Jon-Tom has been trapped in a strange land of talking owls and wizarding turtles for a year now, his sole consolation that in this universe his musical abilities have inadvertently made him something of a sorcerer. But when an encounter with some burglars leads to him snapping the magical duar that channels his power, he finds himself an ordinary human again—on a quest to repair his instrument with nothing but his staff and his semi-faithful, ever-complaining otter sidekick to defend him. The journey takes them to the ends of the earth—and beyond. On the run from some half-wit pirates, they dart into a cave and find themselves in San Antonio, the shortcut to home that Jon-Tom has long dreamed about. But Texas wants nothing to do with this long-haired wizard, or the unpleasant creatures who are tracking him.
About the Author
The New York Times–bestselling author of more than 110 books, Alan Dean Foster is one of the most prominent writers of modern science fiction and fantasy. Born in New York City in 1946, he studied filmmaking at UCLA, and first found success in 1968 when a horror magazine published one of his short stories. In 1972 he wrote his first novel, The Tar-Aiym Krang, the first in his Pip and Flinx series featuring the Humanx Commonwealth, a universe he has explored in more than twenty-five novels. Foster also created the Spellsinger series and has written dozens of bestselling film novelizations, as well as the story for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. An avid world traveler, he chronicles some of his own adventures in the wild in his memoir Predators I Have Known (2011). Foster lives with his family in Prescott, Arizona.
The New York Times–bestselling author of more than one hundred ten books, Alan Dean Foster is one of the most prominent writers of modern science fiction. Born in New York City in 1946, he studied filmmaking at UCLA, but first found success in 1968 when a horror magazine published one of his short stories. In 1972 he wrote his first novel, The Tar-Aiym Krang, the first in his Pip and Flinx series featuring the Humanx Commonwealth, a universe he has explored in more than twenty-five books. He also created the Spellsinger series, numerous film novelizations, and the story for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. An avid world traveler, he lives with his family in Prescott, Arizona.
Read an Excerpt
The Time of the Transference
By Alan Dean Foster
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1987 Thranx, Inc.
All rights reserved.
"JON-TOM, THERE'S SOMEONE in the tree."
From the abyss of deep rest he replied. "Huh—what?"
Feminine fingers imprinted themselves on the flesh of his shoulder. "I said there's someone in the tree." The voice was sharp, melodious, familiar, as well it should have been.
Extending himself mightily, he opened one eye. Moonlight gilded the branches of his home and those of the belltrees that surrounded the glade of oaks. Morning was conspicuous by its absence, nor was there any indication that the sun intended to put in an appearance any time soon. He listened intently.
"Go back to sleep, Talea." He turned over slowly. "There's no one in the tree."
"Not our tree, idiot!" she whispered huskily. "Old hard-shell's tree."
"Of course there's someone inside Clothahump's tree."
He told his mind to go back to sleep. His subconscious laughed at him. "Clothahump and Sorbl."
"The wizard sleeps the sleep of the dead and I know what Sorbl sounds like when he's drunk. This is different, Jon-Tom. Trust me, I know sounds in the night."
He sat up, rubbed his eyes. "From stalking innocent citizens in dark alleys, no doubt."
She punched him in the ribs. "Don't be funny. I've put those days behind me. I'm serious, Jon-Tom." She looked toward the window that punctured the tree wall. "I don't know how you can sleep through that racket anyway. They've been screaming and shouting over there for half an hour. Naturally now that you're awake they've stopped."
In the silence that followed, the sound of breaking crockery and muffled oaths drifted across the flowerbed. Talea's face whipped 'round to stare at him.
"Don't tell me you didn't hear that."
Still half asleep, he frowned and pushed the covers forward. "I won't, because I did hear it. So they're having a party over there or something. Wouldn't be the first time Clothahump's entertained out-of-town visitors. Some sorcerors can get pretty wild when they've had a few."
"If it's a party, why weren't we invited? You know how old shelldrawers likes to show off your music."
"So it isn't a party. What if they're friends of Clothahump's from far away and they don't want to be disturbed?"
