An Albino King Walks into a Bar Bearing a Black Sword: Or, The Sci-fi Fantasy Novel I Abandoned

So, recently I read on Facebook that over at Tor.com a blog by Karin L. Kross  describes rereading Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock. My local library picked up on the blog and provided a link to it via their Facebook page. As fantasy books go, I read Elric more than once when I was young. The same for the rest in the series.

This cycle of stories I loved so much that (nerd alert, alert, nerd alert!) I even packed up the old two-volume Science Fiction Book Club set I had and brought it with me when I served in the army. Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t a complete lunatic about the whole thing. It’s not like I carried them around in my rucksack during basic training; though I suspect that I may have tried.

In the mid 1980s my drill sergeants were all about confiscating contraband: from weed to Walkmans, from liquor to nudie magazines. Had I actually smuggled in the Elric Saga I don’t know what they would have made of the albino king and his black sword Stormbringer. So, I waited until I arrived at Fort Campbell, KY, home of the Screaming Eagles, and soon had my hardbound 2-volume set proudly displayed in my barracks room.

It was Elric the Albino King and other fantasy novels that led me to write my first novel as a teenager. I was maybe fifteen years old. Reading Elric of Melnibone made me understand, at least as much as a fifteen year old boy can, what with the hormones rioting in my body like gangs at the Five Points in 19th century NYC, that a well-rounded main character was also a vulnerable one. By the time I was fifteen I had read most of the assigned books to me in school: A Separate Peace, The Outsiders, and a slew of other realist fiction novels. But science fiction and fantasy (and horror too) were my secret addiction. In school, I couldn’t wait to get home and read Elric or The Hobbit or any other paperback I could get my hands on. I was a teenage junkie in that respect. And despite being a self-avowed sci-fi fantasy nerd, I managed to go steady with a girl or two. No, they weren’t from Canada. And no, they weren’t make-believe. But that’s a story for another time…

So, I deliberated for weeks about how to best approach this story. There were only so many story lines I knew. The plot I settled on for my first attempt was this: space-faring team of men crash-land on a planet whose indigenous race was not technologically advanced. The people were more akin to the Ancient Greeks or the Romans. Their native religion heralded the arrival of some messiah to save them from the oppressive dictator that made their lives miserable.

Yes, it was old-hat even by late 1970s/early 1980s standards as plot lines go. Add to this predictable story line another familiar twist: one of the stranded astronauts is mistaken for the so-called messiah. Not because his advanced gear makes him seem magical. He didn’t heal anyone; ditto for exorcising demons. The rest of his crew? Sacrificed by the evil dictator’s henchmen. I needed them out of the way so the main character could develop a relationship with the lead female character, the free-spirited, intelligent daughter of the tyrant. Throw into this mix a roaming horde of omnivorous locust-like insects that consumed everything in sight. Why? I remember thinking about the running of time option in the story.

Ultimately, I abandoned the story because

1. the omnivorous insects would have consumed all life on the planet I had created within six chapters.

2. I was falling madly in love with a girl I knew since childhood (she was going to be a ballet dancer. I was going to run a karate school. Never mind that she couldn’t dance and I had never taken a formal karate lesson in my life. It was love, damn it.).

3. other stories came into mind that sparked my interest more than the ill-fated space-faring, messiah, human sacrifice, flesh-eating insect, love story I wanted to portray.

But not necessarily in that order.

Oddly, this brings me back to Elric of Melnibone, the albino king. For years afterward, I struggled with trying to write some sword and sorcery novel or another, but eventually gave up hope. Not because I don’t think I couldn’t have written one. It had more to do with all of my work at that time coming out like some retread of Conan the Barbarian, Elric, The Lord of the Rings, and others. As a young impressionable writer, I was in awe of these tales; but I felt as if I couldn’t add anything unique to a story tradition that goes back all the way to Beowulf.

These days, things are different. I have a story brewing that may be worth something. But first, before I delve too deep into such a project, I need to revisit Elric of Melnibone and seek counsel. It has been a long time since I maneuvered the complicated sea-maze that protects the Dragon Isle. Anyone who wants to come with me is welcome to do so.

