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Fenris
08-29-2001, 11:44 AM
"What the Hell is Piers Anthony thinking?"

A while ago, I read a couple of Xanth books and wrote this review, which I posted elsewhere. I thought, given the discussion of Anthony in two other threads, it would be worth reposting it here (actually, I was about to post it to IMHO when I saw this shiney new forum, and the rest is history!)

Anyway, after reading these books all I can say is..yuck....brrrrr. Let me be clear: I can enjoy Chalker, despite his...odd...ideas about how men and women interrelate (I know *I've* never had a fantasy about turning a woman into a big breasted, half-animal sex-zombie). I've even been known to read a Gor novel or two, but these two books are just bent.

I read Vale of the Vole and Heaven Cent, which, along with Man from Mundania make a trilogy.

In Vale of the Vole, a kid of about 14 or so named Esk has a demoness sexual predator after him. He's not able to handle a millennia old woman trying to seduce him so he goes to Magician Humphrey's castle to find out how to deal with her. He meets Chex, a winged centauress and Volney a burrowing vole. They're off to see the wizard as well. Chex can't fly, despite her wings and Volney's valley and people are being ravaged by demons. They get into the magician's castle, going through the obligatory puzzles and find the magician's missing. They run to Castle Roogna and tell King Dor that A) the Magician's gone and B) Demons are running amok, polluting one of the two major waterways in Xanth and are killing his subjects. Dor says "How 'bout dat" and an insanely irritating bit of idiot plotting ignores them. On their own, the three have mini adventures as they try to assemble an army to protect Volney's Vale. Esk meets Bria a brass humanoid woman who tries to seduce him to get half Esk's soul. The armies assembled, they go to Volney's Vale. There's a long creepy scene as the demoness tries to get into Esk's pants. It's played partly for laughs. It's not funny. Eventually, the good guys win and the demons leave.

The second book, set three years later has Dor still sitting on his ass. Humphrey is still missing and some people who've gone looking for him are missing too. Ho-hum. Dolph, Dor's nine (9) year old son (note the kid's age. This is important) decides to go look for Humphrey. He sets out with an animate skeleton (who appeared in the last adventure) with his parent's approval.

Point #1) Anthony has no idea how to write a nine year old. This kid's dialogue varies from a dim three-year old's to a sophisticated 40 year old's.

Point #2) Note to Piers: Alliteration isn't funny. It's less funny when EVERYTHING is alliterative!

Anyway, they set out and get to Humphrey's castle. They pass the obligatory tests and get a clue left by Humphrey: "Skeleton Key to Heaven Cent". They decide to go to the Keys at the southern end of Xanth. They meet a Vila (a shape-changing nymph). She tries to rape the kid (She strips and grinds herself against this nine year old boy, she French-kisses him. He fights back). They escape and get to the Keys. An amorous mermaid kidnaps Dolph and tries her best to seduce him. The kid is eventually rescued. The kid meets up with a group of Nagas (snake bodies/human heads). The father won't help the kid unless the kid gets betrothed to his (older, 15 or so) daughter. They meet some Fee (duck-footed humans). The Fee won't let them pass unless the NINE year old kid mates with one of their women. He doesn't, but just barely. There's a disquieting speech somewhere in here (not at this point, but somewhere before) about how adults just love to preserve the innocence of childhood and that's why they won't tell Dolph how to summon the stork. This has a creepy ironic flavor, given that almost every woman Dolph meets wants to molest him.) Eventually the kid kisses a sleeping princess who can make Heaven Cents. He has to get engaged to her too (this one's only 11 years old though). Nine years old and the kid's almost a bigimist. Finally the kid gives a speech about love and honor that sounds like it was written for an overblown 40 year old actor ("I learned last night that there is nothing wrong with that age. What matters is the relationship...Give me the test [of true love, for] if it does not vindicate me, you can break my betrothal to Nada".) You know: typical nine year old dialogue :rolleyes: . It ends with the kid (at nine) engaged to two women.

I won't even get into the misogynistic attitude that (almost all) women only want trap men into marriage to get something from them (Bria wants half of Esk's soul, Nada wants protection for her people, both scheme to get married to their prey/potential hubbies).

What really creeps me out is not so much the concept of a younger kid and an older person (which in and of itself is creepy) since it's a medieval society and marriages happened at a much earlier age. I understand that. I also understand teenage sex fantasies. I was a teenager. I've been there. What keeps giving me the creeps is the recurring theme of uncomfortable youth with lecherous older person and the delight that said person (and, from the narration, Anthony) seem to take in watching the kid squirm. The recurring treatment molesters aren't presented as bad or sick or evil, just as someone who's offering something that the kid may not want. And it's no big deal that they keep trying to force the kid to accept it. I know this theme has cropped up in at least one other Xanth (a young girl who had a demon that was trying to rape her...maybe Ogre, Ogre or Nightmare.).The recurring molesters aren't portrayed as sick or evil, but just as fun-lovin' folk who're out for a good time.

I understand that in some segments of our society, it's considered no big deal for young boys to be seduced/molested/boinked by older women, indeed it's a badge of honor. This isn't even that. Anthony isn't portraying some eager young kid looking for a good time in either book, he seems to enjoy showing how uncomfortable the kid is. The message portrayed is "Kids, older people will try to molest you. You don't have to do it, although they may try to force themselves on you, but it's no big deal if they try. And you might regret it later if you don't.". Another way to look at Anthony's message is "Child molesters are just looking for a good time. If you go along with it, fine, if not fine, either way, no-one's hurt by it." Also, none of the molester are ever punished (granted there's a third book in this trilogy and maybe all the would-be molesters will be thrown in a pit somewhere. If they get what's coming to them, I'll follow up with another review taking back much of what I said here. I doubt I'll need to.)

I'd love to see someone like Andrew Vachss's take on these books.