"I don't care if they're visiting from another planet. I've got a busy day tomorrow and I need my beauty sleep." Angrily she put her fists on her hips. This did wonderful things to the rest of her body. He stared at her, sitting there next to him in bed, the moonlight highlighting the shadows and secret places of her body, and his thoughts drifted from the continuing commotion next door.
"You don't need any beauty sleep. You're perfect already." He reached for her.
"Oh no." She skittered away from his hands and smiled determinedly at him. "I didn't wake you up for that. At least, not right now." Her expression softened. "Can't you go over there and tell them to keep it down? Even if they are wizards." Another burst of noise from the turtle's tree punctuated her request.
He eyed her longingly for another moment, then turned and slipped from beneath the covers. Winter was loosening its grip reluctantly this year, so he stepped into slippers and a heavy robe. While Clothahump could dimensionally expand the interior of a tree to provide its occupants with spacious living quarters, he had yet to figure out a practical way to heat one without burning the tree itself to the ground.
Walking to the single bedroom window, he gazed across the sleeping flowers toward the immense ancient oak that the wizard called home. He thought he saw lights flickering inside, but that could be an illusion cast by the dimension spell. If it was a torch or glow bulb, it probably meant that Clothahump had caught his famulus in the chemicals again and was chasing him around the tree. He said as much to Talea without turning to face her. If he saw her sitting there naked on the bed he wouldn't be able to concentrate on anything else.
They had been living together for several months. Time enough to discover that she was as adept at making love as she had been at picking pockets, the latter a distressing habit he was having a hard time breaking her from. The dimensionally expanded tree had been a present from Clothahump. Designed, she'd noted sardonically, to make sure Jon-Tom stayed close to his mentor. Clothahump wanted Jon-Tom close at hand in case he had any more potentially lethal errands to be run. But that hadn't been reason enough for her to turn the gift down.
"Clothahump's the world's greatest wizard. It's not my place to tell him how to behave."
She yanked the heavy quilts back up to her neck. "You need an excuse to stand up to him? Okay—tell him that your sweet, demure little Talea badgered you unmercifully until you had no choice but to stumble over and pretty-please ask him to shut his exalted self up. For the rest of the night, at least. As the greatest wizard in the world I'm sure he can decapitate Sorbl silently. And if it's a party, ask him why we weren't invited." She sat up abruptly. "You do think that's all it is, don't you?"
He glanced back out the window. "I don't know. Clothahump's almost three hundred years old. You can make a lot of enemies in three hundred years. I've never known him to be up this late." More breaking sounds drifted across the space between the trees. What if Sorbl's life wasn't the one in danger?
Leaving the window he walked to the rear of the bedroom and opened the large carved armoire that stood there. In addition to clothes, boots and other personal effects it contained a small, seamless ramwood chest. He opened it and removed a curious, double-stringed instrument from the padded interior.
"If you think there's trouble," said Talea, watching him, "why don't you take your fighting staff instead?"
Jon-Tom cradled the duar against his chest, fiddled with the tuning f-weeps. "If it's a party I'd look a pretty fool barging in with weapons. If Clothahump's just chasing Sorbl maybe I can calm him down. And if it's something else, I'll be better armed with this than the staff."
"Not with your voice." She slid down beneath the covers until only her eyes were visible. Her voice was muffled by the blankets. "Hurry back. If you can get them to shut up over there maybe we can make a little noise of our own over here."
"Just stay like that." He was backing toward the doorway. "Don't move a muscle, not an eyebrow. I'll be back before you can blink."
She blinked, murmured teasingly. "What, back already?"
He turned and walked fast for the parlor, wondering if he ought to take a lantern and as quickly deciding against it. He hadn't mastered any fire songs yet and his precious supply of matches was down to four. Besides, he didn't need any more light, not with the moon half full on a clear night.
As he shut the tree door behind him the chill night air scratched his throat. He bundled the robe's heavy collar up tight. Based on where the moon was pinned to the sky he thought it was between three and four A.M. An uncivilized time to be awake, much less to be tramping through hibernating flowers clad only in furry slippers and a downy robe. He knew he cut an absurd figure in the moonlight, even though there were only small nocturnal flying lizards and phosphorescent branch crawlers present to observe his passage.
