Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Princes from Nine Princes in Amber, ranked from worst to best. Number six will shock you!

I’m experimenting with clickbait titles. I apologize in advance. Number six probably won't shock you at all.

For the purposes of this post, "Best" means "character I like the most" and "worst" means "character I like the least".

From worst to best, the Nine Princes in Amber:

9.) Random – “He was a homicidal little fink…” I don’t even dislike Random.

But there isn’t much to
like, either. He’s got a great name. He winds up as king, sure (oops, forty year old spoilers), but he’s mostly Corwin’s sidekick/excuse to offer some exposition for the bulk of the Chronicles, but he’s overshadowed even in this role by Ganelon. I don’t know what the unicorn was thinking. “Auxiliary sidekick” is the bright point on his C.V. My guess is that Amber was undergoing the kind of faux-populism we’re seeing in the run-up to the 2016 Presidential election, and the unicorn was under a lot of pressure to pick somebody who wasn’t a career politician.

8.) Bleys – "A figure clad in light valiant, exuberant and rash."

Talk about style over substance.
He’s almost as good as Benedict with the blade! He’s almost as smart as Brand!

So we're told.

What are his actual achievements? Grabbing the wrong end of a sword, building half of an army that got demolished before it was within sight of its goal, and falling off a cliff? (Add "disappearing at the hint of danger" and “Showing up to give Merlin yet another magical artifact” if we're including the Merlin books)

7.) Caine – I never liked you and I still do not trust you. You have insulted me, betrayed me and even stabbed me. Forget that. I do not like your methods, though I cannot fault your loyalty this time around. Peace, then. Let the new reign begin with a clean slate between us.”
Tip O'Neill was wrong. In Amber, politics aren’t local, they’re personal. Caine’s crimes, are, all
things considered pretty small, but Corwin’s still mad at him, I would argue, because Caine wronged him personally. It’s monstrously petty, certainly, but the Amberites are Olympian in their passions, and like Hera they can certainly nurse a grudge.

Caine, out of all the Amberites, seems like the kind of character a tabletop gamer would create. He’s hard man making hard choices, and he enacts a needlessly byzantine plan that involves faking his own death, reading the minds of his siblings, walking the Pattern to attempt an assassination, but really doesn’t accomplish much. He kills Brand, sure, but he could have accomplished that without all the theatrics, by just showing up with his silver arrows at the same time he actually did. Then again, this is the guy who, if Merlin is to be believed, practices his knife tricks in front of a mirror like DeNiro in Taxi Driver.

6.) Gerard –"Hear me out!" he repeated. "You could easily have made mistakes that led to that. It does not matter now. You may be as innocent as you say or as guilty as possible. Look down, Corwin. That is all. Look down at the black road. Death is the limit of the distance you travel if that is your doing. I have shown you my strength once again, lest you have forgotten. I can kill you, Corwin. Do not even be certain that your blade will protect you, if I can get my hands on you but once. And I will, to keep my promise. My promise is only that if you are guilty I will kill you the moment I learn of it…”

There’s an episode from the original run of Doctor Who. It’s called City of Death, and this is the one that Whovians show their non-Whovian friends when we want them to like the show. There’s a brief exchange between the villains about the Doctor that I think could apply to Gerard as well.

Countess: My dear, I don't think he's as stupid as he seems.
Count: My dear, nobody could be as stupid as he seems.

Yeah, Gerard isn’t brilliant, but I don’t think he’s quite the dunderhead everyone takes him for, either. He’s slower on the uptake than his siblings, certainly, but you don’t live a long life without accumulating some practical knowledge. (He administers medical treatment to Brand, and as Corwin states that his siblings go to medical school about once a generation, it’s not unreasonable to assume that he’s qualified as an M.D., and you don’t accomplish that if you’re a dummy.) He’s the Hufflepuff of the lot, the solid fixed point around which everyone can turn. Oberon does put him in charge of defending Amber, after all, and that’s not for nothing.

5.) Benedict – "I am sorry," I said. "Excuse me, please. You do not understand. You do not really understand who it was we talked with in the tent that night. He may have seemed an ordinary man to you-a handicapped one, at that. But this is not so. I fear Benedict. He is unlike any other being in Shadow or reality. He is the Master of Arms for Amber. Can you conceive of a millennium? A thousand years? Several of them? Can you understand a man who, for almost every day of a lifetime like that, has spent some time dwelling with weapons, tactics, strategies? Because you see him in a tiny kingdom, commanding a small militia, with a well-pruned orchard in his back yard, do not be deceived. All that there is of military science thunders in his head. He has often journeyed from shadow to shadow, witnessing variation after variation on the same battle, with but slightly altered circumstances, in order to test his theories of warfare. He has commanded armies so vast that you could watch them march by day after day and see no end to the columns. Although he is inconvenienced by the loss of his arm, I would not wish to fight with him either with weapons or barehanded. It is fortunate that he has no designs upon the throne, or he would be occupying it right now. If he were, I believe that I would give up at this moment and pay him homage. I fear Benedict." 

