The Panorama Egg by A.E. Silas
DAW Books, 1978
Price I paid: 90¢
His name was Archer and he thought he was an ordinary man. The collectors of panorama eggs knew better. For Archer was such a collector, and there was a very special find awaiting him: the panorama egg that contained a world.
He was guided in the use of that incredible masterwork by the enigmatic grey woman, Mera Melaklos. That was her name in this everyday world. But her real name could have been something else beyond this space-time continuum.
For indeed Archer and the grey woman crossed into a world that was not Earth, found they had special roles to play in a land where alternate science reigned and a mission of heroism was the price of existence.
THE PANORAMA EGG is a novel of strange enchantment and mystery, and of a man who wanted and found an end to a humdrum 20th century existence.
Is that a great cover or what? Oh my goodness I love that lizard thing. I love his weird legs, I love the look on his face that makes me think HEY GUYS WHAT UP, I love that there’s, like, a statue lady? I love that they’re encountering a person with fwippy hair. This is, without question, perfect cover art. DAW credits it to H.R. van Dongen, who has a lot of cover art to his name.
This stands in stark contrast to our author, A.E. Silas. Silas appears to be a case of a woman author who got initialized so it couldn’t cut into sales, as the ISFDB tells me her real name was Ann Elizabeth Silas. She’s got two credits to her name, this book and a short story named “The Mistaken Oracle.” I can’t find any more information on her. Even The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction gives her a short paragraph, basically telling us that she wrote The Panorama Egg. She doesn’t even have a birthdate. Is she still alive? Did she write in some other genre? Was she a pseudonym? I can’t find anything.
This book was a standard story that had an interesting premise that didn’t really tie into the story all that much. What we’ve got is a tale where a guy is transported into a fantasy world by some means, makes his name, falls in love with a beautiful noble woman, saves the world, and then comes back changed by the experience. It’s not in the least bit science fiction. Even people who are actually going to bother arguing about the dividing line between fantasy and sci-fi would come out heavily on the side of fantasy for this book. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it is weird that this book bears DAW’s “sf” imprint on it.
I mean, it’s clear that if your story has magic in it, it’s fantasy. That’s all I have to say. Especially if you straight-up call it magic and not, like, The Force or whatever.
This book ambled on for about two hundred pages of bleh bleh that I honestly don’t remember most of. As writing, it suffered from the problem that every setback and revelation carried the same weight on the narrative. Nothing felt particularly important, and even when it was revealed that our hero’s girlfriend is some kind of queen, I didn’t much care. I’m getting ahead of myself.
The book begins in present-day New York City. Our hero, Archer, is
an international spy a business lawyer who hates his job. He generally hates his life. His wife, Diane, is on the verge of leaving him. He drinks too much, smokes too much, works too much, takes too many sleeping pills, and all those sorts of things you’d expect of a decent hardworking American male circa 1980. He also collects panorama eggs, which are eggs with panoramas in them. I did some googly and found that they’re a real thing, although normally they’re made out of sugar and have, like, a sugar bunny in them. The panorama eggs in this book are much more elaborate. They’re made out of real eggshells, painted on the inside to look like a landscape or somesuch with a tiny lens that lets a person look at the inside. I don’t know how it’s done. The book didn’t say.
Archer meets a friend of his who in turn wants him to meet a friend of his. This second friend is named Mera Melaklos, and she’s a weird old lady. She hands Archer a panorama egg and asks him to look into it. He doesn’t see a painting there. Instead he sees a landscape where stuff’s moving around. Later, he looks into it again and finds himself transported into the magical fantasy realm of
I gotta look it up
Mera Melaklos is there, too, although she is referred to as The Melaklos in this world. She teaches Archer some stuff like how to survive, how to swordfight, and things like that before sending him on a quest.
Archer empties his pockets and sees that he’s got some stuff in them, stuff he had back on Earth. I bring this up because they’re important later. He’s got a battered copy of King Lear, some sleeping pills, and the very same panorama egg that brought him here in the first place. Oh no, universe inversion!