As he neared the wizard's tree he slowed to peer in the front window. The parlor was dark, which strongly suggested that Clothahump was not in a partying mood. The skylight which looked down into the laboratory was equally blank.
Probably nothing more than the usual wizard-apprentice infighting, he groused silently. Here he'd roused himself out of a warm bed and away from a warm woman to find out that the combatants had retired for the evening immediately prior to his arrival.
Might as well make a thorough job of it, he told himself, to placate Talea's suspicions if nothing else. He made his way around to the back of the tree. A huge root half the height of man emerged from the flank of the great oak to plunge at a gentle angle down into the earth. Set into the side of the root was a door which led not to a root cellar, but into the rear of the wizard's kitchen. The door was secured with a massive padlock.
A few appropriate notes from his duar sufficed to spring the seal. The magic words the wizard employed would have taken less time, but Jon-Tom always had a hard time remembering them. Pulling the door aside, he peered inward. No light, but this time he thought he could make out the muffled mutter of distant conversation. There was more than one voice and the whole conversation sounded agitated. He thought he recognized Clothahump's solemn tone and Sorbl's high-pitched whine.
But other voices were present.
It was not unknown for wizards to entertain visitors at odd hours, but such meetings were always held in the front parlor, not in the kitchen. He hesitated as he thought about returning home to get his ramwood fighting staff. But having already refused to bring it, such a return would only make him look foolish in Talea's eyes. Anyway, he didn't need the ramwood. He had his duar.
He felt his way down the steps that led into the tree. They led him into the back of the pantry, which was filled with preserved crawfish, river greens, bottles and jars of spices and flavorings and dressings and every other sort of victual that might appeal to the palate of a discriminating two-hundred-and-fifty-year-old turtle.
Carefully he opened the pantry door. A dim glow bulb cast faint light through the kitchen. The voices, much louder now, came from beyond. The lab was to his right down a narrow corridor. The dining room lay straight ahead. Closing the door quietly behind him, he tiptoed past the stove where Sorbl the owl toiled daily and leaned against the kitchen--dining area divider.
It was easy to make out what was being said. The voice that was currently speaking did not sound like that of an invited guest.
"Where is it? I'm getting tired of asking the same question, wizard!"
Jon-Tom clutched the duar close to his chest and slowly nudged the door outward. The glow bulbs in the dining room were running at maximum intensity and he could see clearly. Wings fastened to his side, his clawed feet tied together and his beak taped shut, Sorbl sat bound to a chair. Clothahump had been secured to another chair in the center of the room. The dining table had been shoved to one side.
Three figures confronted the stubborn wizard. None looked to be the sort one would invite to elevate the general level of conversation at a casual soiree. A tall, muscular wolf leaned on the shaft of his battle-axe and picked his teeth. Jon-Tom saw that he had only one eye. The other socket had been filled with a large cabachon citrine which sparkled piss-yellow in the glow-bulb light.
A civet cat lounged against a chair next to him. The cat's sword rested in its sheath and he held a bucket from which rose thick steam. To his right stood the portly individual who had been doing most of the talking Jon-Tom had overheard. The guinea pig was not cute. At four feet he had to stretch to lean over the back of the chair to which Clothahump was tied. He wore a suit of thin chain mail which jangled as he hopped up and down in anger and frustration.
Clothahump had retreated completely into his shell. The wizard's hands, feet and head were not visible. The guinea pig was leaning over the opening in the top of the shell and screaming inside. Ugly scars showed on his neck where the hair had never grown back.
"Come out of there, damn you! I'm tired of talking to a carapace." He started to reach inside with a paw, thought better of it and did not. Then he stepped back and nodded to the civet cat. To Jon-Tom's horror he saw that the bucket held boiling hot mud, which the cat was preparing to dump down Clothahump's shell.
