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Authors: Jack L. Chalker

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Songs of the Dancing Gods

BOOK: Songs of the Dancing Gods
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songs1.htmSONGS OF THE DANCING GODS

Copyright Ž 1990 by Jack L. Chalker e-book ver.1.0 FOR THE DELPHI WEDNESDAY CROWD: JANET, MARTHA, BYRON & EILEEN, CHERP, GARDNER & SUE, PAT, CHUQ, MIKE & ROSA PAUL. GEORGE, BRANDON, RALPH, EVA (OF COURSE) AND, OH YEAH, YOU, TOO, RESNICK

TO THOSE WHO CAME IN LATE AND TO THOSE AWAY TOO LONG

JUST AFTER THE START OF THE PAST DECADE, I DECIDED TO write an Epic Fantasy Novel. It wasn’t anything that I came upon either late or cynically; back when I was a publisher, I published the first three books ever done about swords and sorcery and I’d read Conan when Conan, let alone Arnold Schwarzenegger, wasn’t cool.

I felt a little out of touch, though, in that genre; I still remembered the old stuff: Robert E. Howard, the still-going-strong Fritz Leiber, the ubiquitous Tolkien, and the like, but, aside from a couple of Moorcocks, my contemporary fantasy education was lacking.

Now, I know that reading the best science fiction of prior generations is an essential part of education, but if you read only thirty-year-old SF to get an idea of what was going on, you’d be pretty well out of it. With that thought, I went out and picked up a dozen or so major fantasies by various writers, who were now best-sellers and highly acclaimed and had their own groupies, and settled in to see what heroic fantasy had evolved into, fully expecting the same kind of revolution I knew had happened in science fiction. I won’t mention the titles or the authors, because it didn’t matter.

Before I was halfway through the first one, I had the eerie feeling that, although it had been written within the last couple of years, by someone far younger than I, somehow, I’d read it before. When a quick check to the end showed that it indeed went where I knew it would, I put it down and started anew.

The names were different, the points of view were shifted, the villain bore a different name, the hero was perhaps a bit nastier, but, this time, I knew I’d read it before—in the previous book.

Investigating this phenomenon further, I went through a ton of books, past and present, and came up with the remarkable discovery that there were really only two books there, and a hybrid constituting a third. One was an idealized quasi-medieval universe with its costumes and manners and My Lords and My Ladies and, somehow, the serfs who held it all together were mere background, unless, of course, the hero or heroine was raised as one not knowing that he or she was really Prince or Queen or something of the sort.

The other was Hyborea—whether Howard’s Hyborean Age or Smith’s Hyperborea, they were one and the same, focused perhaps on the barbarian adventurers as in Howard or on the upper class and top sorcerers and upper-class rulers as in Smith. Of course, the lower classes and thralls were mere background, unless, of course, the hero or heroine was raised as one without knowing that he or she was really Prince or Queen or… well, you get the idea.

This led to a research project to determine the truth of the matter. If indeed there really were only two epic fantasies, all the works being simple variations on common themes, or even, perhaps, just one, with the setting a choice between the time of King Lear or the time of Hamlet, then why? Was it that there were only two basic settings and a single set of heroic fantasy themes?

Rejecting straight away the cynic’s concept that all these books were knockoffs of the originals, both because I knew so many writers wouldn’t stay so bound otherwise, nor would such a wide audience continue to respond so enthusiastically to each slight theme and variation of the same book, over and over, I knew there had to be another reason, and, after much work, I discovered it, in an improbable place, while doing research in particle physics for another book.

There was not, as western religion tells us, a single creation, nor a series as other faiths have it. The single act of creation, the Big Bang, whatever you like, created not a single universe but many, overlapping but generally invisible and intangible and, therefore, unknown to one another. Ours is the Prime Universe, where the great and ultimate fate of all life would be decided in the epic battle of opposites, of good and evil, of powers of light and darkness.

In the backwash of this creation, the other worlds trail out, each occupying the same space but not the same space-time continuum. Because they were not fully formed, and the Ultimate Engineer was preoccupied with us, they were left for development to the Lesser Powers—let’s call them Angels. The universe closest to us is the universe of the Lesser Powers. Not quite as dynamic, shaped by Lesser Powers, it has developed differently.

At the start, both universes, theirs and ours, had as much magic as natural law, and creatures evolved that were like ours, even human, and partly human, and some intelligent races that were not human at all. On Earth, the humans became dominant to the point where they slew the others, out of fear, out of competition, or out of ignorance, driving the few remnants further and further underground even as physical law was locked into near immutability. Ultimately the others, the creatures of magic, of faerie, of centaurs and unicorns, pixies and leprechauns, passed into the realm of legends and stories, until there are none left here now who truly understand the magic or know its capabilities, and even fewer who truly believe. Without belief, the magic bends more to physics, so that even the powers of Darkness must battle through surrogates and hard technology in more hidden, mundane fashion.

In Husaquahr, which is the name of that other world, this did not happen. Natural law exists there, but it is of a more rudimentary and pliable nature than our own here and now. A master engineer designs a Great Pyramid, a Stonehenge, that lasts the ages; lesser engineers allow compromises and design flaws and their work eventually wears away or collapses. A Master Engineer designed our world; Husaquahr was designed by lesser lights. And from that came uneasy chaos which lasted for millennia.

An ironclad contract is one drawn up by a great lawyer; the contracts with all those loopholes are drawn by lesser legal talents. Ultimately, there arose a very few, a mere handful, of powerful magicians who were also master lawyers. Together they formed an uneasy but necessary alliance, the Council of Thirteen, and with their combined powers they began to fill in the loopholes in Husaquahr’s Creation, imposing logic, rules, on all the world, its denizens, its very stones, and codified these as the Books Of Rules for the guidance and training of future generations.