Fenris

PS: Let me be clear: I'm not saying that Piers Anthony supports child molestation. I am saying he's sending an awful message (intentionally or otherwise) in both of these books.

bdgr
08-29-2001, 11:51 AM
I stopped reading Anthony for this very reason. His books just seemed to have gotten obsessed with children and sex, and even self mutilation occasionally. Having worked a lot with abused and disturbed children, I got sick of this fast.

Falafel Waffle
08-29-2001, 12:09 PM
When I was younger, I used to read Piers Anthony. Several of his first books are pretty good. Unique. But then he really started whipping out the books. He was producing boooks at an amazing rate! And the quality really suffered. The puns weren't punny anymore. Tired and old, really.

Then I read an interview with him (I forget where) and he claimed that he was actually selling the book before he ever wrote it! He would come up with an idea, jot down an outline and the publisher would buy it. Then he would have to sit down and write the book! :eek:

No wonder the quality suffered. He was under no pressure to generate a quality product, he was merely filling an order for a novel with so many words.

I have never picked up another Anthony book again.

Fiver
08-29-2001, 12:22 PM
I know *I've* never had a fantasy about turning a woman into a big breasted, half-animal sex-zombie.
Well then, you just don't know what you're missing, Fenris!

Fenris, I know you and I have similar tastes as far as genre and quality in the literature we consume. And I know we're about the same age.

So my question to you is why you'd start a thread saying you're shocked, shocked, to find out there's hackwork going on in here! Anthony is a creatively bankrupt old perv with an unhealthy interest in young girls: check. Now throw "pedophiliac fantasies" onto the same pile and walk away.

Nothing to see here, folks.

Fenris
08-29-2001, 12:38 PM
Originally posted by Fiver

So my question to you is why you'd start a thread saying you're shocked, shocked, to find out there's hackwork going on in here! Anthony is a creatively bankrupt old perv with an unhealthy interest in young girls: check. Now throw "pedophiliac fantasies" onto the same pile and walk away.

Actually, I was shocked. I remembered him as being a hack who was sometimes entertaining (The first Apprentice Adept series wasn't bad and the second Xanth book was excellent. Hell, Macroscope and maybe Cthon were nominated for a Hugo!). I got those books from a pal who picked 'em up for .25c each at a yard sale. I jumped from Xanth book 6 or so to Xanth book 14 or so and really was shocked to see a) how far he'd degenerated in quality and b) his weird sexual stuff which isn't evident in his earlier books.

In other words, it wasn't faux shock, it was real shock.

Fenris

Spiritus Mundi
08-29-2001, 01:00 PM
Then I read an interview with him (I forget where) and he claimed that he was actually selling the book before he ever wrote it! He would come up with an idea, jot down an outline and the publisher would buy it. Then he would have to sit down and write the book!

Sorry to burst your bubble, but most established authors work this way, at least in fiction. Very few profesionals write a novel on spec and then shop for a publisher, except when they are trying to break into a new market or shift to a new publishing house. Generally a treatment and outline/first chapter are sufficient for an established author. A very established author (such as Anthony) can sell books in a series with nothing more than a placeholder.

As to the OP: I have a great deal of respect for Piers personally, but I long ago came to the realization that the Xanth books were not written with my tastes in mind. Happily the Xanth series, though it seems endless, is only a fraction of his total output.

Legomancer
08-29-2001, 01:03 PM
I stopped reading the Xanth books years ago with the Golem one. At that point it became pretty clear that the way they were written was (1) get idit fans to send in puns and then (2) string the puns together in some semblance of a storyline. It basically became a big wankathon for the fans.

The first book is really good, and a few of the others I read I enjoyed, such as "Crewel Lye", but it got pretty old after a while.

TroubleAgain
08-29-2001, 01:24 PM
I quit reading the Xanth books way long time ago myself. I enjoyed the Incarnations of Immortality series, but have no patience for his sad punning attempts at humor.

lawoot
08-29-2001, 01:28 PM
Yeah, I started a thread on this as well:

http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?threadid=41202
He follows this trends in other books as well, such as the last book of the Incarnations of Immorality series And Heaven



Originally posted by me in another thread:
Also, in the last book of the 'Incarnations of Immortality' series (And Eternity )he has a character that is 50 years old lusting after a 16 year old...and he paints it as a 'loving, normal' relationship, then sends the young girl into limbo, where she stays for four days, but conveniently returns to Earth two YEARS later, so that th old guy can legally have his 'nymphette', without 'breaking the law'.

lawoot
08-29-2001, 01:31 PM
Grrr.. I don't believe I did that... the title is And Eternity, not And Heaven. Can you tell I just got home from an extended graveyard shift?

Zanshin
08-29-2001, 01:43 PM
I remember reading the first couple of Xanth novels as a pre-teen. I still remember A Spell for Chameleon as one of my favorite books from that time period. I was an avid fan of the entire Xanth series, as well as the Incarnations of Immortality and Apprentice Adept series, for a long time. But Vale of the Vole completely turned me off, and for a lot of the reasons already stated by Fenris. The quasi-sexual themes aimed at pre-teen characters just got to be a little too much for me. That, plus the books seemed to be more vehicles for delivering really bad puns (which never excited me, as I personally feel the pun is about the lowest form of humor).

It's a shame, because I thought his earlier work showed a lot of original thinking (if not fantastic characterization -- his characters have always been pretty one-dimensional), and they were great for younger readers. But in his later years, I don't know if some of his personal issues got in the way of his writing style or what, but they just got WAY too creepy.

Plus, he fell into the Robert Jordan trap -- take an idea and beat it to death with a rock. (Actually, I think Robert Jordan fell into the Piers Anthony trap.) There aren't many genres where you can string out a series for more than a half-dozen books and have it stay fresh and original. But when you've got, what, twenty-plus Xanth books and two Apprentice Adept series, I'm sorry but you really should concentrate your efforts elsewhere.

<minor hijack> As for the Incarnations series, I enjoyed it all the way until And Eternity. That last book just really left a sour taste in my mouth.

