Sweet Myth-tery of Life
By Robert Asprin
Unabridged Editions Published by Audible Frontiers
Read by Noah Michael Levine
Robert Asprin’s Myth Adventures series began with a fun little book called Another Fine Myth. It followed a somewhat dark and tiresome novel Cold Cash War whose only virtue in my mind was to get Asprin’s foot in the door of the House of Published Authors and thereby meant we got to read the Myth Adventures. In Another Fine Myth, Bob Asprin proved he could write a novel-length story that combined his wit and humor with fast-paced adventure. Until that time, those of us who knew him only had relatively short satirical pieces he wrote and self-distributed, such as the possibly unrelated chapters of The Dark Horde Survival Handbook and Training Manual or How to Live Off of Other Peoples’ Lands. With the publication of Another Fine Myth the rest of the world was able to see what we knew all the time; the man could tell and interesting and funny story.
He followed up that success with Myth Conceptions and Myth Directions, proving the first book was not a fluke. However, it is probable that any series has a half-life whether because the author gets tired of it, thinks he can just “phone it in” or there are just so many different ideas and situations one can send characters into before they all seem the same.
Sweet Myth-tery of Life is not the death blow to the series it might have been, but it certainly represents the low point of the Myth Adventures of Skeeve and Aahz, but I am getting ahead of myself. Skeeve is a barely trained apprentice magician who in the earlier books in the series become apprenticed to Aahz a green, scaly-skinned demon (short for dimension-traveler) who happens to be one of the greats (in his own mind, at least) except that he has lost all his powers. In their first story together they also meet one of their most frequently recurring supporting characters, a Trollop (from the Dimension Trollia where the men are Trolls and the women are Trollops) named Tananda (or Tanda for short). Through various other encounters they eventually gain a much larger and quite ungainly cast of characters and it is possible this is part of the problem by the time we reach the tenth book in the series.
By the time we get to Sweet Myth-tery of Life we not only have our original trio, but Tanda’s brother, Chumley, Maasha (Skeeve’s apprentice) and her beau, Hugh Badaxe, Skeeve’s Mob bodyguards, Guido and Nunzio, his accountant/moll, Bunny, Aahz’s cousin, Pookie and more I’m probably not thinking of at the moment. We also have Queen Hemlock, who earlier in the series married King Roderick of Possiltum in order to merge their kingdoms and who now wants to marry Skeeve. She gives Skeeve an ultimatum. “Marry me or I abdicate in your favor.”
Well it’s a ridiculous situation and I doubt any reader of the series would believe that Skeeve would consider accepting the proposal for a moment, and yet he spends the entire book monologuing on the choice he has to make. Well, the entire series is told in the first person so in a sense every story is made up of monologues and it was Mister Asprin’s style to go off on tangents in order to make a point every now and then. Unfortunately, this story is all tangents and no plot.
That’s right, nothing really happens throughout the entire book except when someone shoots Skeeve’s pet dragon at the very end of the book. The entire book involves Skeeve agonizing over a decision that the readers know long before he does. Along the way we have a lot of hot air expelled discussing Accounting theory, long-winded and frequently off-kilter philosophies of marriage, warnings about Skeeve’s drinking problems, which I do not recall ever coming up again, and the hardships of being a super model.
What we do not have is a single joke or even a vaguely amusing situation.
It is not really a spoiler to tell you that eventually Skeeve goes back to Queen Hemlock to turn down her proposal and that she just shrugs it off with “I never really expected you to say yes and no, I never intended to abdicate. Have a nice day!” or words that came down to all that.
The series seemed to have ground to a halt right there for several years and while I missed the fun of the first few stories, in retrospect it had been running out of steam for quite some time (probably starting with Little Myth Marker which by its very title gave away the entire story). And then finally a new book came out Myth-ion Improbable.
I had hoped to see the story take off from that very dramatic cliff-hanger at the end of the last book, but instead, Bob Asprin decided to go back to an earlier time in the series in which to set Myth-ion Improbable. It was an attempt, according to him, to get a handle on the characters and the series itself after the long hiatus. I can understand that. I too have written whole novels in order to get a feel for how some of my supporting characters feel and act or to figure out where a series is going next.
Myth-ion Improbable was at least partially successful in jump-starting the Myth Adventures, but it was not without flaws. It contains a few continuity errors (hard to avoid sometimes) and respellings of staple names from the series (global spell checks could have corrected those) but also Bob’s writing style had changed irrevocably since those earlier novels and to set an early story in his later style was incongruous – the story just did not fit in with the books on either side of it.
However, it does partially recapture the fun of the earlier books as Skeeve, Aahz and Tanda go gallivanting across the dimensions in search of a cow that gives golden milk. If you are a long-time reader of the series you may well enjoy this story in spite of the flaws, but if you have not yet read any of them, I seriously recommend going back to the first (and probably the best) of the series, Another Fine Myth.
I found Noah Michael Levine painful to listen to as he narrated these two books. It is perhaps because I knew Bob Asprin, or rather I knew the persona he played within the Society for Creative Anachronism, Yang the Nauseating, and also have a very firm opinion of the people I think he based many of his characters on in the early books. I will admit I may be wrong about character models, I never spoke to Bob about where they came from, but having heard him tell many stories, it is obvious, to me at least, that his model for Skeeve was himself. After that, well I think we have several composites and it is possible he did not consciously choose people he knew for his characters. Again, if he did, he never said as much to me, but I know those people whether he consciously used them or not. I know what they sound like and Mister Levine’s choice of voice for Skeeve is the only one even vaguely on target.
Well, getting Skeeve right is not all that hard – just talk in a normal voice and put a touch of “Gosh!” and “Oh wow!” in and you have it. The rest of them are tougher, but Mister Levine resorts to what I call “Funny Voices,” strongly applied and frequently hard to listen to accents and poor impressions. Along with that he has a few really bad cases of mispronunciation the worst of which had to have been when talking about Djinns and their dimension Djinger. Djinn is a one-syllable word and one thing Bob did masterfully was to point out subtly in the text how it should be pronounced. Perhaps it was too subtle for Mister Levine, or he used to listen to a song called “Deegeenie with the Light Brown Hair?” In any case it was jarring and would have ruined the scene for me had the scene had anything in it of value to ruin.
His choice of voices for Aahz, Tanda and the others were equally jarring and even others who lived near each other frequently had radically different accents, some of which were inconsistent. He would have done much better to just read the stories.
So, these two Myth Adventures are definitely from the series when it was in its doldrums, and I’m not sure it ever fully recovered although some of the later collaborations with Jody Lynn Nye do have some spark to them and I have not yet read any of the ones she wrote on her own. No matter how much you might enjoy reading these stories for yourself, I really cannot recommend either of these as audiobooks though.