This is, perhaps, a posting that I should not write.
This is also, perhaps, a posting that I must. Either way, it's hard and painful and you'll all probably look at me funny once it's done. Nonetheless, here it is, in its entire, and I leave all judgments to you to make.
The timing of Douglas Noel Adams' death was very sudden, and being sudden
as death is wont to be, provoked me into thinking about other matters that I
hadn't in quite some time. One of those matters was a book, three-quarters
read, which had laid a wreath of tribute at the grave of another man who had
shaped my life: Roger Zelazny. I don't know how I'd picked Lord of the
Fantastic out from the sheer mass of other books surrounding it in the
bookstore -- perhaps it was my hand being drawn to it, or perhaps it was the
startlingly silver colour of the cover -- but when I saw the Zelazny
name scrawled upon its spine, I knew that I had to have this book.
Lord of the Fantastic is a very hard book for me to get through, which is why it had sat, part read and part not, for so very long. It's a series of short stories by the authors who knew Roger well, each one a homage to the man and his legends, the legends that he had spun for the world and the man who had been too soon taken from it. Each story is followed by a short reminiscence about Roger Zelazny and each one paints the picture of a kindly, sage, wonderful fellow who did his best to put anyone he met at their ease. Gods, to have been able to know him, hm?
Perhaps a few words about Zelazny and my association -- through his books,
as sadly I'd never even thought to write to him or seek him out at conventions
until it was far too late -- are in order. I had heard of Zelazny in a
distant, abstract way for years... but I'd not had any association with
anything close to him until I started to attend the local gaming convention
(the late, lamented Windsor Games Fest, which helped to warp and to shape me
into the game master that I am today) in Windsor, which just happens to be
across the Detroit Puddle from Michigan. And thus, seeing as it was a hop, a
skip and a burble from them, many Michigan gaming companies would come to our
tiny con. Thus it was that Amber became a fixture at Windsor Games fest, and
while I didn't participate, word of this game -- which needed no dice,
horrors! -- reached me. Being a consummate (heavy on the 'consume') gamer, I
tried to pick up a copy of Amber: The Diceless RPG, but in vain, until
I visited a small comic/card/game store with my friend Al (Al, if you're out
there and have somehow come across my page, drop me an email, okay? You've
vanished into the wooly wilds of London and we all miss you, man). Suddenly,
what to my wondering eyes did appear, but the game about Zelazny's book and
eight tiny reindeer! (I lied about the reindeer). I asked Al to please, hold
and guard the book with his life as I sprinted down to the nearest Bank of
Montreal (this was before Interac (Mac, for you Americans) terminals were
everywhere. Today, just FYI, we have an incredible network of 'pay with your
bank card' machines at almost every store. It's convenient but it makes things
very hard to get used to when I visit the states) to withdraw money for the
book. Took all my will-power, but I managed to avoid reading Amber until the
Let's skip forward a bit. After all, my reactions to a game not penned by Roger don't fit here at all. I began my first year of university the very next Autumn, and back in those days the University of Guelph bookstore was an absolute paradise for we lovers of all sorts of esoteric fiction. It had such well-stocked Science Fiction and Fantasy sections (that's two sections. Not just one. A rarity even in regular bookstores these days, sadly) that you could spend hours just browsing through, trying to find what you wanted and wind up with many books that you didn't know you did. I had just purchased all of my first-year books and had a little money left over, so I was looking for several books to add to my collection for light reading, since I am a voracious reader of anything that passes under my nose. I recall vividly... I picked up another book in the Discworld series (I'd just picked up a hard-bound copy of Guards, Guards before coming to Guelph and read it on the way up, then donated it to the Science Fiction, Fantasy (and later Horror) club in exchange for membership. I'd been hooked on Prachette at that point and wanted more of it. The bookstore was only too happy to oblige.), a copy of Berserker Lies (which continued my long association with the Berserker series. If only I could find Berserker Blue Death and Berserker Man... and Berserker Base too... I'd start work on my Compleat Berserker Encyclopedia and possibly FUDGE: Berserker Wars too, as I've had so many ideas for that...) and finally, to round it all out, a slim little volume called Nine Princes in Amber. It's really hard to get across to you exactly how wonderful my University years were. They were charged with energy and new things; with explorations and new friends and new opportunities to experience things and to grow as a person and to dabble in what interested me. I was carried away on a million different wonderful clouds, each one as real as the next and the Amber cloud lasted me for three beautiful years, as I slowly tracked down the other books in the series... then other books not in the Amber series, including the wonderful Jack of Shadows novel... my obsession almost culminating in the running of Amber (though this is not to imply that I hit a storm-front and stopped... simply that my hot, powerful rush for Zelazny's works turned into a mature fondness that will last me the rest of my days. I've run three games of Amber that I know about, the first of which was an online (on intra-net to be precise) game on our University's internal network, tCosy. It was... interesting. Barring one, I had all good players who forgave me my foibles and stupidities as a GM and we all had a grand old time. The one exception... perhaps one day I'll write an entry about things you should never do as a player, having seen many such 'bad' players pass my way in my time. But I digress. My second Amber game... good Unicorn, that was a rush. It was at Windsor Games Fest (my last, though I did not know it would be my last until the next year, though the lack of organization and laissez faire attitude of the whole thing certainly should have hinted to me...) and I had set up my game in the shadows. I was running Stalking the Night Fantastic when two women approached me and asked if I would be running the Amber game I'd advertised. Of course, I said, being in the shadows of the dark room. The two women had also stepped into the dark shadows and thus I was unable to see their shirts, which prominently displayed the word 'Amberzine'. Wanting to check on the callibre and general knowledge of my gamers, I asked the fateful (and innocent) question: "oh, and do you know much about Amber?" "You could say that." was the smirking reply. One of the gamers with me at the Stalking game -- one with whom I built a nice friendship at that con, and wish I'd recalled to give my address so we could correspond -- couldn't contain his laughter as she walked away.