Beadalin
08-29-2001, 03:09 PM
In this Great Debate (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?threadid=84276?postid=1558934), I gave a fairly lengthy defense of Anthony's books, but it looks like I stopped reading them before they really degenerated. When did they really start to go bad? I stopped reading the Xanth series in, oh, 1991 probably, and never did read any of the Incarnations books.

Fenris
08-29-2001, 03:30 PM
Beadalin: The first Xanth book that really, really stunk (to me) was Dragon on a Pedestal, then there are 2 that I haven't read, and then the next bundle, starting with Vale of the Vole through Demons Don't Dream are generally bad-to-terrible, except for Question Quest which was surprisingly good (it's Humphrey's history and there's a magical moment about 3/4ths of the way through when a big lunk bangs on Humphrey's door, demanding to know what his talent is and introduces himself as Bink.) What pisses me off is Anthony can write well. But he seems to choose not to.

Oh, and I've read literally thousands of novels. I am not exaggerating when I say Demons Don't Dream is one of the 10 worst books I've ever read. And I've read the later GOR books. (The upshot of Demons: A boy and a girl get ahold of a bootleg copy of the AMAZING! NEW! XANTH!!! COMPUTER! ADVENTURE! coming soon from Microprose(?) and it takes them to Xanth where they can experience the thrills of the the AMAZING! NEW! XANTH!!! COMPUTER! ADVENTURE! coming soon from Microprose(?). In short, it's a 300 page commercial for the Xanth game. Eech.

Basically, I'd say the thing that transforms Xanth novels from fun to crap is the age of the progtagonist: Anthony can't write a pre-teen or a mid-teen and when he tries it comes out as weird and creepy. When he's got older characters (Bink, Dor, etc) he's not bad.

Fenris

Lamia
08-29-2001, 03:37 PM
Fenris, I read and enjoyed several of Anthony's books when I was in my early teens, but stopped reading him once I was old enough to realize that 1) the man is a hack and 2) he's a creepy hack. It's the latter that I find really unforgiveable. I might be inclined to re-read some a few of his books (such as the first couple in the Xanth series) when I'm in the mood for something light, but Anthony has creeped me out so much that I won't spend any more time, money, or effort on anything that he wrote.

It does my heart good to see that the fantasy section of most secondhand bookstores are well stocked with Anthony's work. I take it as a sign that many of the people who do buy his books end up wanting to be rid of them.

Beadalin
08-29-2001, 04:01 PM
Hmm. Thanks for filling me in, Fenris. I remember a bit about Question Quest... at the time I stopped reading, I thought I was simply outgrowing him, the way you outgrow the material of authors who write for a younger audience. You know, the puns seemed less funny, the adventures less interesting. Sounds like it was actually his writing that went downhill, and I never re-read any of the earlier stuff to compare!

Fiver
08-29-2001, 04:05 PM
I think most would say only the first three books were any good. I would also include the fourth, Centaur Aisle, because the love story between Dor and Irene was cute, the puns weren't yet overwhelming and it had some neat things to tell us about the way the magic of Xanth worked.

By Night Mare the formula was beginning to emerge and by Ogre, Ogre it had definitely jumped the shark. I think I read the first twelve or so (hard to say since I've since given most of them away) before giving up entirely. Crewel Lye was an all-too-brief return to form and I would still recommend it, but give the rest a miss.

Just as bad as the books themselves are the awful, lifeless covers illustrated by Darrell K. Sweet. Michael Whelan illustrated the first three covers; compare his Gap Dragon with the one depicted by Sweet on a later book and I think you'll agree Sweet sucks.

Fenris
08-29-2001, 04:32 PM
Originally posted by Beadalin
Sounds like it was actually his writing that went downhill, and I never re-read any of the earlier stuff to compare!

I really believe that he did take a nosedive in quality. I don't know why, but I do know that I can (and have) gone back and read some of his earlier work and enjoy it quite a bit (I love Source of Magic. It deals with real characters, has a complex plot an untidy ending (in a good way) and the treatment of XANth was an astounding bit of characterization. But the guy who wrote it has very little in common with the guy who wrote The Color of Her Panties or Demons Don't Dream. And it's not just you. He was nominated for a number of prestigous awards (Hugos, Nebulas, World Fantasy Awards (I believe he won that)) when when he was writing decent stuff. Then (as a guess) he realized a bad Xanth book would sell as well as a good Xanth book and started grinding 'em out.



One other amusing/irritating story. There are two people involved: Stephen R. ("Thomas Covenant") Donaldson and Stephen "Donny" Donaldson, a prison reform activist.

Anthony had heard somewhere that Stephen Donaldson had died. He decided to post it in his June 2000 newsletter. The following newsletter (in August) Anthony wrote about Donaldson's life: His writing of the Thomas Covenant books, his life as a prisoner, his work as a prison reformer following his prison rape, his "Mordant's Need" novels, etc. He even decided that Donaldson had written the infamous rape scene in Lord Foul's Bane because of his prison rape experiences.

Obviously, Anthony had read that "Donny" had died, seen a brief bio, assumed that it was Stephen R. and written an obit without doing any research. An honest (if kinda stupid) mistake, since he never bothered to check or wonder why none of "Donny's" obits mentioned the Thomas Covenant stuff. But it happens.

However.

Someone aware of the true situation, horrified asking Anthony to quickly print a retraction. Anthony waited 'till October (5 months after the initial false report) and responded in an asshole-esque fashion, calling the guy who wrote it "arrogant" and "self-rightous" among other things.

The whole train-wreck can be seen
here (http://www.hipiers.com/00june.html)
here (http://www.hipiers.com/00aug.html) and
here (http://www.hipiers.com/00oct.html)

plus there was a follow-up on rec.arts.sf.written by the letter-writer.

And before anyone asks, I wrote this review somewhere around Jan. 2000, long before this situation occured.

