So, my plans to keep this blog going regularly seem to have stalled. However, I have a backlog of games, books, and movies to talk about, so this post is mainly to get me back into the spirit of posting.
(I suppose that I should also mention that I’m writing this by using Dragon Naturally Speaking. So far, the program has been very efficient, and I’ve only had to make minor corrections. We’ll see how effective it is once I start using gaming terminology. I actually got a copy of Dragon in order to speed up my grading. Of course, I haven’t actually tried using it to grade. Instead, I’m using it to catch up on this blog.)
The subject for review today is the novel The Fallible Fiend by L. Sprague de Camp. Written in 1972, this novel follows the adventures of a demon named Zdim. (Note that Dragon Naturally Speaking does not handle the name Zdim very well.) Much of the humor of the book is based on the differences between what the demon expects and what his new reality is. Apparently, in his world, on the 12th Plane, the citizens make their money, in part, by lending themselves out to be summoned by wizards on the human plane, where they are used mainly for their scary appearance, their armored bodies, and their superior strength. However, his plane is very literal and very logical, and Zdim repeatedly reminds us throughout the book that the demons’ plane is the saner of the two.
Zdim’s adventures often come about because he reacts to situations as if they were on his plane, which is often too literally. Early on, when he is told by his master to eat the next person who enters the room, he fails to differentiate between friends and enemies, and he eats his master’s apprentice. Later, in a circus, he is told to scare the customers, which he does to such an extent that they riot and destroy the circus.
From his summoning until the end of the book, Zdim acts as a servant, a circus performer, a bandit, a soldier, and a diplomat. If you can accept the often humorous misunderstandings of the protagonist, then the book is quite enjoyable, much better than The Warrior of World’s End. If you find the protagonist’s failings too trite, then you probably won’t enjoy the book. Admittedly, much of the humor feels a bit stale now. But we have to remember, that the authors of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, were generating new material that is only cliché in hindsight.
As for me, I always found Zdim to be a likable and entertaining character. His adventures string together like the adventures of many a role-playing group. There is a hint of connection between each of them, but the connection is not so strong that you couldn’t read each adventure independently. (A bit like modules, actually.)
I imagine that this book was the inspiration for a number of books that followed, including Robert Asprin’s Myth series. I kept thinking that the main character would be really fun to use the next time the wizard in my RPG group uses a summon monster spell. In fact, I imagine that de Camp’s character has been, without my knowledge, the basis of many an NPC that I have created.
Overall, the book was a fun read. I appreciated that so much thought had been put into the characterization of the main character. Zdim feels real. And while the plot, now, probably seems a bit contrived, it is easy to see why in first edition AD&D, this book was added to Appendix N.
(Still on the slate for review: Swords and Deviltry, Dungeon Command, Superhero Showdown, and more.)