There’s a particularly galling paragraph at the beginning of one chapter that serves only as exposition. It takes place right after a big time jump between the chapters.
“How long have I been here?” he asked.
Startled, she turned her head quickly. “Two seasons,” she said. “Half a year Dolesar, about eight months Earth time. In that half year you have lost weight, trained into good condition, learned how to use a sword and more about archery, and grown a beard. The beard suits you.”
They wander around the landscape a bit. The Maleklos introduces Archer to two people she knows―
I’m gonna take a quick side trip into the language of Dolesar. This isn’t as bad as a lot of books would do, but I just wanted to point out that whatever language our people are speaking has another pronoun, ke, that refers to something that is neither male nor female but is alive. It’s distinct from it. It applies to, among other things, deities, spirits, demons, and the like. This fact is brought up in references to The Maleklos, who is referred to by this pronoun for oh, a chapter or two. She is referred to as she for the rest of the book. Anyway, back to the summary.
―a giant sailor named Lash and a not-quite-beautiful-but-vivacious-and-strong woman (Type 3b female protagonist, for those playing along at home) named Nayan. It rhymes with Diane.
Archer falls in love with Nayan about as immediately as you’d expect. The feeling is mutual, I guess, ’cause before the chapter is out they’re doin’ it on the beach.
Nayan has also got secrets, and Archer makes an ass out of himself for trying to trick her into revealing those secrets and then getting petulant when she won’t.
A lot of blurrdedurr goes on and we finally get to the real plot of the story. There’s an evil wizard and he’s got weird troops that nobody’s ever seen before and he’s trying to take over the world. Somebody’s got to stop him and I guess it might as well be our protagonists. The Maleklos gives us some cryptic stuff about how she’s not a wizard, she’s a sorcerer, and that matters somehow.
Something I genuinely did like: the evil wizard is a wizard from the future. This turns out to have no bearing whatsoever on the plot, but is that not great? I was gravely disappointed when it turned out that it didn’t matter at all.
The Maleklos sends all of our heroes in separate directions to perform separate quests. I don’t remember what Archer’s quest was. I think he had to deliver a message or something. It wasn’t exciting. Very little of this book was exciting except the very end, which was pretty great.
Some stuff happens. Nayan goes off somewhere. Archer says he’s got to find her. He meets up with Lash, the giant sailor, again, who carries him across the water. There’s a ship battle and Lash dies and it’s very sad, I guess. Before he dies, Lash tells Archer that he was supposed to meet someone called the Tsiel Tsieln. Archer takes up the mission.
He arrives at some place and goes to a bar and, lo and behold, he finds Nayan there. He says his goal is to find the Tsiel Tsieln, and Nayan freaks out for a bit. Archer has no idea why, and neither do we, so it was actually kinda effective. The mystery doesn’t go on for very long, though, until we find out that Nayan is, in fact, the Tsiel Tsieln, which is a bitch of a phrase to type, and that means she’s the ruler of some kind of northern islands.
Again, this struck me as in no way revelatory or exciting or anything, either because this is a pretty cliché thing to happen in a fantasy story or because it pales in comparison to future wizards.
Okay, some other stuff happens, Archer gets momentarily possessed by the evil future wizard but recovers, and everybody decides that it’s time to send the fleets of the world out to stop this guy and take the northern islands back, which are the same islands that Nayan/Tsiel rules. There’s a handsome guy who happens to be a traitor. Archer and Nayan/Tsiel escape his clutches and end up on the island proper.
They find a big black box with bad things coming out of it. Now here’s where we get to talk about one of the funnier things this book kept doing. Archer would get told about something at some point. Then, that thing becomes relevant, and the narrative says “Archer remembered the Melaklos saying something like this, but he couldn’t quite remember what it was…it was almost at the tip of his tongue.”
This happens over and over again.
The big black box turns out to be a portal to another world where the evil future wizard, whose name we recently learned is Sr of Nym, is getting his evil future wizard troops. Our heroes go into the box, get lost in a world of darkness, survive for a while, and escape again, except it’s right into Sr of Nym’s clutches.
