Friday, February 04, 2011

A Thief In Amber – Scratching the Itch

Every so often, a little voice tells me to write something. That’s part of why I blog. Also, I am sometimes a bit unhappy with the lack of good fiction available, and I like to imagine that – just maybe – I could tell a story as well as the original author. Maybe even better.

Such hubris often leads to an attempt to write something myself. And very often I am forced to admit that it’s not easy at all to do a proper job writing something. But even so, it’s an itch to scratch, and some itches are more persistent than others.

Which brings me to Roger Zelazny.

In my opinion, Roger Zelazny is the best author I ever had the pleasure to read. The man could tell a story better than anyone else in the business. And my favorite works of his were the Amber Chronicles, the ten books and five short stories about the Eternal City and the twin poles of Reality in Zelazny’s mythic universe. Oh, and a very short story, incomplete and only partly written by Roger. “A Secret of Amber” is really a fragment, actually, but it hints at a few things that add to the depth of Amber, things which I thought could – and should – be drawn out to show something more of Amber.

For those unfamiliar with the Amber Chronicles, Roger Zelazny wrote a series of five novels from 1970 to 1978, focusing on the adventures of a hero named Corwin, who hailed from an eternal city named Amber. The series was wildly successful in all respects, and was followed by a second series of five books, which focused on Corwin’s son Merlin. After these came five short stories which many people, including myself, believed to mean that Zelazny was considering a third series to round out the myth and complete his story in full. Unfortunately, Roger contracted a cancer of the kidney and died before the third series could be written. Zelazny’s estate contracted with Gregory Betancourt to write a new series, but the effort was – to me at least – disappointing, in part because Betancourt wrote a prequel, addressing events before the time of the first series and focusing on Oberon, rather than resolving all the loose ends left from the Merlin Cycle. Also, that series was never completed, for reasons we don’t need to go into here. Suffice to say that many Amber fans have been left with unsolved mysteries for more than a decade. I wrote before that there are hints in the way the first two cycles were written, as well as the five short stories, which could be used to build the framework of the third series. That said, the idea that anyone but Zelazny could do his work justice is daunting even for one book, let alone trying to put together a five-book series to follow the theme and pattern of the first ten.

Which brings me to Ed Greenwood. Like many Amber fans, Greenwood found the books by Zelazny to be masterpieces of writing. Unlike many of us, Ed took it upon himself to present Roger with a bookmark at a convention – a bookmark with a snip of script he wrote about a conversation between Corwin and Fiona. And Roger wrote a follow-up to it. Over time, a short but significant story continued, with Ed writing some and Roger writing some. It is, sadly, far from complete, only a few paragraphs in all. And many Amber fans would consider it far from Canon, seeing it the fruit of a passing jest between two writers, and that in the most informal of settings. Nevertheless, we have those words from Roger, and I do think that even written on the spur of a moment, he would write them true to the spirit of his city and the royal family of Oberon.

What’s more, there’s a new story there, one that adds to the overall story and hints at things we should consider in total.

The itch was small at first, but as time passed that little voice suggested that I should give it a go. After all, it’s not as if I would be trying to write a true Amber novel, nor taking anything away from Mr. Greenwood. The bits from Mr. Zelazny were short enough to qualify as ‘fair use’, especially if I made sure to credit Zelazny’s parts as his own. Nothing against the parts written by Ed, but as a Zelazny fan I have to admit I wanted to put my own text alongside Roger’s, much as it seems Ed wanted to do. But I also wanted to see if I could finish the story, to do it in a way faithful to the Amber spirit and the known canon.

That itch has become too annoying not to scratch, so I have decided to give it a try. That said, there’s a reason I have never been published, and many people who have read my other writing have told me to make sure I kept my day job. So, before you read my work, be warned that I cannot promise its level of quality will rise to your expectation.

So why write it? Well, as I said there’s that itch. Also, I do think that every so often I do hit the message right and put out something that’s not a complete waste of time. And even if the result of my effort is a care wreck, well, there are a lot of people who like to watch car wrecks. I am not going to use Ed’s title, so – since I’m swiping the idea and also since I think it suits the theme, I’m going to call it ‘A Thief In Amber’.

So where to start? First, we need to set the story, and to do that, we should start with the fragments in “A Secret of Amber”, as written by Zelazny himself (with credit to Ed Greenwood, Amberzine 12-15, 2005):

[Corwin in conversation with Fiona, in some mild disagreement]

‘ “Whereas wit is a bird that eludes the hand of rather too many princes.”

I shrugged. “Your disapproval concerns me even less than usual, Fi. All things considered.”

She tossed her head, read hair like a fall of flame. “Yet, perhaps it should. All things considered.”

I did things with my own eyebrows, emptied my glass, swung my boots down from the table, and headed for the door.

She chuckled, behind me.

I stopped, refrained from turning, and waited. Fiona could never resist showing the rest of us that she was a step ahead. Or pretending to be.

“You are wearing your blade,” she said. “Good.”

I went out, uttering no clever comments. With at least three murderous ghosts stalking Castle Amber, the time for such things was past.’

OK, first off, the last time I wrote about this story, I said it took place just after Merlin was returned to Amber following Merlin’s showdown with Chaos. I now take that back. The manner of both Corwin and Fiona is not the friendship they had begun at the end of the Corwin Cycle, and both are far too brash for what they have come to learn by the end of the Merlin cycle. So this story takes place much, much earlier, prior to the original conditions in Nine Princes In Amber. Before Corwin lost his memory on the Shadow Earth, I think. It takes place in that time when Corwin and his brothers and sisters were much younger, before any of the scheming we see in the books came to full flower. This is important to me, because it means the scheming is the result of characters like Oberon, Dworkin, Suhuy, and of course the main actors behind the curtain, the Pattern and the Logrus. With that said, on to the next fragment:

‘It was very late, or rather early, before one of the walls opened in a place where it should not have done, and something that was both silver and shadow joined me.

Grayswandir felt good in my hand as I put down what I was finished drinking anyway, and waited.

Patience, they say, is a chiefly a virtue for statues, but I’d made more than my share of mistakes, thus far, and blood is hell to get out of good rugs.

Came a whisper, out of darkness. “Corwin, is it time?”’

Once again, we see that the events happening here must have preceded the books’ events. After learning of the Primal Pattern and his experiences with the Hall of Mirrors, Corwin would not have been surprised to see walls open up in the Castle itself. Also, Corwin very obviously thinks very highly of his ability to deal with the situation, a trait not diminished later, but he’s just plain overconfident here. On to the next fragment, then:

‘And shadows fled before me, and I was alone.

My book was on the floor, blackened. Damn. I watched lightning flicker and wondered if I would ever know what I fought, or why. Family politics seemed as tiresome as ever.

Three ghosts, Benedict had said, and had been on the brink of saying more ere his face had smoothed and he’d turned away.

Which meant he’d recognized the one he’d seen.

So had the lamplighter, before the ghost that slew him caught up with him and burned his skull bare, from within.

Coln had died, before that, and one of the cooks. Seven maids, or more by now, since.

Then they started on us. Flora had almost fallen to one, and then Julian. Almost.

We’re tough meat, we of Amber.’

And that’s it from Roger, but that last part has a number of clues in it. Ghosts familiar to Amber’s family and household, with the ability to microwave people. And apparently holding a grudge against the Royal Family, though not all that picky over their choice of victims.

I’m starting on the story now, no idea when it will be done. If it’s not too horrible, I will post what I have done from time to time. Wish me luck, or stay to watch the car wreck.