Sunday, November 6, 2016

Myth-ion Improbable - Robert Asprin

   2001; 198 pages.  Book #11 (out of 20) of the “Mythadventures” series.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Fantasy; Humor; Dimension-Travel.  Overall Rating : 4½*/10.

    Our hero, the apprentice wizard Skeeve, is overjoyed.  He’s just purchased a treasure map, and got it for a dirt-cheap price.  Of course, as his mentor, Aahz, points out, the odds of the map being legitimate are rather slim.

    Still, the treasure is a living, breathing, “golden cow”, and if the map does turn out to on the up-and-up, such an acquisition would do wonders for the finances of our two daring protagonists. 

    Ah, but it appears the treasure map is also a magic map, and the requisite dimension-hopping will take our adventurers to remote and scarcely-visited alternate universes.  It looks like they will need some unwanted partners.  And the inherent problem with dimension-hopping isn’t the act of doing it; it’s trying to get back to your home dimension again.

    What could possibly go wrong in such a scenario?

What’s To Like...
   Myth-ion Improbable was published after an 8-year hiatus in the series, during which the IRS and Robert Asprin engaged in a protracted dispute about the latter’s taxes.  There’s a revealing Author’s Note at the beginning of the book, wherein Asprin touches upon the impact this had on his writing, and that Myth-ion Improbable was an attempt to get back into the writing style he had used in the earlier books.

    He picked a good place in the series’ story to begin again.  My two favorite characters, Aahz and Skeeve, are here, along with Tanda.  My two least-favorite characters, Guido and Nunzio, are not.  Gleep makes a token appearance, but essentially is left out.  Other than that, there are only a couple new characters to keep track of.

    Asprin’s trademark “pseudo-quotes” are once again at the beginning of each chapter.  The plotline is straightforward, and you’ll watch Skeeve and Aahz search for the treasure, chit-chat with vegetarian, cow-worshipping cowboys, and tread cautiously in the presence of possessed bovines.  The wonders of carrot juice are extolled, and there’s a bit of a more serious theme about addiction to speed.

    The storyline’s not so much a matter of building the tension as it is about our fearless band of heroes hopping around until they stumble upon the treasure.  This is an quick and easy read, and despite being part of the series, it is pretty much a standalone novel.  The Asprin wit is present, at least in a limited amount. But his puns are missing.

    “Aahz, you might really want to look at this.  It’s a map to a creature called a cow.”
    “So?” Aahz said, shaking his head.  “Remember the last time we were at the Bazaar at Deva?  Where do you think that steak you ate came from?”
    I stared at him.  I had no idea steaks came from creatures called cows.  I had just assumed they came from creatures called steaks.  Trout came from trout, salmon came from salmon, and duck came from duck.  It was logical.  Besides, there were no cows in this dimension.  At least, none that I had ever met.  (pg. 4)

    Every person in the place glanced up at us as we entered, then went back to eating and talking as if they saw strangers every day and just didn’t care.  I considered that a good sign.
    “Howdy, folks,” the guy behind the bar said, wiping a spot off the wood surface in front of him.  “What’s your pleasure?”
    I had no idea what the guy meant.  I sort of understood the words, but standing in the middle of a bar, I sure didn’t understand why he was asking me about pleasure.  Just a little too personal of a question for someone I didn’t know.  (pg. 58)

 I didn’t need compliments from a woman who left me to rot in a town full of cow food.  (pg. 125)
    Sadly, Myth-ion Improbable completely fails to catch the humor, the fun, the world-building, and the sparkle of the early books in this series.  There’s a slew of dimension-hopping, but no effort was made to make them unique or interesting.  Indeed, once the dimension-traveling started, the settings were limited to a cabin, a saloon, a meadow, and a castle.  Yawn.

    The plotline was equally disappointing.  There were no twists, our heroes just wander around from one town/dimension to the next, with them all looking the same, as they wait for a deus-ex-machina to appear.  At one point, Skeeve is lying on a bed, staring upward into space, and conviently notices the key to his problem inscribed on the ceiling.  No logical reason for it to be there; it seemed like Asprin didn’t want to expend the effort to think of an interesting way for Skeeve to find that key resource.  I felt like I could’ve written the storyline, and that is not a compliment.

    I’d like to blame this on the IRS, but I remember reading the series 20 years ago and thinking that somewhere along the line, Asprin utterly lost his Muse.  I can’t tell you which book it was, but it’s when the Mafioso was incorporated into the story.  Really, Mr. Asprin?!  You’re writing a fantasy series, with bizarre worlds to create and explore, and the best you can think of is stereotypical gangland characters?  How underwhelming.

    4½ Stars.  If you’re never read a Mythadventures book, don’t start with this one.  Start at the beginning (Another Fine Myth), and continue until you meet up with Guido and Nunzio, then quit and read something else.  You’ll thank me for this.

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