Fenris

king of spain
08-29-2001, 05:32 PM
I was a big Xanth fan around middle school. My interest died down as I hit the later books where you can see Anthony just didn't care anymore - I think the last one I enjoyed was called Harpy Thyme or something like that, and I've thought a few times about going back to reread some of the early books to see if they were really any good. But what turned me off more than anything else was the preachy, self-righteous tone Anthony takes sometimes. I get the distinct feeling that in Anthony's mind there's no room for reasonable people to disagree with him; I remember once seeing a letter printed somewhere in which a reader wrote in disagreeing with a moral choice made by a character in one of the Xanth books, and Anthony's response boiled down to "you think that because you're a bad person."

Weirdly, at the time I wasn't really bothered by the disturbing pedophilic stuff, but reading this thread it's starting to come back to me and, man, those books were freaky. It's starting to creep me out that I didn't notice it when I was younger.

Fenris
08-29-2001, 05:52 PM
Originally posted by king of spain
I get the distinct feeling that in Anthony's mind there's no room for reasonable people to disagree with him; I remember once seeing a letter printed somewhere in which a reader wrote in disagreeing with a moral choice made by a character in one of the Xanth books, and Anthony's response boiled down to "you think that because you're a bad person."
Yeah. The letter was in reference to (and in the book after) Man from Mundania. In the book, the character chose to do something morally reprehensible to him because his parents promised a bad guy that he (the character) would. Keep in mind that the kid was either a newborn or was unborn at the time and didn't consent.

The letter writer said something like "Um...if my parents promised Hitler that I'd guard a concentration camp, I wouldn't. I didn't make the promise and a broken promise is better than a great evil."

Anthony attacked him saying something like "Dishonorable people like you are the reason the world's so screwed up"
(note that this is a paraphrase! I don't have the book handy)

Fenris

Spiritus Mundi
08-29-2001, 06:13 PM
I think Fenris' summary leaves a bit to be desired.

Anthony had heard somewhere that Stephen Donaldson had died. He decided to post it in his June 2000 newsletter.

No. He posted information that Donaldson had set up to address teh rape of male prisoners. He clearly uses teh present tense in regard to the effort and does not say Donaldson was dead.

Obviously, Anthony had read that "Donny" had died, seen a brief bio, assumed that it was Stephen R. and written an obit without doing any research. An honest (if kinda stupid) mistake, since he never bothered to check or wonder why none of "Donny's" obits mentioned the Thomas Covenant stuff. But it happens.

He reported the death without verifying that the Stephen Donaldson mentioned was the same Stephen Donaldson, yes. Whether that equates to writing it without doing "any" research is conjecture. It was certainly a mistake.

However.

Someone aware of the true situation, horrified asking Anthony to quickly print a retraction.

Yep.

Anthony waited 'till October (5 months after the initial false report)

The newsletters are bimonthly. The October letter was the first one to appear after the mistaken report of Donaldson's death.

and responded in an asshole-esque fashion, calling the guy who wrote it "arrogant" and "self-rightous" among other things.

The text of his letter is present on the last link. It includes such statements as, "This is a flat-out untruth. Although Stephen R. Donaldson may have had his own reasons for writing about violence and rape in his Thomas Covenant novels, implying that he was himself a victim of such attacks both slanders him and cheapens the situation of the late Robert A. Martin Jr. who actually was the victim of said attacks."
and
"Even five minutes' searching would have shown that Piers had the wrong man --and yet he didn't spend those five minutes."

Anthony's response is also present. It contains such lines as, "If you had taken five minutes to think about it, apart from your self-righteous attitude, you would have realized that there was no malign purpose here - in contrast to your own approach."

Asshole-esque? Maybe, but I also found the tone of the first letter to be insulting. It was certainly not a friendly correction. When someone initiates an unfriendly contact I can hardly be outraged when they receive an unfriendly response. I will freely admit, though, that Piers is not world famous for his tendency to turn the other cheek or forgive insults. I guess each of us has to decide for ourselves what makes someone an asshole.

Biggirl
08-29-2001, 06:25 PM
I loved A Spell For Chameleon, The Source of Magic and Castle Roogna. I read them as a freshman in high school. I also really enjoyed Night Mare. I always chalked up my diminishing enjoyment of this particular series to the fact it seems to be geared towards young adults.

The sexual innuendos (and that is what it is, just innuendo) in the Xanth series are the same kind that can be found in the Sweet Valley High series. Except Anthony is so much more chauvinistic.






P.S. Is there an Adept book after Phaze Doubt?

Fenris
08-29-2001, 06:38 PM
Originally posted by Spiritus Mundi
The newsletters are bimonthly. The October letter was the first one to appear after the mistaken report of Donaldson's death.

Although it's bimonthy, it doesn't change the fact that Anthony let the bad information, possibly damaging to Donaldson's career, sit on his site for two months untouched. Whether Anthony does his own coding or hires someone else, it would be a matter of minutes to insert a line before or after the bad info saying "I made a huge mistake! This is an entirely different Stephen Donaldson. The guy who wrote the Thomas Covenant books is alive and fine! I'll fill everyone in in the next newsletter." Leaving the situation uncorrected for two months, (given the ease of correcting it) is IMO shameful.

People were writing into rec.arts.sf.written for months after the October newsletter still asking "How did Donaldson die?!", so the news spread beyond Anthony's site and it took quite a while before the corrected information got out. How much quicker would the things have died down if Anthony had corrected the misinformation at once?


Asshole-esque? Maybe, but I also found the tone of the first letter to be insulting. It was certainly not a friendly correction. When someone initiates an unfriendly contact I can hardly be outraged when they receive an unfriendly response. I will freely admit, though, that Piers is not world famous for his tendency to turn the other cheek or forgive insults. I guess each of us has to decide for ourselves what makes someone an asshole.

