west...and the wrong direction became the right.

Switch

And wouldn't you know it, once the frames are separated, Stile remains in Phaze, while Blue's soul occupies an android in Proton (I'm not even going to go into the storyline about the original Blue Adept's soul...I told you this book was complicated).  Stile gets to remain with his love, the Lady Blue, after all!

How is this possible, you ask?  By the very reversal spell that determined the match of Phazite Ball.  It sent Stile and Blue to the opposite worlds they were expecting, because it's like, a reversal spell.  Whether this sends everyone else to the wrong world is unknown for the novel ends right there.  Why only Stile and Blue?


Why ask why?  It's a Piers Anthony fantasy.