Books and serendipity
Simon and I were discussing Sir Arthur C. Clarke yesterday and in the process he happened to mention that he thought ACC had shared lodgings with William F. Temple a long, long time ago. Who is William F. Temple you ask? Well, I only learnt of Temple through Simon’s page about his search for Temple’s Martin Magnus books. (It’s an interesting story, you should take a look :))
But the mention of Simon’s hunt for Martin Magnus books made me consider what my most serendipitous book discovery had been. I believe it’s the Apprentice Adept series by Piers Anthony 🙂 (Yes, I know that some people turn their noses up at Piers and say that he writes as if books were going out of style tomorrow :p But I liked his early work and still consider myself a fan though I haven’t read any of his recent stuff.)
I think I first discovered Piers Anthony quite unexpectedly. I saw this book with an interesting cover in the local library called "Castle Roogna". I took it home and read it and was enchanted by the puns and the world he created where plants had pies growing from them and everybody had a magical talent. In case, you’re not really familiar with "Castle Roogna", it’s part of Anthony’s famous (or is it infamous?) Xanth series. I hear that the later novels (the series runs to 30 books or more and is still going I believe) weren’t as good but the early novels were quite interesting.
So, hooked by "Castle Roogna", I went back to the library and searched high and low for any other books by Piers. The only other book I found was "A Spell for Chameleon", which if I recall correctly, was the first book in the Xanth series. I devoured that book as fast as I could but I wanted more. But unfortunately, this being Sri Lanka and it being the early 80’s, it wasn’t easy to come by books. Especially books by a specific author. I scoured the second-hand bookshops (the best source for good science fiction and fantasy those days) but for the longest time, I could not find anything by Piers Anthony.
Of course, being consumed by the need to read more of Xanth, I kept scouring the bookstores each time I went there and finally, I discovered a copy of "Source of Magic" (another book in the Xanth series) and "Split Infinity" – a new series. Now "Split Infinity" was interesting in that it was a book which combined fantasy and science fiction – it was a story about two worlds. In one world, science reigned and in the other, magic. I liked the concept and the whole thing about the main character, Stile, being able to move between the two worlds. Of course, it wasn’t a stand-alone book. Stile’s story wasn’t completely resolved by the end of "Split Infinity" and I wanted to read more! And of course, there were no more Piers books to be found 🙁
I searched for years but didn’t find any of the other books in the Apprentice Adept series. Then, sometime in 1993, I went to India on a short trip with a cousin. I was walking along the street in Bombay when I saw a second-hand bookstore and never being one to pass a second-hand bookstore, I went in. You could have knocked me down with the owner’s feather duster when I discovered not one but both the other two books in the Apprentice Adept series! I grabbed them immediately and held on tightly all the way back to the hotel 🙂
So now I had the complete Apprentice Adept series (or so I thought) and I was happy as a clam. I knew what happened to Stile at the end of the series and I went my merry way confident in the knowledge that I had completed another fantasy series. Then sometime in 1997 or so, I was browsing through the shelves in a secondhand bookstore in Georgia (where I was working at the time) and what do I see but more books by Piers Anthony in the Apprentice Adept series! I was stunned. The dastard! He had gone and written more books and I hadn’t known all this time :p But the good news was that the store had all four books that continued the series and so, I was once again up to speed on the Apprentice Adept series and I was happy. Of course, given Mr. Anthony’s habit of extending a series, there is always the possibility that the Apprentice Adept series will get more books added on later. But for the moment, I’m happy in the knowledge that I have read the full series 🙂