Benedict, unlike the rest of his siblings, with the possible exception of Gerard, actually has his shit together. He mostly just wants to tend his garden and be left alone, but he can be prevailed upon to rally to the defense of Amber, should the situation warrants.

"I do not wish to sit in on our respective bastardy proceeding," Benedict said softly. "That obscene pastime was one of the reasons I initially absented myself from felicity. Please continue your story without the benefit of footnotes."

I mentioned this in the second part of my Guns of Avalon review, but Benedict struck me as completely unreasonable when I read this book for the first time as a young teenager. How dare he stand in Corwin’s way? Which part is confusing for you, Benedict? Do you understand that Corwin is the hero of the book? He deserves the throne! 

As an adult, Benedict is the lone reasonable figure. He loves his family even if he doesn’t like them all that much, and he wishes they would all just get along.

4.) Julian – 

"I'm in good shape," I said, and Random nodded and remarked, "I thought you'd be indulging in other sports at a time like this." 
Julian tipped his head and regarded him crookedly, through the windshield. 
"I enjoy slaughtering beasts," he said, "and I think of my relatives constantly." 
A slight coldness worked its way down my back.

Julian is the prince with whom I identify the most, and I realize this doesn’t paint a flattering picture of me.

The first mention we get of Julian in the chronicles is Flora’s account of how he lost his temper and threw a drink at Corwin, because Corwin beat him at his favorite game. Krulik's Complete Amber sourcebook says this “game” was hunting, and while I think that the sourcebook is just about the worst tie-in product ever to be associated with Amber, (yes, worse even than 7-No Trump), I think that interpretation makes sense, and I’m willing to accept it as canon. Flora’s phrasing is a touch general (I think a real person would mention the name of the game, rather than calling it “his favorite game”, but I think that Zelazny didn’t yet know himself what that game would be, and left it general so he could fill in the blank later.)

 He doesn’t get a lot of time in the novels, the chase in Nine Princes, the family gathering in Unicorn and his conversation with Corwin in Oberon, but I think they paint a compelling picture. Julian seems socially stunted in a very particular way. Benedict has mastered his emotions, but Julian has only suppressed his, and sometimes those emotions explode out of him in spasm of rage, such as when he throws his drink at Corwin. He has no idea of the appropriate way to act around the object of his affection. When he's trying to banter with Fiona, he reminds me of no one so much as Tim Robbins in Mystic River  It’s no wonder he seeks solace in the hunt and with his rangers. He knows his role there, and it’s ordered and he understands things. There’s nothing messy and unpredictable, nothing human to get in the way.

3.) Eric – It’s not an uncommon interpretation of the books to see Corwin as the villain of the piece. I think that’s a rather facile reading, but Corwin is not a nice man, and neither he nor Zelazny pretend otherwise. Eric seized the throne to preserve Amber. Corwin wanted it because Eric wanted it. He admits as much later on.

We all have somebody that just pushes every one of our buttons. Eric's barely keeping things together at home, there's another triumvirate working to undermine Amber, Eric's cohort have just prevailed upon him to claim the throne in order to keep things from exploding. Eric finally feels like he's getting a handle on things, and then fucking Corwin shows up.

It reminds me of a passage in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

When you're cruising down the road in the fast lane and you lazily sail past a few hard-driving cars and are feeling pretty pleased with yourself and then accidentally change down from fourth to first instead of third thus making your engine leap out of your bonnet in a rather ugly mess, it tends to throw you off your stride in much the same way that this remark threw Ford Prefect off his. 

They just can't think rationally around each other. Corwin describes the fight that led to his exile as a "simultaneous decision to murder one another.
We see so little of Eric the man, We only see Eric the villain. 

