Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Nine Princes in Amber, Chapter 1

 Chapter 1: A hospital patient slowly comes to in a private room.  Recognizing the symptoms of a long sedation, he immediately grows suspicious.  Playing possum as a nurse checks in on him, he tries to recall what happened to him.  But when it is time for his next dose of sedative, he sits up and refuses treatment.  An orderly tries to force him to take the injection, but a low blow and an improvised blackjack lay out the staffer.  Dressed in the orderly's scrubs,, the patient roams the hospital until he finds the records room.  Threatening a lawsuit, he extorts his name, Carl Corey, his sister's name, Evelyn Flaumel, and her address from the clerk - as well as $500 in spending money.  Corey then leaves the hospital in search of a cab.

Corey is in the Greenwood Private Hospital for a legitimate injury, as the only memories he can recall are about a car falling off a cliff into a lake.  However, he is suspicious that someone is trying to keep him there as he recognizes the symptoms of narcotic overuse. He certainly exhibits those symptoms - memory loss, paranoia, and irritability - but nothing in the narration suggests that Corey's paranoia and irritability is unwarranted.

Rather, Corey's voice suggests the hardboiled detectives of film noir and the detective pulps.  This impression is further strengthened by Corey's familiarity with violence and his hard-nosed negoitiating style.  The genre conventions of the pulp detective add to the fantastic by grounding the first chapter in a foundation of reality.  From the reader's perspective, Corey will journey from present day (at the time of Amber's writing) reality into a realm of pure fantasy.  However, from the city of Amber's perspective, he will move from fantasy to reality, as Amber is the sun-source of reality that all other realms are dim reflections of.  It is an excellent thematic touch, serving as an example of how drawing on other genres besides fantasy can strengthen a story.

At the same time, the grounding in reality is also a trope of the Lost World genre.  In these stories, a person from the current day discovers a new world separated in time and/or space from the current world.   Examples include children's tales such as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, epic fantasies including the Thomas Covenant series, and the Song of Albion, and alternate histories like the Crosstime Engineer and the 163X series.  However the heyday of the genre was in the pulps, where Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter, Tarzan, and David Innes adventured through their own lost worlds - and sometimes each other's.  Amber takes inspiration from the pulp versions by making Corey a competent man of action able to face the challenges of his strange new world by strength and cunning.  Even from the reversed perspective to the reader of Amber, Corey's tale is the homecoming of an adventurer thought lost in a Lost World.  Unfortunately for Corey, it will be the homecoming of Odysseus.


I have previously mentioned that Nine Princes in Amber was chosen because it was the leading suggestion by Puppies when asked for reading recommendations during the time of the Hugos and the Dragon Awards.  I also had two other reasons for picking it. First, I noticed that on a couple of blogs that the editor of Nethereal, L. Jagi Lamplighter, has compared Brian Niemeier's work to that of Zelazny's. The latent literary critic within wants to see how and why that might be true.  Second, I consider it a refutation of the common fandom assumption that readers only enjoy current works and that the past masters are impenetrable I found that first chapter of Nine Princes in Amber to be more real/true/identifiable than the works of Sanderson, Rothfuss, and Lynch, all writers I enjoy and have a certain amount of respect for.  Rather than just rant on the marketing inflicted myopia of the industry, I would also like to raise awareness of some of the classics so that new readers can find them.  Fortunately, the ebook revolution is bringing the backlists of the past back to the marketplace, making the classics more accessible than they have been in years.  For those of you reading along with us at the Puppy of the Month Club, you're in for a treat.

1 comment:

  1. The other benefit to kicking the series off with an amnesiac is that the point-of-view character starts with virtually the same body of information as the reader. Our discovery proceeds at the same pace as his discovery, and thus the complicated politics of the Nine Princes is presented in much more digestible bites than trying to swallow that whole cow in one giant gulp.

    It's a common enough narrative gimmick to have move past trope and into cliché, but it's one that continues to see use because it just plain works.