Jack L. Chalker

Horrors of the Dancing Goods

Dancing Goods — 5

To Steven Lloyd Chalker, in spite of whose best efforts this book got finished anyway.


I WRITE VERY FEW SERIES IN SPITE OF MY REPUTATION. OH, I write a lot of very long books, which publishers try to chop up into thirds and fourths and sell as 'the latest series' but they're really not, and those who read them know it for the most part. The Dancing Gods books, however, are very much a series and so open-ended that even I have no idea when I start one if it's going to be my last.

For those who don't remember and those who came in late, the Dancing Gods is set in an alternate universe separated from ours in which the realities of our myths, legends, fantasies, and phantasms exist along with humankind. Connected by an ethereal realm known as the Sea of Dreams, we are influenced in our thoughts, fantasies, and imaginations by reflections of this alternate reality. The framework is Judeo-Christian in terms of good and evil, right and wrong, and so on, and while Heaven continues to stay out of things directly — so far — Hell, as usual, cheats.

This alternate Earth in fact was created as a reflection and in the backwash of the Genesis creation of our Earth, our universe, and God spent all His time, along with the time of the top angels, in setting ours up. Being merciful, He didn't destroy the other one, just assigned all minor angels and such to straighten it up. Being minor, of course, they weren't really up to the job and were prone to shortcuts. Magic, for example; it was more convenient than inventing a lot of physical laws. And how much easier to let the wood nymphs protect and keep the trees healthy, and the water sprites the seas, instead of actually having to deal with the complex sciences involved.

In fact, all the natural laws and shortcuts were basic enough to fit into a fairly stock volume, the Book of Rules. The few details the book missed were left to the powerful magicians and sorcerers to tidy up, and they've been doing it ever since. In fact, they've been overdoing it ever since, acting just like a massive bureaucracy. Nothing is too minor for their notice; no cliche remains untouched or unmandated. My theory is that this is why it often seems that everybody's sword and sorcery epics are variations of the same book — after all, we know they are better writers than that, right?

Under the Rule that mandates that all great adventures be at least trilogies, the Dancing Gods series was always intended to be at least three. This is, I believe, the fifth. In the fourth, Songs of the Dancing Gods, we resolved a ton of questions and polished off a lot more enemies, but we left one in the wrong state and another in the lurch, I'm here to get him out.

I hesitated to take on the horror boom at its height, even though it probably produced the most hackwork since cyberpunk. Movements always tend to do that. Some folks who are really good do something new and original and creative, and then it's piling on the bandwagon and going to the Sea of Dreams to see what cliches and stock situations drift through. Still, I figured they'd have their day — everybody deserves one now and again — and I pretty much waited until the cycle crested and fell.

This book is an excellent example of kicking people when they are down. I've limited my easily recognizable targets to the dead and the superstars (and been fairly nice to the latter lest their lawyer birds and Del Rey's lawyer birds have sky battles). The knowledgeable can pick out all the little items here and there that twit those who really deserve it. Have fun finding them.

As with Songs, this volume departs from the first three in being a lot more serious for a long segment, possibly the first third of the book, then goes through occasional gags, broad throwaways, gratuitous slaps and kicks, and the like, until at the end we just throw everything down the tubes and go completely bananas. In here is both serious writing and the sword and sorcery equivalent of the Marx Brothers doing Hamlet; while I managed to talk myself out of introducing a character (for now) named Fungie, as in Fungie from Yuggoth, I have committed some puns so horrible that I feared I was getting cross-linked with Piers Anthony. The idea is to eventually have a lot of fun, get a little serious stuff in between the nonsense, and in general build to a point where the reader has a really wild ride. Since this is also the first book I have written since quitting smoking, anyone who thinks maybe it isn't up to the others should examine his or her conscience for the logic of that.



April 1994


The immortal hero/heroine doomed to wander the world until judgment shall always be placed in proximity to important damsels in distress.

— Rules, XXVI, p. 234(k)

A RELIGIOUS PERSON EXPECTED TO GO TO ETERNAL reward or punishment at death, but to be suspended indefinitely in limbo made even Hell seem attractive.

It wasn't just the wood nymph part, although that was bad enough; it was all of it. She'd never even fully accepted becoming a she; the rest was just dung on the cow pie. That wasn't a matter of good and bad, either; it was just that a person was more than a collection of cells. A person was the sum of all the experiences from birth, too, and had an ego, an identity, a sense of self that defined that person, made that individual unique. No matter what anybody said, a body's sex was one hell of a determiner in that whole sense of who a person was, and to have it wrenched out made you culturally nothing at all.

So if you hadn't started out as female, you were never going to get comfortable as a female. And everybody of course treated you as if that was the first defining thing you were — they couldn't help it. You didn't grow up that way, think that way, see the world that way, act and react that way. So you didn't really fit in comfortably with the ones who did, but you hardly fit in with the boys, either. Not when you looked and sounded like she did.

She'd accepted her lot grudgingly for the sake of the boy and seeing the boy grow into manhood, but even that was not the stuff of dreams. You couldn't have a father-son relationship when Dad had been changed into a wood nymph. Somehow it just couldn't be the same. And since he had been separated from the boy for so long while the kid was growing up, there wasn't anything in the past to hang a really strong relationship on. Worse, having any kind of close relationship with a wood nymph when you were an adolescent boy was likely to create a situation more embarrassing and downright distasteful than anything else.

Because of that, she'd never gotten close to him — Irv — and had left his upbringing to other hands. As far as Irv was concerned, Dad was dead and gone in a hero's fight to the finish against the epitome of evil, the Dark Baron; both had been destroyed, consumed, in a fiery volcanic ooze, thus saving Husaquahr and the world beyond it

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