The music rose up softly-it was "Greensleeves"-and somewhere at my back Julian said, "Behold the crowning of a new king in Amber!" Then to me, in a whisper, "Take up the crown and hand it to Eric. He will crown himself." 
I stared at the crown of Amber upon the crimson cushion Caine held. 
It was wrought of silver and had seven high points, each topped by a gem stone. It was studded with emeralds, and there were two huge rubies at either temple. 
I didn't move, thinking of the times I had seen the face of our father beneath it. 
"No," I said simply, and I felt a blow upon my left check. 
"Take it and give it to Eric," he repeated.
I tried to strike at him, but my chains were drawn tight. I was struck again.
I stared at the high sharp peaks.
"Very well," I finally said, and reached for it.
I held it in both hands for a moment then quickly placed it on my own head and declared,  "I crown me, Corwin, king of Amber!"
It was removed immediately and replaced upon the cushion. Several blows fell upon my back. There came a murmuring throughout the hall. 
"Now pick it up and try it again," said Julian. "Take it and hand it to Eric." 
Another blow fell.
"Okay," I told him, feeling my shirt grow wet.
This time I hurled it, hoping to put out one of Eric's eyes.
He caught it in his right hand and smiled down at me as I was beaten.
"Thank you," he said. "Now hear me, all you present, and those of you who listen in Shadow. I assume the crown and throne this day. I take into my hand the scepter of the kingdom of Amber. I have won the throne fairly, and I take it and hold it by the right of my blood." 
"Liar!" I cried, and a hand was clapped over my mouth.
"I crown myself Eric the First, King of Amber." 
"Long live the King!" cried the nobles, three times.
Then he leaned forward and whispered to me, "Your eyes have looked upon the fairest sight they will ever hold. . .. Guards! Take Corwin away to the smithy, and let his eyes be burnt from out his head! Let him remember the sights of this day as the last he might ever see! Then cast him into the darkness of the deepest dungeon beneath Amber, and let his name be forgotten!"

We sometimes hear observations about Eric from the other princes. Random says in Sign of the Unicorn: ."Damn Eric, anyway!That reminds me again . . . He once accused me of cheating at cards, did you know that? And that's about the only thing I wouldn't cheat at. I take my card playing seriously. I'm good and I'm also lucky. Eric was neither. The trouble with him was that he was good at so many things he wouldn't admit even to himself that there were some things other people could do better. If you kept beating him at anything you had to be cheating." but it's not enough.

I wonder what Eric told Corwin in that alternate history of which ghost Lorraine in Tir-na Nog'th spoke: You followed me, drove away Melkin, and we talked. I saw that I was wrong and I went with you to Avalon. There, your brother Benedict persuaded you to talk with Eric. You were not reconciled, but you agreed to a truce because of something that he told you. He swore not to harm you and you swore to defend Amber, with Benedict to witness both oaths. We remained in Avalon while you obtained chemicals, and we went to another place later, a place where you purchased strange weapons. We won the battle, but Eric lies wounded now." 

2.) Corwin – I paused when I uncovered the next card, and my heart leaped forward and banged against my sternum and asked to be let out.

    It was me.
    I knew the me I shaved and this was the guy behind the mirror. Green eyes, black hair, dressed in black and silver, yes. I had on a cloak and it was slightly furled as by a wind. I had on black boots, like Eric's, and I too wore a blade, only mine was heavier, though not quite as long as his. I had my gloves on and they were silver and scaled. The clasp at my neck was cast in the form of a silver rose.
    Me. Corwin.

I’m a sucker for a tale of redemption, and I think it’s a legitimate of interpretation of the Corwin Chronicles to read them in this way.

I saw him there by the window, a man-formed body dressed in light armor, goat head upon those massive shoulders.
I crossed the threshold and stopped.
He had turned to stare as the door had fallen, and now he sought my eyes through steel.
"Mortal man, you have come too far," he said. "Or are you mortal man?" and there was a blade in his hand.
"Ask Strygalldwir," I said.
"You are the one who slew him," he stated. "Did he name you?"
There were footsteps on the stairs behind me. I stepped to the left of the doorway.
Ganelon burst into the chamber and I called "Halt!" and he did.
He turned to me.
"This is the thing," he said. "What is it?"
"My sin against a thing I loved," I said. "Stay away from it. It's mine."

I replaced her rings, her bracelets, her combs, before I closed the grave, and that was Lorraine. All that she had ever been or wanted to be had come to this, and that is the whole story of how we met and how we parted, Lorraine and I, in the land called Lorraine, and it is like onto my life, I guess, for a Prince of Amber is part and party to all the rottenness that is in the world, which is why whenever I do speak of my conscience, something else within me must answer, "Ha!" In the mirrors of the many judgments, my hands are the color of blood. I am a part of the evil that exists in the world and in Shadow. I sometime fancy myself an evil which exists to oppose other evils. I destroy Melkins when I find them, and on that Great Day of which prophets speak but in which they do not truly believe, on that day when the world is completely cleansed of evil, then I, too, will go down into darkness, swallowing curses. Perhaps even sooner than that, I now judge. But whatever . . . Until that time, I shall not wash my hands nor let them hang useless.

Turning, I rode back to the Keep of Ganelon, who knew but would never understand.

