Friday, 20 March 2009

Those Death Gates and Their Cycles

I've written before about the utter preposterousness of Dragonlance, and how ashamed I am to like it, though today I'm having trouble locating where. (I wish I had made a better archive of this blog.) However, although Weis and Hickman are by no means Great Talents or Towering Geniuses of Our Age, it's impossible to dispute that they have written some very entertaining books over the years. A comment in yesterday's post reminded me of one of their post-TSR series - The Death Gate Cycle - which was in its own way just as preposterous as Dragonlance, but a lot of fun in spite of (because of?) it.

The basic setting of the series is a far future earth, which a magical war has split into four separate worlds, each based on a certain element (earth, fire etc.); outside of this is a labyrinth, where the defeated faction (the Patryn) are kept eternally prisoner. There's also a swirly vortex thing in the middle which allows communication between the worlds. (I warned you it was preposterous.) The plot follows people from the various 'earths', who are united by an escaped Patryn who is attempting to re-start said magical war. Of particular note is an attempt to explain away the existence of elves and dwarves in the far future (they disappeared during the Renaissance, but emerged later) and a pseudo-scholastic style to the writing which sees extensive use of footnotes and glossaries, as if we're reading a kind of popular history book of something that really happened.

The books also have a (reasonably) unique take on magic, which is cast by tracing runic shapes in the air with ones forefinger, a little like a kid with a sparkler. These shapes can also be tattood onto ones body for extra strength or toughness, and etched or drawn on objects to imbue them with magical properties. That strikes me as a very radical and interesting idea for a new D&D class - somebody who tattoos himself every time he wants to cast a spell; you only have a finite amount of flesh, and what do you do when you run out?

Anyway, that's by the by. If you're a fan of the sub-genre of fantasy which I call 'daft fiction' (Weis & Hickman, Piers Anthony, Michael Stackpole) you'll appreciate it. Take a look at the Pseuds Corner-esque quotes about the series from the authors, too. Amongst other things, Hickman has claimed that the inspiration for the novels were the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and that he and Weis "always tried to take fantasy literature in new directions". As if! My particular favourite, though, is the idea that the books had "a wonderful and sensible pair of magic systems that made sense because they were modeled on quantum and chaos theories". Now that's a great idea, but the Death Gate Cycle isn't it. Who is he trying to kid?


  1. "a wonderful and sensible pair of magic systems that made sense because they were modeled on quantum and chaos theories"

    Even in the context of a fantasy novel the words "magic" and "quantum theory" in the same sentence make me cringe. IANAP, but I hear way too much of that "Quantum theory means wishes really CAN come true" BS.

    Anyhow, is this the prior Dragonlance post you alluded to?

  2. I'm slightly horrified at any category which puts Michael Stackpole near Piers Anthony. Stackpole and Weis/Hickman going together, I can agree with, even though I think Stackpole's far better as a writer. But grouping Anthony together with them? Aaaagh!

    (Not a fan of Anthony at ALL. Sketchy dude. :( )

  3. Max: Absurd, isn't it? I particularly loved the way Hickman seemed to believe that because he read lots of popular science books about quantum mechanics, then all of a sudden his new magic system is 'modeled on quantum and chaos theories'. That said, I'm sure somebody COULD try to to make up a 'magic' system based on quantum theory, and I'd be interested in reading about such a thing.

    Thanks for the link. That is the entry. I should have given it a more Dragonlance-y title.

    Allandaros: I don't rate Anthony at all, but nor do I really rate Weis & Hickman or Stackpole. I do find their books pretty entertaining though.

    Is there a particular reason you hate Anthony, or is it just because of the general awfulness of the writing?

  4. Anthony has been known to make statements that are... well... sort of pro-pedophilia.

    In particular, he wrote an author's note for his novel Firefly that implied that a five-year old girl was capable of consenting to a sexual "game" she played with her uncle. There was something of an outcry, and this author's note was removed from subsequent printings of the novel.

  5. Fitzerman: Well, you learn something new every day. I'm not a great Piers Anthony fan though, so it's not as if I've lost a hero or anything.