Well after that, the game could only be a spectacular success or a colossal flop. Fortunately, it felt like the former, with everyone looking absolutely rapt at the ending. I had such a great bunch of gamers in that game, however, that I certainly can't take too much credit for how well it went: aside from the two Amberzine alumni, I had several solid gamers in the group and the lady from Steve Jackson Games who had, the evening before, introduced me to a test game of the then unknown (as it was unpublished, duh) In Nomine. Man, she was great... she was a terrific game-master and an astounding player. That weekend was positively magic in every game I ran or played (almost, because my experiment in fusing Superheroes and Fantasy in HERO system had one gamer who managed to ruin things for everyone by sulking the entire game and complaining loudly that I should have just run AD&D, and that it's not his fault that he thought HERO System was AD&D and so on and so forth... maybe I exaggerate, but I do recall wanting to punch him out, so I don't exaggerate that much). I even got to end the con with a quiet little game (with me playing) of Traveler, played with the guy manning the door to the con (who had little to do as the con wound down that Sunday) and a long, long, longtime fan of the game who was positively a joy to watch in action as the GM.
I've rambled long on this, something that has almost nothing to do with my point... or perhaps it does, as we continue on the road to Amber.
One of my strongest memories of the alchemizing beauty between University and Amber came when I volunteered for a survey/test one weekend, to help out a friend in Psychology. I had to go to a building in which I'd never been, on campus of course, and take the test. I recall how different it was from the other buildings on the UoG campus... how so New England rustic it was, compared to the Brutal Modernism of my residence or the Escheristic Modern quality of the other buildings on-campus. I had in my ubiquitous backpack a copy of the Amber RPG to thumb through should I have to wait a spell, and sure enough, I was asked to tarry while things were set up. As I read, things about me felt... almost transformed, and it was as though I'd slipped through Shadow in my walk to that building, finding myself at a Guelph quite unlike the one that I knew, but which held the same people and friends.
I digress further, but believe you me, I wouldn't delete a word of this.
Mmm, perhaps 'periwinkle', but that's just my own personal opinion. Perhaps it's even time to bring home this puppy. Let's do this very thing by focusing on the last tribute story featured in Lord of the Fantastic: Wherefore The Rest Is Silence. This tale feels almost apart from the rest and perhaps is meant to cap the book closed with something that could well be a true story about Gerald Hausman's experiences with Roger Zelazny. It could also be a work of fiction or a fictionalizing and embellishment of something which had happened, but in a different way. Either way, it doesn't matter, because the tale touched me in so very many ways.
The story revolves around Hausman's dealing with his personal daemon (that of Hemingway and his father) and in the doing, seeking Roger's advice on all things of the spirit and soul. The Roger of this tale -- for again, we don't know if this is truly an account of what happened, though I suppose all stories are to some degree fictional, but if that argument occurred to you in the past few minutes, button it! -- speaks of how many of his own daemons that he's wrestled with, and how many of them he had done violence to to resolve them. His daemons -- and Gerald's, as well -- are those boggits of the spirit which persist in wrapping the mind up in worry and hesitation. Further, they speak of the persistence of spirit in such a way that I cannot adequately summarize here (hint, hint, buy a copy of this book. Or camp out at your local Chapters and read the last story, at least); and finally Roger admits that he has himself been to Amber -- in a nice blurring of metaphor and reality -- and laid his hands upon a tapestry to convince himself of its solidity and reality.
What a wonderful way to see the world that you'd created in your mind. This meshes well with how Roger created the entire idea of Shadow-walking: to wit, as he was wandering a borough of some sort, he chanced to take a few steps down a sidewalk and the place where he found himself, which still the same city, was so very different from where he'd been that it felt as though he'd been transported elsewhere... and he continued to note this as he walked. To be able to lay your hands upon your own world and touch a portion of it must truly be a wonderful thing...
I suppose that this got me to thinking, really -- a dangerous pastime, I know -- about my own writing, or perhaps my lack thereof lately. I do recall a time once when I could very well reach out and touch the hand of one of my creations... when I could feel the metal walls of a building I'd written into existence or listen to a song I'd written, but which no voice had ever sung. And honestly, I think I've got a personal daemon blocking my access to this fictional reality. No, this is not the part where I begin to scream 'what's the frequency, Kenneth' and shoot at Li'l Devil Muffler signs; honestly, the daemon that I have to burn up is simply that of needing a swirl.
Swirl? Daemons? Am I selling OS-Chip ice cream or something? Far from it... I've always done my best writing in a swirl of activity, surrounded by other like-minded writers who were working, more or less, with one another but in their own sand-boxes towards the common goal of producing something Nice. Maybe not Good nor Excellent, but Nice. I don't do well when working at cross-purposes with other writers... and another thing that is part of the Swirl of activity is a halfway decently sized readership. Without fellow writers and without readers, I feel as though what drove me to write a near-novella in an evening just isn't there any more. That makes me sad, because I know that I really do enjoy writing and want to do more of it. I need to find this daemon and I need to do violence to it, but I haven't a clue where to find the damned thing.
There. That's about right: many paragraphs about a great man's works and one about mine. Zelazny was a great man and he was taken too early from us. But perhaps now he's watching us through the Eye of the Cat.
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