I read Siddhartha at about the same time I did the Amber Chronicles and Lord of Light, and occupy roughly the same geography in my head. The thing that sticks with me about Siddhartha, twenty-five years later, is the conversation Siddhartha has with Govinda, where Siddhartha complains about the circular nature of teachings and Govinda instead likens it to a spiral staircase instead. I always think of that exchange when Corwin is talking to Hugi. All his arguments seemed profound to me, because I had never been exposed to them. Ah, but Corwin's response:

"I have had a long life, Hugi. You insult me by assuming I have never considered these footnotes to sophomore philosophy. The fact that you find consensus reality barren tells me more about you than it does about that state of affairs. To wit, if you believe what you say I feel sorry for you, in that you must for some inexplicable reason be here desiring and striving to influence this false ego of mine rather than free of such nonsense and on your way to your Absolute. If you do not believe it, then it tells me that you have been set to hinder and discourage me, in which case you are wasting your time."
Corwin has been around that circular staircase many times, and the man he is now has been shaped by those many steps. He may not always be proud of the man he has become, but he has shaped his own fate through his actions.

And the number one Prince of Amber is...

1.) Brand

I’m loathe to say anything good about the Merlin books, but Merlin has an uncharacteristically cogent observation in a throwaway line about Brand’s sword, Werewindle. It contained a similar feeling of power to that which Grayswandir bore, only somehow brighter, less tragedy-touched and brooding. Ironic. It seemed an ideal blade for a hero.

I remember Erick Wujcik saying in an aside in the ADRPG that a friend of his read Amber with the idea in mind that Caine was the villain of the Chronicles, Brand was the hero and Corwin was a biased, but essentially reliable narrator. To be completely honest, I can’t see how that would work. Brand tells anybody who will listen about his intent to commit omnicide, and that pretty much puts him in the black hat, regardless of any crimes Caine may have committed.

There’s no reconciling Brand as the hero of the piece. He’s the cackling, “before I kill you, Mister Bond”, nuttier than squirrel shit “Would you like a large HAM?” supervillain. And in large part because of that, he’s my favorite character to read by a huge margin.

"But this is true," he went on, "and to lay your suspicions, I add that it is because I have small choice in it. Beginnings are always difficult. Wherever I begin, something preceded it. You were gone for so long. If one must name a single thing, however, then let it be the throne. There. I have said it. We had thought of a way to take it, you see. This was just after your disappearance, and in some ways, I suppose, prompted by it. Dad suspected Eric of having slain you. But there was no evidence. We worked on this feeling, though-a word here and there, every now and then. Years passed, with you unreachable by any means, and it seemed more and more likely that you were indeed dead. Dad looked upon Eric with growing disfavor. Then, one night, pursuant to a discussion I had begun on a totally neutral matter-most of us present at the table-he said that no fratricide would ever take the throne, and he was looking at Eric as he said it. You know how his eyes could get. Eric grew bright as a sunset and could not swallow for a long while. But then Dad took things much further than any of us had anticipated or desired. In fairness to you, I do not know whether he spoke solely to vent his feelings, or whether he actually meant what he said. But he told us that he had more than half decided upon you as his successor, so that he took whatever misadventure had befallen you quite personally. He would not have spoken of it, but that he was convinced as to your passing. In the months that followed, we reared you a cenotaph to give some solid form to this conclusion, and we made certain that no one forgot Dad's feelings toward Eric. All along, after yourself, Eric was the one we felt had to be gotten around to reach the throne." 
"We! Who were the others?"
"Patience, Corwin. Sequence and order, time and stress! Accent, emphasis . . . Listen." 
He took another cigarette, chain-lit it from the butt, stabbed the air with its burning tip.

And the Princesses!
4.) Llewella – “…”
Llewella is not a character. She's a mannequin with a good agent.

Deirdre – I felt a familiar presence, heard a "Hello, Corwin" and there was Deirdre, reaching toward me. I extended my hand, clasped her own, raised it. She took a step forward, as if to the first strain of some formal dance, and moved close, facing me. For an instant a grilled window had framed her head and shoulders and a rich tapestry had adorned the wall to her left. Planned and posed, of course. Still, effective. She held my Trump in her left hand. She smiled. The others glanced our way as she appeared and she hit them all with that smile, like the Mona Lisa with a machine gun, turning slowly.

Point:Deirdre is the most martial of the princesses. Counterpoint: Brand gets the best of an armed and armored Deirdre in about three seconds. Rebuttal: He probably would have used the Jewel of Judgement to paralyze her as he did Benedict. Fans of the ADRPG have taken the one sentence about Deirdre using a battleaxe at the Courts of Chaos and extrapolated an entire backstory as the Valkyrie of Amber. She also had a Pattern Axe. Sure she did.

I really don't have much of an opinion of Deirdre, other than to say that given the squicky nature of Corwin's eleventh hour revelations of incestuous yearnings, you're probably going to want to find someone else to deliver the eulogy.

Flora - "Yes, of course you may stay. But let me warn you"-and here she fingered what I had thought to be some sort of pendant on a chain about her neck -"this is an ultrasonic dog whistle. Donner and Blitzen here have four brothers, and they're all trained to take care of nasty people and they all respond to my whistle. So don't start to walk toward any place where you won't be desired. A toot or two and even you will go down before them. Their kind is the reason there are no wolves left in Ireland. you know."