Fair enough, Spiritus and obviously our mileage varies on how we percieve the tone of the original letter. To me, it came across as an urgent attempt to get Anthony's attention. I didn't see it as insulting (although it certainly wasn't particularly tactful either), given the magnitude of Anthony's screw-up and the potential for damage to Donaldson's career.

In any event, I do give Anthony serious "kudos" for having the guts to keep the entire exchange up and untouched, where a lesser person would have edited or excised it. That takes courage.

Fenris

Spiritus Mundi
08-29-2001, 11:18 PM
Anthony let the bad information, possibly damaging to Donaldson's career, sit on his site for two months untouched.

Well, other than potentially losing marketshare among homophobes I am not sure how damaging it is for a writer to be thought dead for a few weeks. Still, I agree that it would have been better for a retraction to go up immediately upon recognition and verification of the mistake. What we don't know, from just the links posted, is when Piers received the corrections and verified that the author was indeed still alive, but there was obviously some delay between discovering the truth and publishing the correction.

People were writing into rec.arts.sf.written for months after the October newsletter still asking "How did Donaldson die?!", so the news spread beyond Anthony's site and it took quite a while before the corrected information got out. How much quicker would the things have died down if Anthony had corrected the misinformation at once?

Well, since you have just said that these folks were ignorant of the correction several months after it came out, I would have to say not at all quicker. However they received the news, they clearly were not checking Piers' site for updates.

obviously our mileage varies on how we percieve the tone of the original letter. To me, it came across as an urgent attempt to get Anthony's attention. I didn't see it as insulting

YMMV indeed. It seemed to me that the Mr. carter was characterizing a factual mistake as an offense against ethics and good character. You made some factual errors in summarizing the exchange. If I had insinuated that that shed doubts upon your character or ethical consistency I think you would have found my tone insulting.

As you say, though, tone and insinuation are most definitely in the eye of the beholder.

OpalCat
08-30-2001, 12:42 AM
Originally posted by Legomancer
I stopped reading the Xanth books years ago with the Golem one. At that point it became pretty clear that the way they were written was (1) get idit fans to send in puns and then (2) string the puns together in some semblance of a storyline. It basically became a big wankathon for the fans.


Ok this is basically exactly what I was going to post. When he started giving CREDIT AT THE BACK OF THE BOOK to the shmoes who sent in the retarded puns he used... well I figured I'd just stop reading the series before I got so disgusted I actually threw up on the books. I haven't read one since somewhere in the middle of high school.

Anyone read his book "Shade of the Tree"? Older-man-has-sex-with-pretty-young-thing plot. Cheesy haunted tree thrown in for bonus excitement. *yawn*

Otto
08-30-2001, 01:16 AM
Anthony's sexual politics in the Xanth books were screwed up from the first book. Chameleon being "all women" by changing (or should I say "cycling") monthly from beautiful-and-stupid to smart-and-ugly? The scheming Iris? Female rulers being called "Kings"? That being said, some of the early books were very well written, and the final pages of "Dragon on a Pedestal" choked me up every time I read them. I quit buying/readin the Xanth books with, I think, "Vale of the Vole" or maybe "Golem on the Gears" because the writing was obviously skewing younger than I and I lost interest in reading science fiction and fantasy in general. I'm sorry to hear that this series, which I did enjoy 20 years ago, degenerated so horribly.

Fern Forest
08-30-2001, 01:41 AM
I loved the concept in the beginning. But it did get overwhelming after awhile. But by then I had discovered his 70s stuff. My favorite of that period of his was the series Ox, Orn and Omnivore. As for the Xanth I tried reading them all the way through a few years ago when I was in my mid to early 20s and I think I only got about 4 in.

It's history wasn't quite interesting enough for me. It seemed like each book was in a vacuum. Every few books all the characters would retire and disappear. That bothered me. Especially because I really liked Bink.

Kamino Neko
08-30-2001, 01:43 AM
Anthony doesn't seem to have much respect for the Xanth books any more, either.

I'm currently reading the 4th Geoddysey book (Muse of Art), and in the forward, he makes a rather disparaging remark about his 'funny fantasy'.

Of course, the Geoddysey books are the only ones of his I've bothered with in 6 or 7 years, so I don't know if he really does have such an attitude towards his 'funny fantasy' that I read into that line, but...

And Xanth did go downhill, or at least it seemed that way to me (who read them out of order...).

Seraphim
08-30-2001, 02:59 AM
Man, I thought I was the only one reading these books. I got hooked on Xanth in middle school, when by chance I stumbled upon The Source of Magic. By the time I got to the part where Bink leaves his "cottage cheese" to go havest a fresh pair of shoes from a "shoe tree" I knew this book was a keeper.

Yeah, I've read them all--from A Spell for Chameleon to the latest one, The Dastard. I wholeheartedly agree that the series has steadily degraded from elegance to drek. A shame, really, as the man can write well when he chooses to, instead of just reprinting the horrid ideas of his readers (in my defense, I NEVER sent one in).

Still, it's possible to find that spark in the later novels. To help you seperate the wheat from the chaff, here's my take on the series:

Good: Spell for Chameleon; The Source of Magic; Castle Roogna; Ogre, Ogre; Crewel Lye; Question Quest; Geis of the Gargoyle; Yon Ill Wind (mostly for the parts concerning the demon Xanth)

So-So: Night Mare; Dragon on a Pedestal; Golem in the Gears; Isle of View; Harpy Thyme; Roc and a Hard Place; The Dastard

Avoid: Centaur Isle; Vale of the Vole; Heaven Cent; Man from Mundania; The Color of her Panties; Demons don't Dream; Faun & Games; Zombie Lover; Xone of Contention (especially horrid computer puns here: Mundane Mega Mesh, Macrohard Doors--ugh)


You're quite right that almost all of these follow the same formula:

1) Protagonist has seemingly intractible problem.

2) Protagonist lacks wit to solve problem, goes to Humphrey's castle, obtains cryptic answer.

