• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #254: Stile

Stile is an idiot.

I've listed characters from two of Piers Anthony's fantasy/sci-fi series earlier on this list, Xanth and the Incarnations of Immortality. The third I'll include here I've also read multiple times, the Apprentice Adept series, beginning with Split Infinity (1980). This is probably Anthony's most comprehensive, sophisticated exercise in world-building, taking place on the deep-space, far-future world of Proton, a technologically-advanced human society existing in climate-controlled domes on the surface of an otherwise barren planet. it's a mining colony, providing the fuel-ore Protonite for the energy needs of the galaxy There are shades of Asimov in this setting, dependent on computers and robots to perform most tasks so that super-rich human Citizens can wallow in their wealth while not-rich, not-even-clothed human serfs can serve them. It's a complex system, and one that seems more believable than it did thirty years ago.

The saving grace of Proton's two-caste (three, if you count the robots) society is the Game, one of Anthony's most thrilling inventions. I've said it before - when the man was focused on creativity instead of vaguely unsettling soft-core titillation, he brought a 100-mph heater to the mound. The Game was the center of Proton life, it's culture and entertainment, the circuses by which Citizens appeased an oppressed serfdom. Imagine a Chuck E Cheese's, but with every game you can imagine and some you can't. Two competitors enter a booth, play out a short grid-game to determine the nature of their contest, and then it's dust-slide, or darts, or poetry composition, or tiddlywinks, or a marathon. You don't know when you show up what it will be. There are dilettantes and casual users, and then there are the gamesmen, the all-pros who compete to advance their ranking on their age-ladder. The top tiers would enter the annual grand Tourney, with the top prize emancipation from serf to Citizen.

Enter Stile, one of the top players of his age. A world-class jockey, Stile is five-foot-nothing, acrobatic, smart, daring, and lucky. He's steadily working his way toward his own entry in the Tourney when his knees get lasered during a race, ending his riding career, and he gets mixed up in a deep conspiracy by the self-willed robots of Proton to undermine the aristocracy and advance their own interests. Oh, and this is when things get interesting - the planet Proton has a stunt-double, a cross-dimensional twin where magic and swords, unicorns and werewolves, hold sway instead of robots and science. Stile crosses the invisible curtain that bisects these worlds, and is plunged into another set of political challenges. This is Phaze, the fantasy sibling to Proton's science fiction, ruled by powerful mages called Adepts, known by their sorcery style and their identifying color. This is one of Anthony's most brilliant conceits, the juxtaposition of speculative modes, and it works almost flawlessly.

Stile exhibits courage, resourcefulness, and loyalty throughout the narrative that takes him through a battle against the Adepts while simultaneously attempting to win the Tourney. There's a great crisis coming, and he's in the middle of it. He's forced to make some truly awful choices (and suffice it to say, some really bad decisions), but Stile perseveres. He tough for a little guy, and maybe that's part of what I like about him. It really is some of Anthony's finest work, with his trademark insistence on well-understood hierarchies and social structures. And a hero who runs counter to them all.

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