Once in a while, a writer loves someone else’s work so much, they decide to honor it by slipping a subtle cameo into their own books as both a tribute and the ultimate easter egg for eagle-eyed readers. The seven cameos listed below are so “blink-and-you’ll-miss-them,” you almost certainly missed them.
The Shrike stalks in The Craft Sequence, by Max Gladstone
Gladstone’s brilliant Craft Sequence conflates lawyers with magicians, gods with corporations, and legal loopholes with spellwork—and it makes for some of the most original fantasy you’ve ever encountered. We recently spied on Twitter that a careful reader of sixth book in the sequence, The Ruin of Angels, came across the following description of a creature that appears in the novel for only one sentence: “a four-armed sculpture of knives and glass.” You might wonder what other SFF creature could be described as a four-armed thing of knives and glass. Yep, it’s the Shrike—that terrifying, legendary creature from Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos, which Gladstone has publicly copped to slyly inserting in all six Craft books to date—once depicting the thing trying to get a tan.
Doctor Who visits The Glamourist Histories, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Award-winning SFF author and probable time-traveler Mary Robinette Kowal makes no secret of her love for Doctor Who, so it’s not entirely surprising that she’s inserted a visit from the good Doctor himself into every book in her acclaimed Glamourist Histories, a series that has been accurately described as Jane Austen, plus magic and swordfights. Our fave Time Lord is never mentioned by name, but Kowal cops to choosing a particular Doctor and describing him based on the actor who portrayed that incarnation. For example, in the second book, Glamour in Glass, a doctor arrives on the scene who is clearly Ten: “…a tall, slender fellow, with a shock of dark hair. He was younger than she expected a doctor to be, but exuded such an air of confidence that Jane could not help but trust him. Settling himself on a chair at her bedside, he produced a pair of horn spectacles and slipped them over his ears.” As a bonus, Kowal’s Of Noble Family features a black woman working as a physician named “Dr. Jones.”
Snoopy faces The Bloody Red Baron, by Kim Newman
Newman rarely shies away from a good historical reference or literary allusion, especially to other vampires of literature, but in The Bloody Red Baron, he inserts a certain white dog—a beagle, specifically—that the young vampire Baron von Richthofen (the titular Red Baron) kills with coldhearted glee, calling it an “absurd” creature. While we can’t expect a vampire to offer all doggos the scritches they deserve, it’s still a startling moment—until you recall that famous fictional beagle who frequently battled the Red Baron on his flying doghouse. In other words, we can add “killing Snoopy” to Newman’s list of literary achievements.
The Daleks fail to exterminate humanity in Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
This one’s super-subtle: at one point in Gaiman and Pratchett’s apocalyptic romp, aliens arrive to witness the End Times, and one of them is described as looking like a “pepper pot”—just before it slides down the ramp from the UFO and falls over. In other words, a Dalek shows up and is promptly mocked as ridiculous. After all, i Doctor Who fans hadn’t seen the Daleks almost destroy the universe several times over while screeching EX-TER-MIN-ATE, it would be impossible to believe these bulky, slow-moving creatures are the deadliest threat ever. Considering Gaiman has written for the modern incarnation of the franchise, the authors obviously being affectionate in their mockery.
The Necronomicon is on the shelf in The Eyes of the Dragon, by Stephen King
The Eyes of the Dragon remains an oddity from King—his one pure fantasy novel…that’s also kind of a mystery novel. It’s also one of the books in which The Stand‘s Randall Flagg makes an obvious appearance as the evil wizard seeking to destroy the Kingdom of Delain—but that’s not the cameo we’re looking for. Flagg has a grimoire that is said to have been composed “… on the high, distant plains of Leng by a madman named Alhazred.” If that phrasing sounds familiar, that’s because that’s exactly how H.P. Lovecraft describes the writing of the Necronomicon, aka the Book of the Dead, which implies that the entire Stephen King universe is part of Lovecraft’s Cthulu Mythos (or vice versa), and if you’re anything like us, that thought made you need to sit down for a moment.
Bilbo Baggins pops into The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan
The Wheel of Time isn’t just chock-full of allusions and references to a plethora of other works of fantasy, it’s more or less built on the idea that all of the stories we know were once true (or true enough)—as creation cycles endlessly through repeated ages, these legends are echoes of memories barely remembered. Obvious examples abound, including one Artur Paendrag, a reference to our own King Arthur. But there are a few far more subtle cameos, the most obscure being a reference to Bilbo Baggins in The Shadow Rising. As with every other reference in Jordan’s magnum opus, it’s been twisted around a bit, as Elayne remembers the children’s story “Bili Under the Hill,” about a man who spends a night underground, answers three riddles, and comes away with a bag of gold that is always full. If you blinked, you missed it—but considering the nature of the Wheel of Time universe, that’s about as obvious a reference to “Riddles in the Dark” as you’ll find without using the word ‛hobbit.’
Objects from Gravity Falls teleport into Rick and Morty
This one doesn’t draw from literature, but we still can dig it. Subverting, inverting, and more or less having its way with famous sci-fi tropes is pretty much Rick & Morty‘s bread and butter. But while there are plenty of thinly-veiled references, homages, and outright stand-ins for famous SFF characters and settings in the animated series, there aren’t many literal cameos—with the exception of a lengthy list of them that strongly imply (if not outright confirm) that Rick and Morty’s multiverse exists alongside the universe of Gravity Falls, another ambitious animated SF series created by Alex Hirsch (a good friend of R&M co-creator Justin Roiland). The biggest blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment? At the end of the Gravity Falls episode “Society of the Blind Eye” a pad of paper, a pen, and a coffee cup go sailing into a dimensional portal. In the Rick and Morty episode “Close Encounters of the Rick Kind” Rick opens up several interdimensional portals, and in the background, you can juuust see one of them spit out a pad of paper, a pen, and a coffee cup.
What subtle SFF cameos did we miss?