“Good afternoon, Mr. President. Sorry I've been away so long...” That’s the last line of Superman II. The Man of Steel learns even the strongest metal can be broken; his heart certainly has been (and Lois’ heart, too). He fell in love, and fell from grace. Then he gave up the woman he loved for the only thing he loved more: his family...the family of humanity.
The title of this post, however, is incomplete. The full line is:
“Good afternoon, Mr. President. Sorry I’ve been away so long…I won’t let you down again.”
Those last six words, somehow so moving when spoken by Chris Reeve at the very end of Superman’s journey to understand what it means to love, to lose everything, and then to discover what the cost of redemption truly is, do not apply here.
I have been gone awhile, and may be again. And I don’t know when I will be able to resume my role as writer. My superpowers, you see, have been drained away, and I don’t know when they’ll be restored.
What happened, simply, is this: My life has been turned upside down, and so has my house. The notebooks I had created for my ‘Chronicles of Shadow’ writing project have been lost. They may be around somewhere; then again, they may not. As of this moment, however, their location remains unknown. It was a rather ambitious writing endeavor, especially for this writer, and there were indispensable notes, ideas, and ― most importantly, of course ― plot points and outlines in those notebooks.
It will be some time before I get my Fortress of Solitude back. If I ever do.
Meanwhile, folks hanging out at Shadows of Amber and any others who may or may not be out there, you’re in for a wait. The action was just about to pick up, and the beginning of the next scene sits somewhere in an errant red notebook which I hope still exists. The very next event, in fact, sends reverberations throughout Shadow all the way to the heart of Chaos itself. Old friend Bill Roth may yet have a small role to play in the history of, well, everything. It is not saying too much to reveal that a disaster of epic proportions is looming or that Corwin and Merlin have overstayed their welcome on the Shadow Earth and are bound for wild and untamed locations in Shadow and beyond.
Sequels are hard. Superman II lost its director over half-way through, causing it to arrive in theaters two years later than originally planned. By some miracle, the movie survived the loss of Richard Donner’s direction (due to his producers, the Salkinds), cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth (due to his death), and Jor-El as played by Marlon Brando (due to his oversized payscale and even larger ego). Hey, nothing’s easy.
Likewise, Zelazny originally declared The Courts of Chaos would be the final installment in The Chronicles of Amber. Yet seven years later, along comes a book long awaited by eager Amber fans: Trumps of Doom. Sequels always have their problems, and the cycle of books that followed up on Corwin’s adventure with their account of his son’s initiation into reality-crossing royal power-struggle was not entirely immune. Yet it generated much interest, getting fans excited again about new characters, places, abilities and possibilities in Zelazny’s fascinating Amber-Shadow-Chaos multiverse.
Then there are sequels beyond the sequels. Superman III and Superman IV? Best forgotten, in the opinion of many, and apparently Bryan Singer agreed when he conceived his Superman Returns as a sequel to Mario Puzo’s story, as portrayed in the first two Superman movies. If only Singer himself had paid closer attention to what had gone wrong in the third and fourth movies, his own effort might have succeeded better.
Zelazny was never able to embark upon the final five books, in which he might have woven together the stories of both Merlin and Corwin in a rebalancing of power, politics, and players in an expanded story and milieu. And Betancourt’s well-intentioned prequels have met with a reception like that which greeted the third and fourth Superman films.
And here lies 1/5 (plus a few halting chapters of the next fifth) of my own effort. Where I have presumed to pick up the story after The Courts of Chaos. (For those wondering, the answer is: Yes, I have a story device consistent with Zelazny’s multiverse ready to deploy in the third or fourth as-yet-unwritten installments that will sidestep any conflict with the Merlin cycle that would chronologically follow my material.) Leaving me in a position similar to Singer’s, attempting the Amber version of Superman Returns, which received mixed reviews, including Roger Ebert’s “glum, lackluster movie in which even the big effects sequences seem dutiful instead of exhilarating” and Mick LaSalle’s view that the plot’s culmination failed to “match the potential of the tiring 154 minute long film.”
And already there are problems cropping up in what I will here refer to as Corwin Returns. Among the very minor issues, the tags that once worked for loading the story here no longer work very well, so that now I open up February 2008 Archive, Beginning, Chapter Seven: The Lake of Sleep, and End in order to pull up Three Kings of Chaos in its entirety. Slightly less minor, I thought I had made up ‘Murtuya,’ but of course it’s a place in our world. And I’d forgotten Arkans was the duke of Kashfa in the Merlin cycle when I thought up the name ‘Arkand.’ Little stuff like that for the most part.
Regarding the next installment, its working title was, and still is, The Pages of Merlin, and real rewriting probably lies in its future. Our Earth may be where the story begins, but Shadow and points beyond are clearly where it is destined to go. Keep your eyes on Merlin when the story lurches forward again; he is, after all, ‘The Magician.’ The Tarot inspired Zelazny when he first conceived his Amber epic, and those cards guided me when I attempted to pick things up after Corwin’s journey to the Courts of Chaos. They will continue to guide me when I resume writing Corwin Returns, what I call ‘The Chronicles of Shadow.’
So what’s next? Going to have to spend time downstairs, where most of my possessions wait in a kind of limbo, and root through the cellar. But good, and sometimes very important, things are often tucked away in cellars. What was it, after all, that Corwin had to say about the all-important Pattern, center of Amber, fulcrum of existence, source of his family’s fantastic power?
It was a splendid and cryptic old family heirloom which belonged right where it was, in the cellar.
Which is, of course, also the ideal place to keep your Kryptonite.
[Summer Solstice, 2011, post-script: Original second and third chapters of Book Two have been dropped in favor of a new Chapter Two (Capture) and a new Chapter Three (World's End). Direction of the story is essentially unchanged, but the story should now be moving more directly toward where it needs to go. The hiatus is over and this year should be as much about Corwin’s renewed commitment to his mission as a renewed assault on this writing project (namely, Book Two). Meanwhile, global climate change may be here to stay, but I still say: Bring on the Summer!]
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