The threat was sufficient to induce Clothahump to slowly stick out his head. He squinted in the light, his hexagonal glasses unsteady on his beak. Obviously he and Sorbl had been surprised while sleeping, before either could take any defensive action.
"For the last time, I am telling you to get out while you still have a chance." Clothahump sniffed disdainfully. "I am the world's greatest wizard. Tying me to a chair will not prevent me from turning all of you into walking flagons of pain. I will strip the flesh from your bones, slowly and agonizingly. It is only out of the goodness of my heart and out of sympathy for such blatantly ignorant morons as yourselves that I have not done so already!"
The wolf cast a hesitant glance in the direction of his leader, but the boss of the bandits wasn't fazed in the slightest by the wizard's threat.
"Typical turtle drivel. If you could do anything to us you would have done so already. Without ready access to your potions and powders you're helpless. Empty threats irritate patience already grown thin. For the last time, I say, tell us where your gold is hidden!"
"For the last time," Clothahump replied in an irritated mutter, "I tell you that I have no gold. I have better things to do with my time than spend it amassing a useless fortune. My house is rich in knowledge only, a treasure beyond compare which lies forever beyond the grasp of your soiled fingers. As my servant can attest, I keep on hand only enough money to pay my household expenses, which are not exorbitant." At this blatant attempt to deflect the thieves' attention to him, Sorbl squirmed nervously in his chair, his vast yellow eyes wider even than usual.
The guinea pig spat on the clean floor. "Everyone knows that wizards like to keep treasure close about 'em." He cast sharp glances in all directions. "There are riches in this tree. I can smell them." His whiskers quivered as he looked back into Clothahump's eyes.
"The sun will be up soon and I'm tired of talking. I've no time for visiting noseybodies." He nodded to the civet cat. "Let's see how the old fakir likes having something a little warmer than his shell next to his skin."
The cat grinned and raised the steaming bucket. Clothahump eyed it until the first drop of hot mud began to slide over the rim. "No, wait. I'll tell you."
Holding the bucket in position, the cat glanced to his leader for instructions.
"All right, that's better. What's a little lost gold to the 'greatest wizard in the world'?" The guinea pig shoved his bristly face right up against Clothahump's. "Tell us your secret place, then, and be quick about it."
"A moment, if you please, to catch my breath." The bandit gestured curtly for the civet cat to back off. "I must think—I am very old and have not had the need to check on the condition of my hoard for some time. As your small minds have no doubt already noticed, this tree contains many more rooms than one would think to look upon it from outside."
"I've seen dimension-expanding spells at work before." The guinea pig was tapping his sword sheath impatiently. "Don't try to impress me with such as that, and don't think to stall me, either."
"Please be quiet." Clothahump closed his eyes, bowed his head forward. "I have to concentrate."
Heretofore, Clothahump's reputation had been enough to keep would-be thieves away from his sanctuary. These three were much bolder than the rest—or much stupider. They didn't know enough to be frightened. That did not lessen the threat they posed to the old sorceror.
Three common thugs. Well, he could deal with them easily enough.
He took a step back and kicked open the door. It slammed against the dining room wall with a sound like a cannon going off. The civet cat nearly dropped the bucket of hot mud he was threatening Clothahump with while the guinea pig did a complete turn in midair. Raising his battle-axe, the wolf bared his fangs and assumed a defensive pose.
Jon-Tom glared down at the trio of intruders, well aware that he towered over the tallest of them. "It's too early in the morning for fun and games." He ignored wolf and civet cat and spoke directly to the guinea pig. "That means it's time for sensible beings who want to live to see another morning to be in bed. That includes bewhiskered butterballs with bad table manners. The lot of you have five seconds to clear out before I reduce you all to gibbering mush."
So saying and having already chosen a suitable tune, he plucked out a few chords on the duar. The civet cat jumped away from the noise and tossed the mud bucket aside, splattering the floor. The wolf winced visibly. So did Sorbl for that matter, but not Clothahump.
Excerpted from The Time of the Transference by Alan Dean Foster. Copyright © 1987 Thranx, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews