Friday, May 23, 2008

Robert Lynn Asprin: 1946-2008

Wow, the past few months have been alarmingly full of significant losses. I guess I'm getting to the age where the folks who were my heroes in my youth are hitting that black wall at the end of the race.

Man, I'm so not prepared for Bobby Orr passing on. There'd better be angels and trumpets, is all I can say.

But today it's Robert Asprin, at 62, the creator of the Thieves' World books (which laid the foundation for the Bordertown books which I know you've never heard of, maybe I need to do another in my "Ones Nobody Knows" series) and the writer of the Myth Adventures books, both of which started off so well I can't help but be indulgent towards how they ended up.

Mr. Asprin was able to communicate a love of the absurd, the zany, and the unrepentantly sentimental. The first couple of Thieves' World books contained some great stories, and the whole idea of a "shared world" anthology was part of the cultural shift that Gary Gygax also contributed to.

In the 80's, fantasy culture began embracing the ideas of world-building, ideas that perhaps had been first developed by early pulp writers like Howard and Lovecraft (working as they did upon speculative writers like Verne and even More), and then suddenly Tolkien put a level of detail into it that went beyond what anyone had seen. Gygax and his cohorts, not content with just doing their own world-building, turned that activity into something with social worth -- if you were willing to put some effort into it, and had the requisite skills, you could gather a social group ("Demented and sad, but social,") and work together to generate stories in that world.

Authors continued to work in that style, and Asprin had the genius idea to bring together a number of well-known (and not so much) authors in a single setting. I remember reading his foreword (or possibly somebody else's, talking about him) to the original volume, and how at first the idea was to bring all the famous characters of fantasy together -- so that you could have Conan confront Elric, or Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser slit purses in Minas Tirith. But that turned out to be impossible -- probably my first encounter with the idea of "Intellectual Property" -- and so a new world and new characters were created.

It was a grand vision. It was a Good Thing To Do. The Sanctuary stories were part of the "gritty" trend in fantasy writing -- more Leiber than Tolkien, and better suited to short stories than to novels.

Sanctuary gave rise to numerous other shared projects, none of which ever carried the same cachet as the original. But the idea has stuck around, and moved into different media, and even for myself, has influenced much of what I think about IP ownership and creativity.

DINO-PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND is going to be a shared setting. It will be open for folks to contribute to, and to take from. I'm still working on how exactly the presentation will happen, but when it rolls out, I think it will be quite unlike any fantasy setting ever seen before -- at least in terms of HOW it gets created and fleshed out. It will be an exciting project, and given that I've spent several years of my life just getting it this far, I think it's fair to say that Mr. Asprin has had an immense impact on my life.

Thank you for Sanctuary, for Skeeve and Aahz, and for the lofty idea that creativity is better when it's shared. I believe you were right.