Friday, April 27, 2012

My Library: Robert Asprin

So Robert Aspirin's an author I was introduced to by my older brother. I don't know where he learned of him. Still, Caleb bought a few of his books in preparation for a long car trip, and I quite enjoyed them; never looked back.

The only problem with Asprin is that he had some trouble with the IRS and he stopped writing for about seven years. When he came back, his first books weren't exactly the same. I still haven't caught up with his work, but his first one back didn't have the same spark; the characters weren't quite right, particularly not since he was writing an interquel to try and get back into the groove. Some of the books that continued some of his series simply are not of a caliber with his earlier work, and some have speculated that a number were almost entirely written by his co-authors (apparently part of his deal with the IRS, or part of his way out from under them, meant that all of his works post-1997 are co-authored), to their detriment.

The Myth Adventure Series
See the pun there? The wordplay? Myth-adventures. Chuckle. Most of the titles of the series (roughly twenty-strong) play on that in some way. "Another Fine Myth" (playing on Laurel and Hardy's "Another Fine Mess"), "Myth Conceptions", "Myth Directions", "Hit or Myth".

The series is fairly standard fantasy fare in its conception; an erstwhile thief training to become a magician gets caught up in a plot to stop another magician from taking over all the dimensions. By the by, Covers Always Lie; the picture above makes a lot of mistakes. The woman should have dusky greenish skin, the demon should be shorter and wider than the blond, and he should also be wearing clothes. However, interesting note, Asprin colluded with one of my favorite artists, Phil Foglio, on a number of occasions, producing comics and the like. Foglio also made several of Asprin's covers, which were much better. Adoration!

The series stays fairly true to its fantasy roots, but rapidly becomes more parodic. Asprin had no qualms about mixing science and magic(k) or modern economics, even. He kept the science low-key, preferring to keep it magickal, but modern soft sciences and crime elements and all that, in a fantasy setting? Fun! And funny. Did I mention the books are funny? Because they are. At one point Skeeve (the main character) is tasked to stop an invading army. The army was hired by the mob. Full on, movies style Cosa Nostra. The mob itself doesn't show up until later books, when they play all the stereotypes to the hilt, including bringing in two ginormous bodyguards named Guido and Nunzio. In exquisitely tailored suits.

This series is among my favorites, and I've read the books I have many times. As I said, I haven't picked up the later ones. A decade-long hiatus followed by a sharp turn in quality turned me off a bit. Still, the guy worked with Phil Foglio, who I adore.

Phule's Company
The incredibly wealthy (as in, he buys corporations on whims) Willard Phule joined the Space Legion (like the foreign legion, but mercenary and basically doing security work), better known for being a place for criminals to run from their past. The first book opens with his court-martial. To be specific, with his first court-martial. He talked a hot shot pilot into strafing a ceremony of peace (their shields were down! And we were under orders to maintain radio silence!), destroying the flagship (the Legion's flagship), all in the time it took the captain to go to the john. The legion, unwilling to punish a man whose father was their chief weapons supplier (Phuleproof Munitions), decided instead to promote him and give him the worst possible command, hoping he'd quit.

Instead, he turns the lowest of the low into the best of the best, and we get a lot of laughs along the way. The first two books, "Phule's Company" and "Phule's Paradise" are really, really good. Unfortunately, this series really got hit hard by Asprin's hiatus and the later books were probably written entirely by Peter Heck. They're not so good.

Time Scout
This series was written entirely after the hiatus. The quality doesn't change sharply, but that mostly means it doesn't start out stellar. Still, it doesn't swerve into the gutter, either. I'm rather fond of it; I put together its TVTropes page. In fact, the description can be lifted whole cloth from the page:

At some time in the recent past, there was The Accident. It caused massive destruction along all the world's coastlines, killing millions. Now it's a World Half Empty, as The Mafia's connections with construction means that they've gotten incredibly rich and powerful during reconstruction of the world's coastal cities. Also, there's the time strings. Shortly after The Accident, mysterious portals began to open, allowing people to step into the past. Only the Time Scouts are crazy enough to step through an unexplored gate, into an unknown and dangerous history. Also, you can't exist in two times at once, adding the risk of Shadowing yourself and dying instantly...

Known as gates and strings, the time portals are now part of a tourism industry. Some gates are owned by private companies, some by the government. There are a number of laws related to the use of the gates and profits thereby.

Set Twenty Minutes into the Future, the Time Scout books by Robert Asprin and Linda Evans follow the lives of the residents of Time Terminal 86, Shangri La Station, La La Land. Much of it involves time travel.

One of the unfortunate things about the series also makes it a guilty pleasure. The authors felt free to indulge their own hotbuttons. Aikido is clearly the favorite martial art of one of them, with others being disparaged to some degree. Gun control isn't exactly praised (the only advocate we meet is a murderous villain who sponsors terrorism). But in a crapsack world, and in the violence of time travel, these criticisms fall by the wayside and its difficult not to enjoy people travelling through time, kicking names.

Another unfortunate thing is less forgivable. It's set in historical settings half the time and clearly tries to get the details right, but a lot of them are just really damn wrong. When you're talking about Jack the Ripper and you put half of two books in Victorian London during the summer of the Ripper terror, it's more than okay to include genuine historical figures. William Butler Yeats would indeed have been in London at the time and would have been active as a poet! Good show (and he's clearly a favorite poet of one of the authors)! Aleister Crowley was also alive and you can include him... but he was a fourteen year old boy, not a thirty- or forty-something priest of Satan and a viable candidate for Jack the Ripper. He wasn't a worshipper of evil in any guise, but an occultist. He was the Victorian equivalent of a hippy, for pity's sake.

Still, I quite enjoy the books. Here's another sample from the page that might help indicate why.

Look at that list! Just look at it! How can you not love it? The occasional historical error (and occasional truthful nugget) and author appeal aside, it's an enjoyable little series.

Asprin wrote a few other book that, like all others, allow him to wax a little bit about his personal philosophies (love in "Sweet Myth-tery of Life", corporate politics in "The Cold Cash War", etc), still, even when he wasn't writing the books, at least it was another author writing them, and not his fans. He's not the most phenomenal author out there, but definitely pick up anything written before 1995. Then go to the library for the rest.
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