Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Dungeon

My plan upon turning thirty is to spend the year re-reading books I've already read--some of which I've carried around with me from place to place since I was 11 or 12 and have only the vaguest recollection that I liked them.

First on my list were Philip Jose Farmer's The Dungeon series of fantasy novels, which appeared in the late 1980s. The series consists of a single story told through six volumes, with each book written by a different individual author: The Black Tower by Richard Lupoff, The Dark Abyss by Bruce Coville, The Valley of Thunder by Charles de Lint, The Lake of Fire by Robin Bailey, The Hidden City also by de Lint, and The Final Battle also by Lupoff.

The idea behind the series is that the writer of volume 1 would start things off, the writer of volume 2 would continue that story without having any input into the earlier book, and so forth until the story was finished with the sixth and final book. This idea probably created some fun juggling as each author had to both pick up where the last book left off and set things up in an interesting way for the next book.

The first book works wonderfully. Set in the mid 1800s, it begins as a pulp adventure story as English soldier Clive Leighton travels throughout the Orient and Africa to find his missing brother. Deep in the heart of Africa, he ventures through a strange opening in a boulder and finds himself on the first level of The Dungeon, a place strange and exotic. In it and succeeding books, we follow Clive's voyage through the Dungeon (almost always a step behind his brother, who leaves him mysterious and tantalizing clues) and meet several companions along the way: the cyborg Chang Guafe, the giant arachnid Shriek, Clive's great-great-great-something grand-daughter Annabelle, and more.

The Dungeon, however, isn't simply a series of caverns--each of the nine levels is anything from an alien city to another world. My description is no doubt doing the series an injustice as it probably sounds incredibly cheesy--and to a degree, it is almost like every possible fantasy and science-fiction idea was thrown into a blender and mixed up: the series contains everything from time-travel to cloning to aliens to ray guns to telepathy to demons and more.

It's a wild ride but one that doesn't lose focus on Clive and his companions, each of whom is given an interesting personality. In many ways, the books remind me of Lost, where you sometimes feel the writers are making things up episode-by-episode and sometimes things seem to have been set-up years prior. The downside (much like I unfortunately predict is inevitable with Lost) is that not everything is completely explained--there are characters, clues, plot threads, and more that are left hanging in earlier books and not wrapped up in the final book. Indeed, the last book was somewhat disappointing as the focus is solely on Clive and most of his companions are relegated to occasional cameos.

I don't think I can give the books an unqualified recommendation, but at least the first one is worth reading . . . so I'll probably carry them around with me for another couple of decades.

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