The two escapees from Mundania think that the computer disk is just a fantasy game, that is until they suddenly find themselves standing in a forest glade in Xanth with a Companion in Adventure to guide them. 150,000 first printing. $150,000 ad/promo.
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Piers Anthony is one of the world's most popular fantasy authors, and a New York Times bestseller twenty-one times over. His Xanth novels have been read and loved by millions of readers around the world, and he daily receives hundreds of letters from his devoted fans.
In addition to the Xanth series, Anthony is the author of many other best-selling works. Piers Anthony lives in Inverness, Florida.
Dug was exasperated. "Forget it, Ed! I'm not interested in any silly computer game. They all claim to be so easy to play and so exciting, and every one of them has a squintillion stupid things you have to do just to get started, and then the games are just awkward figures on painted backdrops, and you have the May-I syndrome."
"You know. No matter what you do, you get an error message and you have to start over, because you forgot to say 'May I?' or something just as idiotic before you did it. Computers are great at that. They figure you're supposed to know everything before you start, and they're going to make you do it over and over until you finally figure out what they want, by which time you're sick of it all. I don't want to waste my time."
But his friend Edsel had the annoying fault of being too persistent. "I'll bet I can find you a game you'll really like. No May-I syndrome. No dull backdrops. Real adventure. Something you'll get into easy and never want to leave."
"And I'll bet you can't. There is no such game, because real people don't program them, just computer scientists who lost touch with reality decades ago."
"It's a bet," Ed said immediately. "What're the stakes?"
Dug refused to take it seriously. "My girlfriend against your motorcycle."
"Done! I always liked your girlfriend anyway. Give me a week to get the game in, and you can kiss her goodbye meanwhile."
"Hey, I wasn't really--" Dug protested. But Edsel was gone. Oh, well. It wasn't as if there was any real risk. Dug wouldn't take his friend's motorcycle anyway.
Now it was time to get into his homework. So he called Pia instead. "Hey, I just made a bet with Ed. The stakes are you against his motorcycle."
She laughed. "You better hope you lose, because that cycle needs work."
"I know. I won't really take it."
"But he'll really take me if you lose. He likes me."
Suddenly Dug was nervous. "You mean, if--you'd--?"
"A bet's a bet, Dug. You have to make good on it. You know that." She hung up.
Shaken, he stared at his unopened books. She had hardly seemed surprised, and not at all annoyed. Had he been set up?
* * *
It didn't take a week; Edsel had the game Saturday morning. "You crank this into your computer, and call me when you're sick of it. If you don't call in an hour, I'm calling Pia for a date, because I'll know I won."
"Aren't you going to stay and help me get the thing loaded? You know it's going to take time just to--"
"Nah. The bet is that you can do it yourself, with no hassle, and you'll really like it. So if I'm right, you won't need me at all, or care that I'm not around. If I'm wrong, you'll be on the phone within an hour to let me know."
"Half hour, more likely," Dug said grimly.
"Whatever. So try it and find out." Ed departed.
He seemed so sure of himself! But Dug had never met a computer program he liked, other than the one that blanked the screen after five minutes, and he seriously doubted that he would like this one. But if it was easy-loading, he'd give it a fair try, and still be on time with the phone call.
He looked at the package as he went upstairs to his room. COMPANIONS OF XANTH. This appeared to be a silly fantasy setting, exactly the kind Dug didn't much like. How could Ed think he'd go for this, even if it wasn't too hard to get going? Then he looked again. There was a picture of a young woman of truly comely face and figure, in an outfit resembling the sinuous contours of a serpent. Wouldn't it be something to meet a creature like that! Maybe she was the inducement; they figured that some poor sap like him would buy the game in the hope that she was in it. If she was, it would be only as an animated flat picture. A ripoff in spirit if not in technicality.
He settled himself by his computer table and turned the system on. While it warmed up and went through its ritual initial checks and balances, he opened the package. There were no instructions, just a disk. There wasn't even the usual warning note forbidding anyone to copy it. Just the words INSERT DISK--TYPE A:\XANTH--TOUCH ENTER. He had to admit that was simple.
He inserted the disk, typed the mysterious word, and touched ENTER. There was a momentary swirl on the screen. Then a little man appeared, almost a cartoon figure. The figure looked at Dug and spoke. His words appeared in type in a speech balloon above his head. "Hi! I'm Grundy Golem. I'm from the Land of Xanth, and I speak your language. I'm your temporary Companion. If you don't like me you can get rid of me in just a minute. But first listen a bit, okay? Because I'm here to take your hand and lead you through the preliminaries without confusion. Any questions you have, you just ask me. You do that by touching the Q key, or clicking the right side on your mouse. So go ahead--ask."
