You Can Read Along

January 20, 2013

When I’ve discussed short fiction on this blog, I’ve tried to keep to works that are available for free on the World-Wide Web. However, that policy has some drawbacks. In particular, there’s not enough material online that I’m familiar with, and I lack the time and energy to read through a lot of dross looking for online stories I decide I want to blog about.

I chose things that were free to read so that anybody could look over the text themselves. Yet this rules out almost all discussions of long-form fiction, which is unfortunate. Moreover, I don’t really have many casual readers; nobody has commented on this blog who isn’t among my top ten next of kin. So I’ve decided to try a different kind of project. I will be discussing novels one or two chapters at a time and posting about the material weekly. My family of readers can follow along at the same time and contribute to the discussion.

I’m sure my brother Curran will appreciate the fact that I’m going to begin with Fred Saberhagen’s Empire of the East trilogy (The Broken Lands, The Black Mountains, and Changeling Earth–also published in an omnibus edition). Saberhagen’s writing is well suited to this kind of project, since any change of scene and viewpoint is generally accompanied by the end of a chapter.

(Some authors take this a step further. In Jack Chalker’s novels, there are chapter breaks wherever and only wherever there is a change in the location of the action. However, don’t look for me to write about Chalker’s works here. Except for Midnight at the Well of Souls, his work is execrably edited, resounds with nonsensical ecology, and shows a disturbingly increasing fascination with polymorphed sex.)

I’m going to be using the (rather edited) omnibus edition. I’ve never actually read the one-volume version of the trilogy before, and it rather goes against my inclination to work with the original versions of works. (I don’t typically appreciate the efforts authors, or other artists, make to refashion their earlier works; it just seems esthetically wrong to me. In Saberhagen’s case, I know that I also prefer his earlier writing to what he produced later, although he re-edited the omnibus edition only five to ten years after the publications of the original volumes.) Recent printings of the omnibus have a truly regrettable cover. There’s a cover blurb advertising, “seamless splicing of SF and fantasy,” but the art makes it look the most generic fantasy book ever. I’m not even sure what most of the things pictured have to do with Saberhagen’s story.

I’ll get started with the commentary next time around. Now I apologize to any readers who may be too young to have listened to children’s stories on miniature records with read-along album books, but I have to do this.

This is the story of Empire of the East.  You can read along with me in your book.  You will know it is time to turn the page when you hear the demon lord yowl, like this:


See you in a week, with the first chapter of The Broken Lands.


3 Responses to “You Can Read Along”

  1. Ah, the Wilhelm Scream–I’m watching a strangeish ‘policing the supernatural’ genre TV show (‘The Middleman’) with my engineer girlfriend, a show that makes extensive use of that sound-effect, really whenever they can. It works about as well as a page-turning device, I suppose.

    While I whole-heartedly agree with your criticism of the generic cover art for ‘Empire of the East’ (hint on content: there are no dragons in this story), I’d be very interested to hear any observations you have about the revisions for the later edition. I’ve read both old and new, probably more than once, and sometimes been confused, but have nothing like a map in my head of what the actual changes are between editions. So I’m very curious about that.

    Long may Fred Saberhagen, unheralded speculative fiction giant, be remembered!

    • Buzz Says:

      Yeah, I am really wondering what’s up with the dragon on the cover. The editions I grew up with didn’t have any real thematic unity to their covers, but two of the three did gives some picture of the mixture of magic and technology features in the stories. The one that didn’t just showed a straight-up battle scene out of the book; it looks much more like fantasy than science fiction, but it is nonetheless clearly the best of the three covers.

      Today I realized something else about the omnibus edition, in particular, about the way the third book was retitled—from Changeling Earth to Ardneh’s World. Either version of the titles reflect the widening scope that comes with each book. However, the originals pair each description of the physical setting with a vaguely menacing adjective. Certainly, “changeling” was not the best choice, but “Ardneh’s” loses all common English meaning thus, I feel, detracts from the effect.

  2. I finished reading Chapter 1 this morning. Kudos for giving me a manageable assignment.

    So far I like it better than I expected, since I usually don’t much enjoy Saberhagen. Yo.

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