Continuing my rereads of Piers Anthony novels that I now suspect I really don't want to own...
It's a thoughtful book in many ways. There are some comp...moreContinuing my rereads of Piers Anthony novels that I now suspect I really don't want to own...
It's a thoughtful book in many ways. There are some compelling arguments for a right to a chosen death, and I suspect it shaped much of my thinking on legal euthanasia. And the near-future magic-and-science world he describes definitely has its charms. But these positives are now, for me, vastly outweighed by the negatives of the rampant sexism that I just can't overlook anymore.
On a Pale Horse opens, in finest Anthony tradition, with two men dickering using a woman as currency. She is literally just a bargaining chip - we never learn anything of her personality, only that she's pretty, rich, and will apparently fall for just anyone. This didn't appall me when I was ten, but it certainly does now. The main female character, Luna, is disposed of in exactly the same way - as a bargaining chip, with no real agency of her own. She's intelligent, which makes her scenes marginally less icky, but only marginally - she's introduced to the protagonist nude, offers to ensorcel herself so that she would find sleeping with him palatable, reveals that she "fornicated with a demon of hell" (which gives the protagonist some pause, because she's not "pure" anymore) and is generally described whenever she's on-scene as a particularly tasty morsel.
There's also constant and tedious gender stereotyping, culminating in a scene that startled and confused even me as a kid, where Anthony explains that an adult woman sleeping with a ten-year-old boy was only wrong because society made him feel guilty about it - otherwise, being male, he'd be totally willing and thrilled.
This is not a totally fair review. I really did like this book when I was a kid, and I can still see why. But there are things I can't stomach anymore, and this book is full of them.(less)
I only have a couple of the Incarnations of Immortality series, because it is a wildly uneven series as a whole (Anthony, predictably, can't write fem...moreI only have a couple of the Incarnations of Immortality series, because it is a wildly uneven series as a whole (Anthony, predictably, can't write female protagonists worth a damn, and the one about Time is straight out of pulp space opera for no obvious reason) and this was #3 on my list of the three that I can stand.
It's kind of awful. But first, the good bits:
1. This book was totally the reason I bought a translation of The Book of Five Rings at age 12, and that is a profound and fascinating work that I still deeply value.
2. ...ummm. Apparently there is no 2.
As usual, the book opens with a lengthy analysis of how attractive the protagonist is to women of all kids. Verdict: irresistible. Nevertheless, he is only attracted to the pure and virginal woman, who promptly spreads her legs for him because he's so awesome. However, she turns out to be nothing more than a minor plot device and promptly disappears offscreen so she can be the longed-for Lost Love for a chapter or two, until...
Mym gets shipped off to the Honeymoon Castle at the behest of his father (who murders women callously to prove a point, namely, that women are worthless interchangeable tokens and the fact that Mym feels bad about this is Weak and Unmanly.) Now, the Honeymoon Castle is actually an interesting device - it's set up so that a) people residing there can hear each other's thoughts and b) they are forced to interact to eat, sleep, or bathe, presumably so proximity will make them fall in love. This of course leads to numerous descriptions of Mym's arranged bride's physical assets, and the various scary things that chase her into his arms whenever they try to rebel firmly establish that while she is intelligent, she is entirely spineless. This is held up as an ideal - in fact, it's why she's a better match than the Blessed Virgin in the opening sequence, because independence is a negative trait in a woman.
Look, it only goes downhill from there, and frankly I'm tired of responding to this appalling crap. On a Pale Horse at least had the redeeming aspect of some relatively serious thoughts about the nature of end-of-life care - this has some lukewarm apologia for War that it's clear the author himself doesn't even really believe. So there's no moral core, and the book is entirely about Mars finding a suitably tractable (and royal, don't forget for a second that he's a prince) mate AND concubine, because obviously his royal prerogative requires both. I'm not even going to get into the confusingly terrible characterization of modern-day India as Generic Fantasy Kingdom #248, Where Everyone Has Long Descriptors Instead of Names.
There was a fashion in the late 80s for fantasy authors, especially those published by Lester Del Ray, to write novels that recapped the series up til...moreThere was a fashion in the late 80s for fantasy authors, especially those published by Lester Del Ray, to write novels that recapped the series up til that point from the perspective of a different character. These days I find it a cynically commercial practice at best, but I was a total sucker for them when I was a kid. Rereading For Love of Evil, I find... I kind of still am.
The first two thirds of the book is original material about Parry, a 13th century sorcerer who does the Pygmalion thing on a peasant girl to get himself a perfect wife and loses her to the Albigensian crusade (in a scene, incidentally, that puzzled me for years with its offhand description of rape-ready bondage. I still don't think it would work as described.) He then becomes a monk, founds the Inquisition, foils Lucifer a number of times, and then falls to temptation in the form of first his ghostly wife in a willing and nubile body, and then the demoness Lilith. And then he defeats Lucifer and in doing so becomes his successor, Satan.
So. That happens. It's actually the least appallingly sexist book of the three I've reread, despite the ridiculous amount of sex. Partly this is because the time period makes things like arranged marriages marginally more palatable, partly because to make Parry ultimately sympathetic, he has to be an extra-good guy, and partly because the foes are the medieval Catholic church and/or Inquisition, against whom almost everyone looks liberal.