Order was imposed, but at the price of stagnancy. Things were as they were in broad terms because they were mandated to be that way by sorcerers so powerful, so much closer to Creation, that they were immutable.

Over the great span of time, though, even those great ones passed on, either through death or transmigration or in ways of which we can not even dream, leaving only the Rules to reign.

The Council, however, remained, filled by increasingly lesser individuals, lacking some of the power and all of the wisdom of the founders. Great sorcerers, yes, by comparison, but mere wisps of smoke compared to the ones who had once held their positions. Not, of course, that they thought so; generation after generation of Councils have worked hard to keep plugging more and more loopholes, adding on Rule after Rule, binding the whole of the world as tightly as roles in a never-ending stage Play-The inheritors from the greatest of the great and the wisest of the wise had evolved, if you want to call it that, into that most fearsome of the creatures of civilization.

The inheritors of greatness were bureaucrats. Of course, such a horrible fate could not befall us in our own world. Look at the ones who established the great nations of the world and those inheritors who run our world now. Right? Beyond Husaquahr still is another world, a world that did not even have the luxury of a coherent creation, let alone the great and wise minds to impose order upon it. A nightmarish world without physical laws at all, a universe of chaos and disorder so terrifying that none can comprehend it and the few that have been there neither discuss what they saw nor wish to return. To those of Husaquahr, that is known as the Land of the Djinn.

These three universes, however, the only ones with anything we might even comprehend as sentient life, are not connected and are in the main ignorant of one another, save in our dreams.

Physicists might have many names for it, but to Husaquahr, the barrier between us and them is simply the Sea of Dreams, for only the dreams of one may generally pass to the other through that detachment of the soul called sleep. All of us intercept some of Husaquahr when we sleep, when we dream, whether we are aware of it or not. Most of us are not aware; a few of us who are too aware provide incredibly comfortable livings for legions of psychiatrists. A very few of us awaken with little conscious memory of the impressions we gain from Husaquahr, but we sit down with pens and pads, or typewriters, or word processors, and we write out great accounts of the things that happen there and we call it heroic fiction and we really believe it is. Those of us who do so have always been around; the storytellers and shamans of ancient times, the Homers and others of ancient literature, were all such, which is why they have a certain consistency.

Naturally, since both their world and ours is a world, we intersect different regions, so the creatures and demons of the East are different than ours, as are those of the African and the Amerind. But, commonly, our myths, our legends, our heroic sagas, are dream-linked accounts of that other place. The rest of you, the audience for these, whether reading or hearing them, respond because there is a suspension of disbelief induced by your own dream-links as well.

That is why we seem to be reading, and writing, the same book. We are not writing fiction at all; we are writing subjectively filtered accounts of the history of this other world.

There is a way through; a physical passageway across the Sea of Dreams. A few find it by accident, by unnatural convergence of being at just the wrong spot at the right time, vanishing there and becoming mysterious disappearances here, lumped with all the mundane, and more evil, fates of the bulk of the disappeared. A few go through, one way or the other, due to the rare dabbling in supernatural agencies that still goes on in back rooms and upper-class conservatories. Only one man, a sorcerer of great power in Husaquahr, can do it at will, and when and with whom and what he chooses.

He’s been around a long time—nobody knows how long, not even the others on the Council—and he’s had many names, both here and there. A decade ago he needed a hero not so bound by the Rules to combat an army of evil, and he chose, by means we will never know, an interstate trucker on the skids, a man in whose veins flowed the blood of the ancient Apaches, snatching him at the last moment from a fatal accident on a lonely west Texas highway. With him came an unexpected addition, a young woman hitchhiker who had education and once had promise, but whose life was so broken and mangled that she was just looking for a decent place to commit suicide. Together they battled the forces of Darkness, and vanquished them—for a time, for even the Rules mandate that no victory is without costs, nor may good or evil totally triumph.

Their saga was the one that came into my dreams, and which I told in three books before this one, including their discovery that the longer tney were in Husaquahr the more they, too, became entrapped and bound by the Rules. Marge, the once-suicidal young woman, became that most classic of creatures who cross the Sea of Dreams in stories and legends, a changeling, becoming a beautiful winged fairy, a Kauri, while Joe, the truck driver, truly became a hero and at one point a king, marrying the buxom Tiana and ruling in peace, until evil again reared and threw them out of power and eventually out of bodies, so that Joe once again became his old trucker self in appearance while Tiana found herself now in the small but stunning body of what must charitably be called an exotic dancer. Together with the little Husaquahrian thief who had shared their adventures, Macore, and the enigmatic adept, the Imir Poquah, they had journeyed back to Earth to save it from the exiled Dark Baron, who was ready to do Hell’s work upon us.

When we left them, they were victorious, preparing to return across the Sea of Dreams to Husaquahr, with a new pair as well—the pixie Gimlet, finally finding a way to the place where there were still more of her kind., and Joe’s son Irving, whom he rescued from a promising career in a Philadelphia street gang. There was still a villan back in Husaquahr to vanquish, the zombie armies of the evil Sugasto, now calling himself the Master of the Dead, were still on the march. But the archvillain whom they had been forced to fight again and again, and whose evil had even brought them here, Esmilio Boquillas, the Dark Baron, whom they thought killed, they discovered had used his soul-swapping trick and entered the body of a third newcomer, the beautiful Mahalo McMahon, high priestess of the Neo-Primitive Hawaiian Church. The great and good sorcerer, however, who now called himself Throckmorton P. Ruddygore, was onto him/her. The Baron was stripped of his true powers and couldn’t even switch again without help of a master magician. Ruddygore intended Boquillas to lead him straight to Sugasto, whom he was certain he could best in a sorcerous showdown.

BOOK: Songs of the Dancing Gods
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