Back in the late 80s and early 90s, I was reading a lot of fantasy novels. All were serious and literate and all seemed to want to outdo Tolkien. So as I got bored with some of those titles and authors, I found a subgenre of fantasy –humorist parodies. Of course parodies have always been around –National Lampoon is famous for their Lord of the Rings parody- but I generally ignored them until I discovered John DeChancie’s Castle Perilous series. Here was a light fantasy novel that was imbued with a lot of humor. Essentially, I found them a good cleansing read after some other big and bold and dramatic fantasy involving dragons, castles, wizards and all the other usual suspects that come with the genre.
I stopped reading the Castle Perilous (along with a lot of others, which some I regret) books long before book 8 in that series was released. I don’t know why, though. I guess I was reading other stuff and I felt they no longer fit whatever criteria I had back then? Again, I don’t know. But I would see those Perilous books at used bookstores over the years, and try to remember where I stopped. But alas, to this day, I can’t recall. I don’t think I ever read his Skyway series either, but that’s another thing I can’t be sure of. Of course those were more science fiction than fantasy, so that may have been the reason.
But a few months ago, I found DeChancie on Facebook, liked his page and began seeing his prolific posts (much like David Gerrold, both these authors –and many others- have found a new audience in social media). There he talked about publishing another Perilous novel (last one was released in 1994) and other things. It got me to thinking, maybe with the new ninth novel, I should go back and re-read the other books (even though I don’t do this as a habit, re-reading books) again. But in the last 25 years, I had trimmed a lot of books out of my collection (a lot was tossed when I left the Bay Area in 1992 to return to Chicago. I made a huge mistake then). So much like I’ve been doing since Terry Pratchett passed (buying his books for the first time), I’ve been on the hunt for the previous Perilous books. But, of course, they’re only available used. Which is fine with me (an attitude that has changed since Borders closed in 2011 and finances became tough), but I’ve gotten the first six books locally and hope to find the last two when I’m up in Portland while making the Jay Bell novel Something Like Summer into a movie.
I also recently came across Dr. Dimension (written with David Bischoff) which I had read, but bought anyways and MagicNet, a book of his I had not read.
MagicNet is a sort of Dark Fantasy tale overlaid with some science fiction, as its plot uses (early) computer communication and sorcery. Essentially with computers hacked into a magical realm (sort of alternate universe, but not quite), magic spells become easier and more powerful. And what person does not want more power when they have access to it? But it begins with a phone call to Schuyler King from a programming friend Grant Barrington. King, like most of DeChancie’s hero’s, has a smart mouth. But he’s happy. That is until the phone call from Grant who warns him that he’ll be getting a mysterious package from him, one that holds great secrets and power; one that someone on MagicNet will kill for.
Rushing to his friends’ house, Skye discovers Grant dead and the monster that killed him –a real monster by the way- is still at the scene of the crime. After barely escaping with his life, Skye opens that package and discovers it contains software that when installed onto a computer, it conjures up Grant's ghost, who wants him to confront Merlin Jones, sorcerer who is scheming to consolidate his growing power over MagicNet that could bring the end of the world.
As with his Castle Perilous novels, there is a lighthearted approach to the tone of the book, making me feel I was reading a fluffier version of Tim Power’s, whose career is based on fantasy books set in the real world. The sarcastic humor helps the sometimes absurd plotting, and the ending is rather too neat, but I still found the book enjoyable.