Another Fine Myth, by Robert Asprin
Dell Fantasy (224 pages, $1.95, 1978)
Reading Another Fine Myth, by Robert Asprin, was a peculiar experience. This is not because of the book itself, but because I’ve been following the comic by Phil Foglio, currently being posted as a webcomic. I think Foglio’s style made me expect a more frantic story than I got; if you read any of his comics, such as Girl Genius, you’ll know that the panels tend to be full to the point of bursting.
While I liked Another Fine Myth, I didn’t love it, and some of that may be because I was expecting a different sort of story. Mostly, though, I think it’s because the narrator never really took control of the events, making him more a sidekick than the protagonist I thought he was supposed to be.
He’s not enough of a fool to be the sort of protagonist who solves the problem through sheer luck and incompetence, but he doesn’t really get a shining moment either. He’s just there. I suspect this is a problem that goes away as the series progresses. My opinion of the series as a whole will probably be a bit different from my feelings about this one book.
Skeeve is a magician’s apprentice, but arguably not a very good one. He sees magic mainly as a potential thieves’ tool, a point of contention between him and his master. To show Skeeve that control is more important than power, the master decides to summon a “cold, vicious and bloodthirsty” demon by way of demonstration. Unfortunately, said master is assassinated just as the ritual is completed.
Fortunately for Skeeve’s continuing existence, the demon is not as vicious and deadly as advertised. His name is Aahz.
In many ways, Aahz is the protagonist of this story. He’s the one who deals with most of the threats, from the dedicated but not-too-bright demon hunter to the devious extradimensional trader. He may be currently without magic, but he’s an impressive con artist, and solves most of his problems by fooling, intimidating, or confusing opponents — sometimes all at once. He would be entirely at home in a criminal caper story.
For maximum incongruity, however, Another Fine Myth puts him in the middle of a traditional quest narrative. Skeeve and Aahz set out to find the mad magician who had Skeeve’s mentor killed, and since this is a humor story, a few classic fantasy tropes are going to get a little damaged.
For instance, Skeeve acquires a dragon, bonded exclusively to him — but it’s a baby, unlikely to grow up any time soon, and may not be all that bright. Also, instead of communicating telepathically, all it does is say “Gleep!”
The quotes at the beginnings of chapters highlight the incongruity of the whole thing; we have Inspector Clouseau talking about how to conduct an investigation, Icarus extolling the wonders of flight, and many others. Another Fine Myth is not full of jokes, and the writing itself is fairly prosaic; the fun is in the skewed situations. I didn’t find it laugh-out-loud funny, but humor is a personal thing and everyone’s mileage is likely to vary.
The worldbuilding in this story is a bit sparse at times. For instance, Skeeve was a would-be thief, but he didn’t seem tremendously familiar with the bad side of town, which made me wonder where he came from, why he’d left, and whether he’d ever been a successful thief. We don’t find out. There are demon-hunters in this world, but we don’t really learn who trains and supplies them, why demons are considered a dire enough problem to have professional hunters, etc. This may be partly because Another Fine Myth is poking fun at generic fantasy, but I expect it’s also something that will get resolved as the series goes on.
In short, I left this story with a sense of incompleteness. I think a lot of the things that I wanted to see are in later books.