3) Protagonist doesn't comprehend answer, prompted to perform some task in payment anyway.

4) Protagonist goes off on wild adventure, meets interesting characters (primarily nude and/or buxom females), encounters inordinate amount of groaners.

5) Meaning of answer revealed in the end; protagonist lives happily ever after engaged/married to member of opposite sex.

So why do I keep reading? I dunno. It's like crack: addictive, and you keep using in the hopes of reliving that first good high.

Fenris
08-30-2001, 05:22 AM
Great list, Seraphim, although, of the ones I've read, I'd swap Nightmare and Ogre, Ogre and drop Dragon on a Pedastal into the "Avoid" catagory.

And you left one bit out, when you were providing your "generic Xanth plot" ;) you missed the bit that the protagonists will need to either go through the Hypno-Gourd's land to get to Humphrey's castle or going through the Hypno-Gourd will be part of Humphrey's answer. Either way, in a bunch of the middle Xanth books, that's a (boring) key factor.

Otherwise, I completely agree!

Fenris

Fenris
08-30-2001, 05:32 AM
Originally posted by Otto
Anthony's sexual politics in the Xanth books were screwed up from the first book. Chameleon being "all women" by changing (or should I say "cycling") monthly from beautiful-and-stupid to smart-and-ugly? The scheming Iris

While we're talking about Xanthian sexual politics, how 'bout that idiot judge in A Spell for Chameleon? During the "Date Rape" trial scene, he decides that whichever guy raped the woman (WAS Chameleon the one who was raped?) should be freed, since if the victim knew and went out with the rapist, it couldn't be rape, right? She would've run away if she didn't like him. And she might have tempted him, in any case. :rolleyes:

Fenris

Gyrate
08-30-2001, 05:38 AM
No one (unless I've accidentally missed it) has mentioned the Bio of a Space Tyrant series, which contains an awful lot of increasingly strange sex scenes. And as the main character gets older, the women he sleeps with get younger and younger (down to 14 or 15, IIRC). Not to mention the whole incest thing.

The BoaST (nice acronym, BTW) series inspired a new creed by which I live to this day:

"Life's too short to read Piers Anthony."

Perv.

Tamerlane
08-30-2001, 05:58 AM
Hmmm...I liked Centaur Aisle okay. Like Fiver I found the youthful romance kind of charming. In fact it was the last one in the series I liked. Xanth lost me from the fifth book on out ( though I struggled through Ogre, Ogre and Nightmare ). Admittedly Centaur Aisle seems to have been the start of the "panty fixation", but at least Irene was in her teens and it was treated in a light-hearted fashion :) .

Seems Anthony has always been fascinated by sex. His Cluster series and their related spin-offs were always saturated with weird alien sex. When I was younger I didn't find this all that odd, but looking back there is a pattern of sorts, including a sometimes slightly misogynistic tone. But when he was younger it was better camouflaged and was buried under some imaginative imagery and, well, decent storytelling, anyway.

Far be it for me to agree with Fenris :p , but I have to agree there does seem to be a precipitous decline in talent over the years. At some point he ran out of ideas and began to repeat himself. Badly.

But far worse, at some point he became convinced he had talent and his ego just went out of control. Anyone read that exercise in narcissism he had published which was basically a long rant aimed at some editors that had dared to hack up one of his pieces early in his career? I forget the title, but it was a cheesy novel with their corrections, followed by his comments about what morons they were. What a tool :rolleyes: .

Frankly I find even the stuff I used to like, like the Cluster books, a little tedious to wade through now ( and no offense Jinxie, each to their own and all, but god did I hate the Orn-Ox-Omnivore books :D ). The very first Xanth books accepted, perhaps. Their light-hearted charm still holds up okay. But in retrospect, I'm not entirely sure he was deserving of even those earlier plaudits he received. He wasn't as bad, but I dunno about great. Though perhaps I'm being unkind by taking them out of context from the period they were written in. And perhaps too, my taste has just changed.

- Tamerlane

Fenris
08-30-2001, 06:19 AM
Originally posted by Tamerlane
Hmmm...I liked Centaur Aisle okay.

Once again, Tamerlane and Fenris are on the same page. I'd missed that Centaur Isle was in "Avoid". I'd move it up a notch.

Fenris

Sublight
08-30-2001, 10:34 AM
Originally posted by Tamerlane
But far worse, at some point he became convinced he had talent and his ego just went out of control. Anyone read that exercise in narcissism he had published which was basically a long rant aimed at some editors that had dared to hack up one of his pieces early in his career? I forget the title, but it was a cheesy novel with their corrections, followed by his comments about what morons they were. What a tool :rolleyes: .


But What of Earth? Looking back at that turd, I can't help but be reminded of a 13-year-old plotting in his diary about how when he's rich and famous he's gonna get all those meanies who didn't recognize his genius.

Never read Xanth. Loved On a Pale Horse and the first Apprentice Adept book, but grew more disillusioned with each sequel.

--sublight.

Legomancer
08-30-2001, 10:50 AM
I remember liking Night Mare except for dumb parts in the hypno-gourd. Though I remember little more than that.

I really enjoyed On a Pale Horse but found Bearing an Hourglass relentlessly dull. Especially the huge stretches explaining how the hourglass worked. It's Magic, Piers, I don't CARE how it works. Do you explain the workings of the internal-combustion engine when a character drives a car? No, because it doesn't matter. Just tell the damn story. I never finished it or looked at any of the others.

Lightnin'
08-30-2001, 11:12 AM
I'm surprised nobody's mentioned The Firefly yet- in which a recounting is told- graphically- of the statutory rape of an extremely young child. She was younger than eight or so, I think, while he was at least 18- but it's okay, 'cause she really wanted it. :rolleyes: Creepy, disturbing stuff. A damn shame, 'cause the primary focus of the story is a pretty cool monster.

I used to like Anthony- I count A Spell for Chameleon as one of the best books I've read. A pity it went WAY downhill from there.