Everything I said about Gerard goes double for Flora. Everyone thinks she's stupid, but she's probably the happiest with her life out of all the royal family, and she always seems to wind up on the winning team. Doesn't look so stupid to me.

Fiona - The popular perception of Zelazny is that he did not write women well. There are exceptions to this, Mari in 24 Views and every named woman in the Graveyard Heart spring immediately to mind, but yeah, his average across the span of his career wasn't great, and I say this as one of the biggest Zelazny boosters around.

She probably walks away from any number of crimes because anyone who could have incriminated her in dead at the end of the book. She’s free to tell her siblings that all the bad stuff was Brand’s idea. This kind of karma Houdini nonsense usually bothers me, but she pulls it off with such panache.

"I'll go down the list, subjective, intuitive, and biased as it is. Benedict, in my opinion, is above suspicion. If he wanted the throne, he'd have it by now, by direct, military methods. With all the time he has had, he could have managed an attack that would have succeeded, even against Dad. He is that good, and we all know it. You, on the other hand, have made a number of blunders which you would not have made had you been in full possession of your faculties. That is why I believe your story, amnesia and all. No one gets himself blinded as a piece of strategy. Gerard is well on the way to establishing his own innocence. I almost think he is up there with Brand now more for that reason than from any desire to protect Brand. At any rate, we will know for sure before long-or else have some new suspicions. Random has simply been watched too closely these past years to have had the opportunity to engineer everything that has been happening. So he is out. Of us more delicate sorts. Flora hasn't the brains, Deirdre lacks the guts, Llewella hasn't the motivations, as she is happy elsewhere but never here, and I, of course, am innocent of all but malice. That leaves Julian. Is he capable? Yes. Does he want the throne? Of course. Has he had time and opportunity? Again, yes. He is your man." 
"Would he have killed Caine?" I asked. 
"They were buddies." 
She curled her lip. 
"Julian has no friends," she said. "That icy personality of his is thawed only by thoughts of himself. Oh, in recent years he seemed closer to Caine than to anyone else. But even that . . . even that could have been a part of it. Shamming a friendship long enough to make it seem believable, so that he would not be suspect at this time. I can believe Julian capable of that because I cannot believe him capable of strong emotional attachments."

Bear in mind, she had a better idea off the score than anyone else in the room, she knew that Julian was infatuated with her and that she was setting him up. She's as ruthless as any of her brothers, and smarter than any of her surviving brothers.

Bonus! Merlin Chronicle Princes and Princesses:

Coral - Ugh, Coral was garbage. Her bucket list was "have sex with my nephew". Coral, there is no way to pretend you don't suck.

Sand/Delwin: Which is which? You tell me.

Osric and Finndo: I rank them slightly higher than the equally interchangeable Sand and Delwin because I like Osric as a name. (And yeah, I know, they're first mentioned in Sign of the Unicorn, but I'm not making a separate category just for fucking Osric and Finndo)

Dalt: Dalt was pretty great – I imagine him as a young Dolph Lundgren.

"She's ours now," Dalt said, and he took a single step forward. 
"You are mistaken," came the reply, and Eric crossed the line, drawing his weapon. 
Dalt was a couple of inches taller than Eric, and he had a longer reach. He moved forward immediately. I expected some kind of cut from that big blade he carried, but he went in for a point attack. Eric, using a lighter weapon, sidestepped and came in under his arm. Dalt dropped the point of his blade, moved to his left, and parried it. The two weapons were suited for very different styles-Eric's being at the heaviest end of the rapier class, Dalt's at the lighter end of broadsword. Dalt's could be a single-handed weapon for a big-enough, strong-enough guy. I'd have had to use it two-handed myself. Dalt tried an upward cut just then, of the sort a Japanese swordsman would refer to as kiriage. Eric simply stepped back and tried for a wrist cut as it passed him. Dalt suddenly moved his left hand to the haft and executed a blinding two-handed cut of the sort known as naname giri. Eric continued to circle, trying for the wrist yet again.

Suddenly, Dalt opened his right hand and let it drift back, as his right foot performed a huge semicircular step to his rear and his left arm moved forward, leaving him in a left-handed European en garde position, from which that massive arm and matching blade immediately extended, performing an inside beat upon Eric's blade followed by a lunge. Eric parried as his right foot crossed behind his left and he sprang backward. Even so, I saw a spark as his guard was creased. He feinted in sixte, however, dropped his point beneath the parry that followed, extended his arm in quatre; raise himself and his blade into something resembling a stop-thrust targeting the left shoulder as the parry crossed, turned his wrist, and slashed Dalt across the left forearm.

Caine applauded, but Dalt simply brought his hands together and separated them again, executing a little hopstep as he did so, leaving him in a right en garde position. Eric drew circles in the air with the point of his weapon and smiled.

"Cute little dance routine you have there," he said.