Okay, I promised that the ending of the book was pretty good. Here we are.
Sr of Nym is convinced that Archer is a wizard too. He tries to bargain with him, giving him the old let’s-join-forces talk, and so forth. Archer doesn’t bite. He gets sent down to the dungeons, where he meets the Melaklos again. It takes a while, but they devise a plan.
Okay, I mentioned earlier that there were a few things that came through the teleportation with Archer at the beginning of the book. I had forgotten about them up to the point where they were mentioned again, and amazingly, they turn out to be Chekhov’s stuffs. There are two of them: the copy of King Lear and the bottle of sleeping pills.
This is good, I’m telling you.
So Archer challenges Sr of Nym to a wizard’s duel.
Holy crap guys
they’re like my favorite narrative device in the history of literature
So I know what you’re thinking now: “Since when has Archer been a wizard?”
He’s not and he’s never been. He’s got a trick up his sleeve.
The Melaklos is his second in this battle and she does all the real magic. Mainly, what she does is shield Archer from Sr of Nym’s first magic blast so that he can survive long enough to do the rest of the scheme.
He starts reading aloud from King Lear. See, the people in Dolesar don’t speak English, so this is all gibberish to Sr. It’s like a spellbook, see? While Sr is distracted, Nayan empties the bottle of sleeping pills into Sr’s drink. Sr declares that Archer is a fraud and a loser and then downs his wineglass in victory.
Sr’s almost totally out, but not quite, so in a fit of desperation, Archer whips out the panorama egg that contains the entire universe and pegs him in the head with it.
The egg shatters and Archer wakes up in a hospital. He’s been in a coma for two weeks.
Was it all a dream?
The book keeps us guessing for a little while and I was starting to get mad. Archer tries to re-adapt to his humdrum late-seventies corporate tie and jacket lifestyle and he hates it. Then, mysteriously, a package arrives. It’s another panorama egg! And what’s more, the dunnage in the box is an especially fragrant wood that comes from Dolesar!
Archer had almost managed to convince himself that it was all a hallucination or a dream or something, so he has a major freakout. He tries to forget all about the egg, Dolesar, Nayan, and everything.
Then his wife calls and asks him to pick her up from the airport. It’s at that point that he looks into the egg.
The epilogue goes back to Archer’s friend from the beginning, a guy named Patterson, and Mera Melaklos having a conversation. Patterson has just returned from Archer’s funeral. Melaklos says something about how she told him that if he went back to Dolesar, his body on this side would die, but honestly I didn’t remember that, so I just don’t know. We don’t get any mention of whether Archer is actually back in fantasyland and what the fallout of everything was, but I suppose that’s par for the course for this kind of book, and I can’t get too mad at it for that.
So there you go. Nothing too special, except for the ending which I feel like was probably the idea that spawned the entire rest of this book. It had a sense of freshness and action to it that made me feel like the author really enjoyed writing it. The rest of the novel, not so much. There was a lot of wandering and some vague crypticness and a few fantasy world words thrown around that just left me cold. Not my cup of tea, I suppose, but if it’s yours, maybe check it out?
3 thoughts on “The Panorama Egg”
ISFDB also shows a short story, The Mistaken Oracle.
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You know, this story would have been totally different if instead of King Lear, Archer had been reading a copy of Harold Robbins’s Dreams Die First.
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I recall reading this, remembered the name Archer, bits of the beginning and that it made almost no impression on me. I did remember the odd shift you talk about
“There’s a particularly galling paragraph at the beginning of one chapter that serves only as exposition. It takes place right after a big time jump between the chapters.”
It seems almost like the author got bored and did not feel like providing the back story. I found this odd because normally in this kind of story, a modern person moving to a different reality/universe, this is considered a crucial part of the narrative as they grow and change to adapt to the new circumstances and demonstrate their fitness for their new role.
I found it a very uninspired and forgettable novel.
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