The last third of the book is the aforementioned recap section, where Parry describes his conflicts with the other Incarnations from his point of view. This is handy because the ones he focuses on are Fate and Nature, which always saved me from reading Anthony's unbearable attempts to write female protagonists. This section is chock-full of male-gaze ick, but Parry remains a sympathetic character as he struggles to understand his role as the devil while still being a fundamentally good, compassionate person. (In a series of minor scenes, he befriends the god of the Jews and arranges for the Holocaust to unhappen.) He also approaches God (the prime Incarnation of Good, the Christian god, which is finally justified by explaining that He has the most followers) and discovers that he is locked in narcissistic contemplation and basically out of action. This sets up the final book in the series...
...Which I am not reading. It contains, as I recall, a new female protagonist, Parry's ghostly ex-wife, and an urban prostitute of color. It goes about as well as you'd expect it to.
Really, this is the only book in the series that holds up at all. I'm not sure why it does, to be honest. Despite my crack about Del Rey above, the last two books in the series were published by Avon - perhaps the new editor filtered out the worst of it. It's still not really worth keeping around, but I am somewhat relieved that my 12-year-old self wasn't a complete moron.(less)
Out of Phaze picks up 20 years after Juxtaposition, with the fantasy and scifi frames totally separated. The new main characters are Stile and Blue's...moreOut of Phaze picks up 20 years after Juxtaposition, with the fantasy and scifi frames totally separated. The new main characters are Stile and Blue's sons (respectively) and their predictably subservient and socially-inferior love interests. Early in the book, they swap consciousnesses, leading to hilarious(?) fish-out-of-water sequences and encountering each other's platonic female friends, who they immediately fall for. Also, somehow the evil Adepts and Citizens immediately know about the switch and set out to capture them, even though it's entirely a psychic phenomenon and the boys have trouble convincing people they're standing in front of that it has happened.
It's not a bad book, exactly - it's just kind of flat. Neither boy is particularly engaging, the love--interests are only appealing in the depths of kink they hint at (one's a unicorn, and one's an amoeba - and yes, later books totally go there) and the sexism isn't any better - in fact, at one point it's explicitly stated that Bane is only interested in a female who will totally sacrifice herself for him. And Mach's love interest tries to, which convinces him to stick around. (Also, all female androids are amoral man-eating sex fiends. Just so you know.)
The only bit that was rather striking was that Blue, who was a character only in reminiscence in the original trilogy because he wasn't tough enough to save the world, is the flexible, dynamic, successful one, and Stile, he of the unshakeable honor, is a conservative old stick-in-the-mud who basically sabotages himself. It's actually a fairly plausible extension of the original character development.(less)
Robot Adept lacks what little charm Out of Phaze has, but it's not nearly as offensive as Unicorn Point. It continues to bank on the stranger-in-parad...moreRobot Adept lacks what little charm Out of Phaze has, but it's not nearly as offensive as Unicorn Point. It continues to bank on the stranger-in-paradise concept by this time having the love interests switch - which gives us rather more access to their characters, and they do develop into relatively sympathetic people. Moreso than their partners, certainly. There's only one attempted rape, and it's foiled in a rather satisfying way (raping an amoeba Does Not Work when she can easily reform her abdomen into a fully functional vise.) The book ends with yet another plot-determining set of contests - this mechanism is a little creaky at this point, but it's entertaining enough to read. (Although... another table tennis match? They could use all the games in the universe, but you had to use this one again? Weren't up for any reseach, were you, buddy?)
Definitely the point at which the series begins to decline, but not all that objectionable in itself.(less)
1. The kids are wildly implausible and a little bit irritating. When they're introduced, they're four years old, yet capable...moreOh, dear. Where to start?
1. The kids are wildly implausible and a little bit irritating. When they're introduced, they're four years old, yet capable of executing masterful escape plots that require them to have extensive skills and knowledge. The only concession to their age is that Nepe talks in an "adorable" mushmouthed fashion, albeit with the same or greater vocabulary and sentence structure as everyone else. And yet both kids' parents mysteriously think their kids are developmentally delayed somehow.
2. Tania has been a classic sociopathic villain up til now, and in fact is the instigator of a really creepy coerced sexual encounter (rape scene #1!) but then she falls in love and is magically transformed into a good, ethical sympathetic person. But she can't have her love, because he's taken, so when she meets another random powerful man, she transfers that affection to him wholesale in about ten seconds. Man, that was a deep and powerful emotion... or something.
3. Yet more Games. Jesus, come on, man. Again, not poorly executed, but the stakes are higher every time and therefore the use of contests seems less and less plausible every time. Also it has officially Gotten Old.
4. The rape scenes. Seriously, the second half of the book is nothing but. Female character forced to tell a rape joke with herself as the victim to a live audience. Absolutely appalling surrogate rape "game." Goblin rape, multiple counts. Threatened child rape. I am not the most fragile flower about this stuff, but this was just gross - and certainly the rampant sexism throughout the series does not earn Anthony any leeway on this topic.
I am glad I finished this reread, because these were books I cared about when I was a kid, but... I'm finished. These aren't going to be taking up space on my shelves any longer. (Yes, there's one more book in the series. It's so bad that I didn't even bother adding it to my collection in the first place. Skip it!)(less)