Then Eric lunged, was parried, retreated, sidestepped, threw a front kick at Dalt's kneecap, missed, then moved with perfect timing as Dalt attempted a head cut. Switching to the Japanese himself, he spun in to the larger man's right, a maneuver I'd seen in a kumatchi exercise, his own blade rising and falling as Dalt's cut swept past. Dalt's right forearm went suddenly wet, a thing I did not really notice until after Eric had rotated his weapon, blade pointing outward and upward, and, the guard covering his knuckles, had driven his fist against the right side of Dalt's jaw. He kicked him then behind the knee and struck him with his left shoulder. Dalt stumbled and fell. Eric immediately kicked him, kidney, elbow, thigh-the latter only because he missed the knee-set his boot upon Dalt's weapon and swung his own about to bring its point in line with the man's heart.

I had been hoping all along, I suddenly realized, that Dalt would kick Eric's ass-not just because he was on my side and Eric wasn't, but because of the rough time Eric had given my dad. On the other hand, I doubted there were too many people of such ass-kicking prowess about. Unfortunately, two of them stood on the other side of the line I had drawn. Gerard could have outwrestled him. Benedict, Master of Arms at Amber, could have beaten him with any weapon. I just didn't see us as having much of a chance against them all, with Caine thrown in for good measure-not even with a ty' iga on our side. And if I were suddenly to tell Eric that Dalt was his half brother, it wouldn't slow his thrust by an instant, even if he believed me.

So I made the only decision I could make. They were, after all, only Pattern ghosts. The real Benedict and Gerard were somewhere else at this moment and would in no way be harmed by anything I did to their doubles here. Eric and Caine were, of course, long dead, Caine being the fratricidal hero of the Patternfall war and subject of a recent statue on the Grand Concourse, on the occasion of Luke's assassinating him for killing his father. And Eric, of course, had found a hero's death on the slopes of Kolvir, saving him, I suppose, from dying at the hands of my father. The bloody history of my family swam through my head as I raised the spikard to add a footnote to it, calling again for the wave of incineration that had taken out two of my Hendrake kin.

My arm felt as if someone had struck it with a baseball bat. A wisp of smoke rose from the spikard. For a moment, my four upright uncles stood unmoving. And my fifth remained supine.
Then, slowly, Eric raised his weapon. And he continued to raise it, as Benedict, Caine, and Gerard drew theirs. He straightened as he held it before his face. The others did the same. It looked strangely like a salute; and Eric's eyes met mine.

"I know you," he said.

Then they all completed the gesture, and faded, faded, turned to smoke, and blew away.

I originally grabbed this passage for Eric’s entry, because there’s another bit from Wujcik this time in the Shadow Knight supplement to ADRPG, where he speculates that Eric might be something more than a pattern ghost, because there is no reason that he should know Dalt. However, as I read it again, I realized I really enjoyed that fight. Dalt looks great on paper, and he’s this hot young bruiser, and he tries all these fancy moves in front of his buddies. Eric defends himself and while at first they might seem evenly matched, he’s just taking Dalt’s measure, so he waits for his opening, and when it comes, he uses it to end the fight decisively.

You know what they say about old age and treachery versus youth and exuberance.

(Also, since Merlin was doing so much editorializing in this scene, I might as well offer my commentary. Isn’t it a little bit late for the kind of exposition he’s giving us on Caine, Gerard, et al? This is the tenth book in one of the most widely read fantasy series in the world. Also, does he really think that Corwin would have killed Eric right in front of everybody on the slopes of Kolvir? Not if he wanted to be king. But assuming that Eric had survived long enough for Corwin to confront him and Benedict or Gerard failed to intervene, I would imagine that the Eric would incinerate just him with a bolt from the blue if Corwin attempted anything other than a sniper shot from a hundred yards away. Merlin, you’re a dumbass. In the words of a great man: “You’re an egotistical jerk with daddy issues. A simple puzzle I solved on day one.”)

I love Dalt. I think he makes a better protagonist than Merlin. He gets his ass kicked constantly, but he keeps coming back for more.

And finally, the Master List of Princely/Princessly Rankings:

1 Brand
2 Corwin
3 Eric
4 Fiona 
5 Julian (Ha ha ha. This is the closest Julian is ever going to get to Fiona)
6 Benedict
7 Gerard
8 Flora
9 Dalt
10 Caine
11 Bleys
12 Dierdre
13 Random
14 Llewella
15 Osric
16 Finndo
17 Sand
18 Delwin
19-65 The forty-seven illegitimate offspring of Oberon mentioned in Knight of Shadows
66 Coral

Looks like Josh's blog is finally back with more Zelazny stuff! I await any comments you may have.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Big things coming in October

I know, three posts (counting this one) in September is garbage. I got a promotion at work recently, and have been pretty busy, but I've got some posts planned in October.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Sky High: It was the finest, fanciest Science Fair anybody's ever seen.