Cock and Bull: Thoughts on Low Testosterone Ads and Aging

We have all seen the commercials. We are bombarded by them every day. That’s right: low testosterone. From over the counter pill form therapy (incidentally not endorsed by the Food and Drug Administration)to ads warning men that their lack of so-called sexual drive may be due to a low testosterone and that they should consult a physician. And within these ads a litany of other ailments may prohibit a guy from taking whatever pill they are pushing. Listen, if you’re taking nitrates for your heart, and I’m a writer, not a doctor, then it’s my guess that you have bigger problems than whether you’re getting it two or three times a week.

The other night I saw one of these ads while watching television with my fiancée. It used to be that I was skeeved by advertisements for catheters. For some people it’s seeing toe fungus on the screen. Call me a wacko but I can’t take the thought of using a catheter and I truly feel for those people who do. But the other night it was yet another commercial about “a condition known as low testosterone.” I am not skeeved out by the possibility of low testosterone, but it the onslaught of television ads have caused it to surpass my otherwise latent dislike for catheter commercials.

“They should just call it for what it is,” I told my other half.

She made a face, a cross between cringing and smiling as she waited for me to pontificate further. I can’t help it. I am an Irish-American. My people are blessed (or cursed) with a gift for storytelling.

“Here’s what I would do,” I said. “I would put together an ad and show what it really is. A middle-aged walks into a doctor’s office and tells his physician ‘Here’s the thing doc. I want to start banging women half my age. You got anything for that?’ That’s what these ads are saying.”

Low testosterone is not a condition per se, no more than menopause is. At the rate we are going as a society there will one be a pill to stave off death. Dying used to be a serious condition. But not any longer. But I digress.

Yes, I am a writer. And the only qualifications I have where psychiatry is concerned is that I once saw a psychiatrist for a period of time. Imagine, if you will, how devastating it was for me for my therapist to tell me, a writer, that I was sane. It was disappointing. I felt empty. I felt like I had failed. I wanted to be crazy…but this is a topic for another post.

So, here’s my suggestion for all of those guys out there my age an older: if you find yourself with a diminished sex drive, with having no energy to do the deed, then try not to fill your day with futile pursuits to stay young. In one commercial about low testosterone a man is depicted surfing (presumably in California as the sun sets over the ocean which would mean this bloke didn’t get to go surfing until he finished work that day). In another a guy looks fatigued playing basketball with his other portly friends.

Sure, it’s a commercial. But my humble estimation is that in real life many men bother with physical activities and save none of it for the bedroom (or living room, or the garage, or the laundry room, everyone’s taste is different). And why? Because by the time we get home from work and the gym, from the evening run that we believe helps to blow off steam after dealing with high-paid morons who have no business running a business much less being trusted to tie their neckties in the morning, we are pooped. Sorry, babe. I am tired.

Most guys reach a certain age and all the mirrors in their homes turn into fun house mirrors, distorting the real image looking back at them. So how do we cope? We rent porn. We drink. We smoke. We eat shitty foods because we were emotionally arrested somewhere in our teens due to some calamitous situation that we can no longer recall. We flirt with that 20-something dipshit at the office whose annoying voice is negated by her voluptuous build. We contend with significant others our own age who become infatuated with movie star hunks twenty years younger than us and in our twisted, manly logic we justify affairs, prostitutes, and lots worse. None of this has to do with low testosterone, the so-called mid-life crisis. It’s not a crisis. It’s nature. Everyone gets old. It’s not a condition. It’s called biology. But we pretend that we are still 25 years old because society expects it of us; only, just as when we were that age, it’s laughable to 25 year olds everywhere.

My point is that there is something greater at play in our society. No one wants to get old. No one wants to die. When did this happen? When did the notion that we can somehow defer aging enter into our collective psyche?

I am not denying the importance of regular check-ups to include blood work to ensure one’s health. You might think that some guys have all the luck, and for the rest there’s erectile dysfunction. But life is never that polarized. Ask yourself as you get older what’s most important. If your answer involves landing that annoying 20-something dipshit at the office then these words have fallen on deaf ears. But if you have problems with diminished performance during intimacy try leaving the gym early. Try cutting your run in half. And look in the fun house mirror at home and ask yourself “Am I a professional athlete? Am I going to the Olympics?” If the answer is no then go home early and surprise your partner. You may not have a “condition” at all. And you damn sure won’t need medicine to fix what ails you.