Seraphim
08-30-2001, 11:13 AM
Originally posted by Fenris
Originally posted by Tamerlane
Hmmm...I liked Centaur Aisle okay.

Once again, Tamerlane and Fenris are on the same page. I'd missed that Centaur Isle was in "Avoid". I'd move it up a notch.

Fenris

Well...when I read Centaur Isle, I was about the same age as the two main characters (15 and 16). Being of that age, I was primarily interested in the steamy interaction between Dor & Irene, and grew impatient when the text veered to something else. On reflection, I suppose it does deserve better. Bump it up to So-So.

Man, how could I have forgotten the hypnogourd angle? Every book from Ogre, Ogre on uses that stupid fruit somewhere in the narrative.

Fiver
08-30-2001, 11:42 AM
The hypnogourd scenes always drove me mad.

Has any interviewer ever called Piers to the carpet for the disturbing (as opposed to merely bad) elements of his books? I'd be very interested to hear him defend a scene like the one Lightnin' just described.

Netbrian
08-30-2001, 02:02 PM
Icky, icky, icky. I've stopped reading at "Fawn and Games", and have to my (complete lack of) suprise realized that I don't seem to miss the series at all.

I remember rereading "A Spell for Cameleon" and "The Source of Magic" and realizing how much BETTER they were then the later attempts (the next few books were good too, Castle Roogna rocked). He tended to play it as a "believable people in fantastic setting" far more then what came later. In my opinion, as soon as the term "Summoning the Stork" came into play, things kind of started going downhill at an incredible pace.

cmkeller
08-30-2001, 04:42 PM
I loved the first six books (with Night Mare, the sixth, being my favorite), but then the books started spiraling downward. With the exception of Question Quest, the later ones were all inferior. The "stork" business started as a cute joke related to how parents hide things from children and grew into an all-consuming obsession.

I just couldn't bring myself to buy a book called "The Color of her Panties." Not so much that I'm something of a prude (though I'll admit I am), but moreover, that told me the joke went too far. He not only beat the horse to death, but he pounded the corpse into a bloody pulp and, as far as I can tell, will continue flogging even those meager remains until each horse molecule has been separated from the next.

In addition, though I loved the first three books of Incarnations of Immortality (the third being my favorite), it too got disappointing.

Badtz Maru
08-31-2001, 05:05 AM
His perversity goes way back. In one of the Dangerous Visions anthologies (either the second or the third) there is a short story called 'In the Barn'. It's about an explorer who is sent to an alternate Earth where all large mammals except man died out for some reason, and humans have started keeping other humans (who are kept stupid by being kept in sensory deprivation on a low-protein diet for the first two years of their life) as livestock.

OK, and interesting enough idea. The explorer has to investigate a barn to find out what they are using for animals, and it turns out it's a dairy barn. His descriptions of naked women with enormous breasts kept in pens and milked by machines is not what bothered me - he's trying to show some of the less savory aspects of ranching by putting humans in the role of the animals. But there is a scene where the guy has to take a young 'cow' which just reached breeding age to the bull for it's first mating. When he's alone in the pen with the retarded teenage girl the main character sees a resemblance between the girl and a bitchy domineering woman he has a crush on and decides to have sex with her himself. He actually penetrates her, but is unable to get off because she has extremely loose genitalia, supposedly because they were bred for easy birthing - the line was 'He could not plumb her well to it's depth, nor gain purchase at the rim'. Sexually frustrated he gives up and takes her to the bull (which is a big, hairy, very well-endowed man) and then there is a vividly described brutal sex scene, and the main character gets some kind of satisfaction out of seeing her get it.

The thing that bothered me the most about this sequence is that the main character isn't just some random weirdo who happened to wander into this alternate universe, he's supposedly a highly-trained explorer, like an astronaut the best-of-the-best. He's supposed to be the representative of normalcy, the guy the readers sympathize with and see this world through. There is a bit of text devoted to his questioning whether or not he should screw the cow (with him rationalizing that she was going to get it anyway) but he doesn't feel any guilt or seem to think that what he did was wrong, it didn't matter because the girl was raised as an animal and was mentally inferior to himself (though I remember that he thought he saw a glimmmer of intelligence in her eyes at first). If you are going to make your main character do something morally abhorrent then you better give a better explanation why he's fucked up like that, other than 'She looked like this stuck-up bitch he had the hots for and couldn't help himself'.

Come to think of it, I can't think of anything I've read by Piers Anthony that didn't have perverted elements in it. That alone doesn't make me think the author's sick, because healthy people write about sick stuff all the time - it's just that you get the impression that he thinks his characters are normal, just more honest about what they want.

Sublight
08-31-2001, 10:54 AM
In the Xanth series, does Anthony continually take current events and adapt them to fantasy by just throwing a few 'magic' terms into the mix? In the Incarnations of Immortality series, he did this all the time. A magic commuter carpet crashed into the icy waters of the Potomac river. If only they had remembered to use a de-icing spell! :rolleyes:

Speaking of his perversions, the Tarot series was also pretty out there, in an adolescent sort of way. A lot of time spent on anal sex, anal exploration and various feces-related activities.

--sublight.

Tamerlane
08-31-2001, 10:58 AM
Badt Maru: Ackk!! I remember that story and I hadn't recalled it was Anthony. I read it first in my early teens and was rather repulsed, slightly titillated and disturbed at being titillated ( damn 13 year-old hormones :D ). I read it again a few years later and was just repulsed. Talk about creepy misogyny :rolleyes: . Yep, he was a bit freaky from the get-go.

- Tamerlane

Gyrate
08-31-2001, 11:21 AM
And then there's his "erotic parody" Pornucopia. :rolleyes: A friend of mine who has read the book (I've had neither the opportunity nor the inclination) says it's about a man with a detachable penis. Lotsa laughs there.