Why not? Dug touched Q.
There was a ding. A huge human finger appeared and nudged Grundy on the shoulder so hard that he stumbled to the side. "Hey, not so hard!" Dug had to smile. "Okay, so you have a question. You have one of those primitive Mundane keyboards, right? So you have two ways to do it. You can type the question so I can see it, or you can touch ENTER and it will bring up the list of the ten most common questions at this stage. Then you can use your arrow keys to highlight the question you want, and touch ENTER again, or just shortcut it by typing the number of the question you want. I'll wait while you decide. If you want me to resume without waiting, touch ESCAPE." Grundy took a step back, twiddling his tiny thumbs.
Dug found himself intrigued despite his cynicism. He touched ENTER.
Grundy reached down and caught hold of a bit of string at the bottom of the screen. He pulled it up, and a scroll of print unrolled. There were numbered questions.
* * *
1. HOW DO I GET OUT OF THIS CRAZY GAME?
2. HOW CAN I SHORTCUT TO THE ACTION?
3. WHO IS THAT CREATURE ON THE COVER?
4. CAN I GET MY MONEY BACK IF I QUIT NOW?
5. HOW DO I GET A BETTER COMPANION?
6. HOW DO I SAVE MY PLACE SO I CAN TAKE A PEE BREAK AND PICK UP WHERE I LEFT OFF?
7. WHAT MAKES YOU THINK THIS GAME IS SO GREAT?
8. CAN A FRIEND PLAY TOO?
9. WHAT'S THE PRIZE FOR WINNING?
10. HOW MANY PRINTED QUESTIONS ARE THERE, AND CAN I CALL THEM UP ANYTIME?
* * *
Dug smiled. It seemed they had had some player input. He touched 0, which he took to be 10; he realized that it couldn't be listed as 10 because when a player touched the 1 it would take him to 1 without giving him a chance to complete the number. That was one of the things computers did: pretending not to know what the player really wanted.
The question highlighted. Grundy came to life. "There are a hundred questions in this edition of the Companions of Xanth Game, and there may be more in future editions as we get more player feedback. You can call up the list anytime by touching HELP and paging down. For two-digit numbers you can hold down the first number while you touch the second, and both digits will register. But it's probably easier just to ask me."
It probably was. But Dug decided to play with the list a bit more. The questions were still on the scroll. So he touched 1.
Grundy animated again. "To quit this game, touch ALT ESCAPE and turn off the set. But I hope you don't quit yet; you haven't given us a fair chance. We hardly know you."
They hardly knew him? As if they were real and he was a mocked-up player! That seemed arrogant. But also intriguing. Dug touched 2. "To shortcut directly to the action, touch SHIFT ESCAPE. But I strongly advise against this, because there's more you have to do, like checking in, and you'll be stuck with me as your Companion. Once you know the ropes, you can skip this whole scene, but please don't do it this time."
Fair enough. So far there had been no confusion, and he had not yet gotten into the game proper. He could skip ahead and look at it, but it made sense to give the Golem his chance. He touched 3.
"That creature on the cover is Nada Naga, Xanth's most luscious eligible princess. She is one of the available Companions." Grundy cocked an eye at him. "Maybe it's time you asked about Companions, if that isn't clear yet."
So Dug typed WHAT ABOUT COMPANIONS?
"I'm so glad you asked about Companions!" Grundy said. "That is of course the name of this game, and the main thing that distinguishes it from others. In this game you are never left to flounder helplessly, guessing at the procedures. You have a Companion to guide you through. Anything you need to know, you can ask your Companion, and if he (or she, if you select a female) doesn't know the answer, he'll give you a responsive guess. He will also warn you when you are going wrong, and in general be a true friend to you. You can trust your Companion absolutely--except for one thing. Touch Y or ENTER if you want to know about that one thing."
Dug was tempted to touch the ESCAPE key instead, but was hooked. So he touched ENTER.
"That is smart of you," Grundy said. "You see, your Companion is your truest friend, ordinarily. But there is one chance in seven that he will be a False Companion. That one will pretend to be your friend, but will lead you into mischief and doom. So if you get that one, you must be wary, and not take his bad advice. Unfortunately, there is no obvious way to tell a Fair Companion from a False Companion, because they look and act the same--until some key point in the game, when the False Companion will betray you. You must judge only by assessing the quality of the advice you are given, and recognizing bad advice. If you are able to identify your False Companion, you can not exchange him for another; once you choose your Companion, you are stuck with him throughout the game. You can ask him to go away, but then you will be alone in the game without guidance and are likely to get eaten by a dragon, or suffer some worse fate. It is better to keep him with you, but to be wary of him. It is possible to win the game with a False Companion, just a lot more difficult."