We had this session about two weeks ago. Lily wanted to co-blog the account of the session, so here it is. Her comments are in italics.

Yeah I did!

We open directly after our last session. At Doctor Mordred’s invitation, Doctor Doom will be a special guest judge at the school science fair, and if our heroes can scan Doom’s armor, they will be able to replicate its power source, thereby acquiring one of the three components they need to repair the Ewok ship.

The title of the post is a reference to the Trout Fishing in America song.

Before the fair starts, Summer talks to Amy about Winter. Ever since their parents vanished Winter had always been mean to other kids, but very protective towards Summer. She’d been distant after the events in the museum, and now she’s taking Dr. Mordred’s special classes, and basically ignoring Summer. Just this morning, she said she had to talk to Summer about something “very important”, but Summer is still upset, and isn’t sure if she wants to talk. Amy advised her to talk to her sister. The most interesting part of this was that immediately after she said that, Lily started second guessing her choice. I explained that there was no right answer, or even a best answer, and she could do whatever she wanted.

I had the right answer.

The heroes head out to the gym and the science fair opens with a brief speech by Vice Principal Hodor “We have called those who participate in science fairs geeks and nerds. We are right. But this year, we have a participant who may make science cool.” He then hurries out of the room with his Chihuahuas yapping behind him. Asami, is like “All right, that was weird. Allow me to introduce my fellow judges.”

Asami rocks so hard. 

She does, and there are five.
  • Asami Sato – Assistant Amy Midnight
  • Doctor Doom – Assistant Zod
  • Lucy, Sr four time second place winner of the Sky High science fair. (Lucy Sr. is our cross-eyed cat in real life. In the game, she has heat vision, but it always comes out at weird angles because she’s googley eyed.)
  • Neil, four time winner of the Sky High science fair. He’s greeted by crazy cheers. Even Zod claps for Neil, though he’s careful not to let anyone see him. Neil gives a thumbs up to little brother.
  • Leonardo DaVinci – Guest Judge – tiebreaker.
Leonardo DaVinci only comes in if worse comes to worst.

Neil comes over to congratulate Zod and he’s got good news of his own. If he gets Doom to sign his letter of recommendation, he’s a lock for an internship at the Baxter Building.

The heroes then go around to the convention and interact with the participants. We went kitchen sink and threw in everybody who was even slightly applicable.

Gizmo, from the H.I.V.E. was grouped with the Teen Titans. He was quite proud of his anti-gravity machine, and proclaimed it would revolutionize everything. Cyborg interrupted him and pointed out that the entire school they were on floats through anti-gravity.  Gizmo shoots back with “Oh, yeah, what do you have?”

Cyborg unveils his “refrigerating machine”, a.k.a a refrigerator.  DaVinci is profoundly impressed . “It’ll revolutionize everything!” Asami and Amy exchange looks.  We continue the gag of DaVinci being impressed by entirely mundane technology throughout the session.

Beast Boy had “ Stuff I found between my toes”,  Robin had his 16 Bit training simulation,
Starfire had “A study in linguistic paradigms: Challenges and opportunities in adapting Tamaranian syntax to a majority English speaking environment, with particular emphasis on Lexeme-based morphology”, and Raven’s project was titled “I am sad, so very, very sad.” It was black Nail polish on a Smiths album, and she dotted all I’s with little skulls.  When she saw the PCs, she promptly abandoned it and said “Come on, Zod, let’s make fun of the geeks”.

Zod’s scanner went off periodically, indicating that it was time to scan Doom, except Doom kept ordering him on errands. He tells Zod to get him a half-caf, soy milk vegan mocha latte with minimal foam, with Doom’s face drawn in the foam. Zod failed his intelligence roll when it came time to order, and thought Doom wanted a pumpkin spice latte. Doom does a spit take when he takes a sip.

Anne (of AnneDroids) and Anakin Skywalker were sitting next to each other, and both answered whenever anyone said “Annie.” Doom tried to melt down C-3P0, but the heroes convince him not to. Doom sends Zod to Reddit to downvote all of Reed Richards’ posts and to steal and repost an image of a kitten that Richards had posted.

A very large student with a nametag that reads “Shmice Schminipal Schmodor” rushes into the room and quickly sets up his display about teaching his Chihuahuas how to spin. The heroes exchanges glances and hurry on past. From across the room, Doctor Doom says “Doom wearies of perpetual motion machines!”

Doom sends Zod on an errand to make sure that the Doombots are taping his soap operas in the AV room. Zod convinces Raven to go in his place. She goes, and sees the best Doctor Doom poster of all time.

The heroes talk with a couple more participants. We had a fictionalized version of Lily with her own award-winning science fair project.