This site (http://yabooks.about.com/library/authors/bl_piersanthony.htm) has the following personal statement from Mr. Anthony:

Though I value my young readers, I have to give warning that not all my work is suitable for them. Teens may be able to handle it, but some of their parents have been know to freak out, and to ban my books from the house. A girl was once suspended from school and taken from her mother and put into forster care--because she brought Virtual Mode to school to read. So be cautious about my more adult series, like Incarnations of Immortality, Adept, Mode, Space Tyrant, Cluster, Of Man and Manta, and Geodyssey, and extremely careful of Firefly and my Anthonology collection. If you see my erotic parody, Pornucopia, hide it immediately.
I like that -- not "Some material is unsuitable for young readers, so don't read it until you're old enough" but rather "Some material is unsuitable for young readers, so hide it so your parents don't know you're reading it." Real mature, Piers.

Lionors
08-31-2001, 01:01 PM
Couple of things to think about when considering Anthony's work.

I'll start by saying I've lost count of how many of Anthony's works I've read. I'll agree right along with the crowd that Xanth is a horse that has been ridden past death and past pookadom. That's his greatest weakness, IMHO: he comes up with a really interesting premise, then doesn't know when to quit.

However, Xanth (and Spell in particular) was remarkably influential when it came about because it was one of the first that was humorous fantasy and it was one of the first to break away from the typical sword-and-sorcery or Tolkien mold. Others such as Allan Dean Foster, Craig Shaw Gardner and Robert Asprin quickly followed in their wake, and the result was a reawakened interest in the fantasy field in general. This was not a bad thing, IMHO. So Anthony really did make a valuable contribution to the field; it's a pity that he doesn't know when to quit.

My favorite of all that he has written was his Incarnation series, closely followed by the first three books of the Apprentice Adept series (which, IMHO, like Xanth, rapidly got into the overdone realm). While I didn't enjoy And Eternity as much as I did the first five, I had to admit that the premise brought up some interesting food for thought. I'd recommend the first six Xanths and Crewel Lye to any middle-school aged reader. Total Recall (yep, the basis for the movie) and But What of Earth? also fall into the 'maybe not a great read but provides good fodder for late-night bull sessions' category. The Tarot series just...sucked. For all that they got him awards, I didn't care for the Chthon works, either, nor for some of his earlier stand-alone ones (i.e. Orn).

Yes, some of Anthony's darker stuff has disturbed me. (On Uses of Torture heading that list.) But then again, so does the work of Lovecraft and others. In fact, compared to some of Lovecraft's stuff, Anthony's forays into horror seem downright tame. I will say that some of his very dark stuff, if you sit down and think about the underlying message, will wonk your mind. The humans-in-the-barn story (In the Barn) from Anthonology is a classic example. Yep, it had its prurient side...but by the same token, it also makes you think about the relationship of man to domesticated livestock, and if you read the preface in Anthonology, that's precisely what Anthony intended for the story to do. (Plus thumb his nose at some of the standards in the publishing industry at the time -- it was originally written for Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions anthology and published in '72.)

The other big fly that's come into my enjoyment of Anthony's works (and the reason I don't read them as I used to) is the sexual factor that others have brought up. General sex, I've got no problem with. Firefly, on the other hand, was deeply disturbing to me, as were some of the scenes in the Bio series. That's yet another hobbyhorse I wish Anthony would put back in the stable.

All that said and done, he's done good work overall for the genre, if only to point a direction for others to forge into.

BTW...female kings are not farfetched, actually. Poland's monarchy included them. (And that is no joke). And as far as pre-selling your work -- that is done routinely. If you're pitching a non-fiction article, you'll generally send a query letter to the appropriate magazine editor pitching the idea before you go haring off and doing the work before you find out its unsalable; in fiction, the query-plus-synopsis is standard. Anthony may be a sell-out in other regards, but in doing that, he's not doing anything worse than anyone else with market savvy does.

Lamia
08-31-2001, 01:42 PM
Originally posted by Lionors
Total Recall (yep, the basis for the movie)


No it wasn't. The basis for the movie was Phillip K. Dick's short story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale". Anthony's Total Recall was merely a novelization of the movie.

Schadenfreude
08-31-2001, 01:55 PM
I started reading Piers Anthony with the "Incarnations of Immortality" series. I loved On a Pale Horse, but the remaining books dropped off steadily. I didn't read the last twp of the seven until fairly recently, and only for the sake of completeness.

What really started creeping me out was in the author's note at the end of Pale Horse where he describes his catheter insertion. A little too much information, thanks.

I haven't read past the first book in the Xanth series, and have no desire to. Pretty much everything of his I have read leaves a nasty taste of misogyny.

And by the way. Total Recall (the movie) was based on "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" by Philip K. Dick, not anything that Anthony has written.

Lionors
08-31-2001, 06:45 PM
Wups, I bow in the dust. You're right; I was a lazy slob and didn't go dig up the book before because we've been in the middle of rearranging half the house and knew I couldn't put my hands on it easily.

sjc
08-31-2001, 08:08 PM
Originally posted by Badtz Maru
Come to think of it, I can't think of anything I've read by Piers Anthony that didn't have perverted elements in it. That alone doesn't make me think the author's sick, because healthy people write about sick stuff all the time - it's just that you get the impression that he thinks his characters are normal, just more honest about what they want.

This describes perfectly my beef with Anthony's writing, thank you Badtz Maru you hit it on the head.

I read many of the Xanth books, some of the Incarnations of Immortality and also some of the Apprentice Adept series. I agree that the writing went downhill in the Xanth novels, though I'm not sure where to pinpoint the change.

The wierdness in the Xanth series didn't bother me in middle school, although I was reading some of the earlier ones at that time. At the time I didn't really understand the intricacies of sex and sexual politics.

I can only speak from personal experience, but I don't think about sex the way Anthony's characters do and I don't think very many people do. If he is trying to point out that we all think about sex, then I think he is right but (at least for me) it is much more complex than he makes it out to be.