The Golem paused, so Dug typed in a related query. SUPPOSE I JUST QUIT THE GAME, AND COME BACK NEW?
"If you try to leave the game and return, so as to get a new Companion, you will find that the layout of the game has changed, so that not only are you not certain whether your new Companion is True or False, you are not sure whether paths which were safe before remain so. If you are well along in the game, it is better just to continue. But it is your choice, of course."
This warning, rather than turning Dug off, intrigued him. So he could never quite trust his Companion. That promised a special thrill of excitement that would not have been there otherwise. He looked at the listed questions, and touched 9.
"The prize for winning the game, which is not easy to do, is to receive a magic talent, which will be yours in any future games you play. We do not know what that talent is, but it will surely be a good one, that will be a great advantage for you."
Sort of like getting a free pass to another game. Dug shrugged. He didn't care much about fantasy anyway, so this wasn't much of an inducement. He was beginning to get bored with this, so he touched 5.
Grundy frowned. "I was hoping you would decide to stay with me. I can speak the languages of animals and plants, and learn things that others can not." Then he smiled. "But maybe you still will choose me. Here are the six other Companions from which to choose." He pulled up another scroll.
This contained six names: Goody Goblin, Horace Centaur, Jenny Elf, Marrow Bones, Metria Demoness, and Nada Naga. Dug recognized the last name: the luscious creature of the cover. He didn't need to check the others. He highlighted Nada Naga, and her description and a picture appeared.
NADA NAGA, PRINCESS OF THE NAGA FOLK OF XANTH, WHICH ARE HUMAN/SERPENT CROSSBREEDS, CAPABLE OF ASSUMING EITHER FORM OR ONE IN BETWEEN. AGE 21, UNMARRIED, INTELLIGENT, NICE, BEAUTIFUL. ASSETS: MATURITY AND ABILITY TO ASSUME FIGHTING FORM. LIABILITIES: PRINCESSLY LIMITATIONS.
Being a princess was a liability? Dug had to laugh. He was prepared to cope with it. What fun it would be to have such a woman as his Companion! Without hesitation, he touched RETURN.
The picture expanded, and Nada Naga stepped out onto the main screen. "Thank you, Grundy," she said in a dulcet voice. Actually it was print in a speech balloon, but Dug could almost hear it. "I shall take it from here."
Grundy sighed and walked off-screen. Nada turned to Dug. "Please introduce yourself," she said appealingly. "Just type your name and description, so that I can relate to you."
Eagerly he typed. DUG. MALE. AGE 16. So she was five years older; who cared? This was only a game.
"Why, hello, Doug," she said. "I am sure we shall get along very well."
Oops. DUG, he typed. NO O. IT'S NOT SHORT FOR DOUGLAS, EITHER. IT'S JUST DUG.
She lifted one dainty hand to her mouth, blushing prettily. "Oh, I apologize, Dug! Please forgive me."
Actually, if she wanted to call him Doug or Douglas, let her do it. From her it would sound just great.
NO NEED, he typed quickly. I NEVER MET A PRINCESS BEFORE. It was a game, but it had become an interesting game, and he wanted to play it for what it was worth. He realized that he was losing his bet with Edsel, but he no longer cared. He just wanted to continue playing.
"It is a liability, being a princess," she said. "It was nice of you to select me anyway. I shall try to be an effective Companion for you."
I'M SURE YOU WILL BE PERFECT, he typed, speaking the words at the same time, really getting into it.
"Dug, may I give you some advice?" she asked prettily.
"Anything you want," he said, his fingers flying to keep the pace.
"It will be easier if you get into the scene with me. So that we can relate to each other more readily. Do you know how to do that?"
"I'd love to get into the scene with you," he agreed. "But you're on the computer screen, and I'm out here in real life." So maybe it was a foolish business, getting emotionally involved like this, treating her as if she were a real person, but it was fun. He was amazed at how responsive she was.
"This is true. But though I can not come out to join you, you can in effect come in to join me. You have to suspend your disbelief a bit, and refocus your eyes."
"I'll try." He wished he could forget this was a fantasy game, and just live the fantasy: himself with this lovely woman.
"You see, the screen looks flat to you because you are focusing flat. But if you will try to focus your eyes on something behind the screen, as if it were a window to another world, you will find that it becomes rounde...
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Descrizione libro Tor Books. Hardcover. Condizione libro: New. 0312853890 . Codice libro della libreria HGT5711SBGG062117H0121P
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Descrizione libro Tor Books, 1993. Hardcover. Condizione libro: New. book. Codice libro della libreria 0312853890
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