Ash Ketchum was there with a Starwhal he had captured in his Pok├ęBall He demonstrated it for Zod…by releasing it. “Starwhal! Face slash! Starwhal, testicle slash! Starwhal, go for the eyes! THE EYES!” Zod manages to subdue it, and Amy distracts Ash allowing them to stick the thing back in its prison. Ash is like “So, do I win the science fair?”

Okay, that was like the best scene in the science fair.

President Dog and Lucy Junior have spots right next to each other. President Dog invented the poop funnel (we have to keep the dog in our house away from the cats’ litterbox, otherwise she’ll gorge herself and become sick. Thus this picture)
 and communicates through calligraphy. He has wonderful penmanship.

Lucy Junior had a voice synthesizer, which she used to discuss her invention of the automatic door butler. She and President Dog got in a fight, with hissing and barking, but then it turned into making out, and our heroes hastened on their way. Doom sent Zod out for Latverian caviar. 
While we were trying to figure out where to find the caviar also had a throwaway exchange about Amy's Aunt Girtha.
Zod's player: The caviar is probably someplace cold, like a refrigerator.
Lily: Aunt Girtha has eight refrigerators. (Beat) (Sheepishly) She likes to eat.
Me: And she likes to kill transients and freeze their bodies.
Lily: What?
Me: Never mind. Where are you looking for that caviar?

Zod retrieves it, and Doom proclaims, “Doom does not feed himself! Feed Doom like a baby bird!” Zod does so. “Open wide, here comes the airplane.” “Doom does not want a plane! Doom wants the Fantasticar!” *Sigh* “Here comes the Fantasticar!” “Excellent!” (Powering up gauntlet blaster) “Doom shoots down the Fantasticar!”

Asami sees Franklin Richards and H.E.R.B.I.E. Franklin claims that he built H.E.R.B.I.E. and H.E.R.B.I.E. denies it. Asami doesn’t care; she just wants to keep Doom away before there is an incident.  Amy agrees to babysit Franklin Richards in exchange for his cooperation in leaving the gym as soon as possible, and Zod focuses Doom’s attention away through careful positioning of the caviar spoon.

Doom assigns Zod the task of sockpuppeting support for Doom on the Baxter Building forums. Zod dutifully created accounts Doomlover17 through 34.

Other participants include Hiro from Big Hero Six, Young Syndrome from the Incredibles, Fio Piccolo and her air pirate cheering section from Porco Rosso, Brainiac 5 with a force field belt and flight ring and Belle from Beauty and the Beast. She has her father’s wood cutting machine from the movie.  She’s constantly trying to break into song. Doom tries to silence her, but secretly wants to sing along. 
Zod asks Doom to sign Neil’s letter of recommendation, and he reads it and signs it. “Yes, let this young man serve as Doom’s herald in the cursed Baxter Building!”

We go into voting. After some discussion the prize is awarded to Lucy Junior. Doom’s smartphone buzzes, and he sees an email that his account has been suspended at the Baxter building forums because a number of suspicious account signups all originated from the same IP address he was using. He cuffs Zod with his gauntlet, and looks like he’s about to do more. Neil intervenes and sticks up for Zod. Doom backs down, but takes the letter of recommendation and rips it up.

After that, Lucy comes up and accepts the trophy full of tuna. Doctor Mordred, who has a more ostentatious costume every time he appears, heads up and places his hands warmly on Neil’s shoulders. His eyes glow orange, his hands glow orange, and then Neil’s eyes flare with the same orange glow. The glow is only visible to heroes. We end on that note.

We all really enjoyed the session. I think it was the best game of the campaign so far. I forget who said it first, but I remember reading that comic books that people really remember are the ones with a lot of sitting around and talking. (I always think of X-Factor #87 when somebody references this, the issue where the team goes to Doc Samson for therapy after a mission.) This game felt like one of those issues. We had some one-off silliness, running gags, we advanced our short term goals and the main story too. I can’t think of what more I would want out of a game.

Lily: I didn't write enough. Type a bunch of letters after lily!!! .;.fvhkrfjhbkutfhbugvygbh type type typety type type gfhgfjhjvdghvgfdghjcfgvfhcvgbnvhv hjfcvjhgvjhghvhchgvjhgchgc, am I right?jbghjbdfjh gdjfhgbfhdjb jhdb gj,hbsgdjh dbgfdb g  SSSSSSSSSSSTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWHHHHHHHHHHHHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss!!!!Aw, yeah ma peeps!(I don't really talk like that.)

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Masques & Murder: A Zelaznian Renaissance revenge simulator

Roger Zelazny passed away in 1995, before computer games had become truly mainstream. There were two adapations of his work for this format,  the Nine Princes in Amber computer game in 1985  and Chronomaster.

I'd like to nominate Masques and Murders as a spiritual successor to his works. Half RPG, half visual novel, you play a woman seeking revenge for her murdered family. It's the most Zelaznian work since the Revenger's Tragedy!