Two Ordinary People from Mundania travel to Xanth to defeat a rogue Night Colt in the latest in a beloved series from bestselling author Piers Anthony. The Night Colt has one ambition: to deliver dreams to the deserving. Unfortunately, only Night Mares can take on this task, and the Colt has no hope of leading his own herd if he can’t get any practice. . . . So he’s struck a deal with a Mundane. During the hours when the Night Mares rest—dusk and dawn—the duo plants stories in the air, compelling the people of Xanth to enact them—whether they want to or not. Unwilling to participate in these fantasies, the princesses of Xanth, Dawn and Eve, come up with a plan to fight the menacing pair, but they’ll need the help of two unlikely heroes to succeed.In Mundania, a mysterious painting entrances Ordinary People Tartan and Tara. But why do they each see something different when they look at it? They quickly learn that it’s not a painting after all, but a portal to a magical world. With nothing to lose, they climb through the portal into Xanth and are met with a plea to help stop the Night Colt and his ghost writer.Tartan and Tara don’t hesitate to join the quest to save Xanth from the ultimate pun-tastrophe. Together with their new friends, they’ll begin a journey full of magic and romance—and, of course, puns—that will lead them to a long-lost prince, a beautiful dragoness, the goddess Isis, and a demon named Ted.With rip-roaring humor and nonstop adventure, the newest addition to Piers Anthony’s popular Xanth series is sure to enchant fans of epic fantasy.Ghost Writer in the Sky is the 41st book in the Xanth series, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
Piers Anthony has written dozens of bestselling science fiction and fantasy novels. Perhaps best known for his long-running Magic of Xanth series, many of which are New York Times bestsellers, he has also had great success with the Incarnations of Immortality series and the Cluster series, as well as Bio of a Space Tyrant and others. Much more information about Piers Anthony can be found at www.HiPiers.com.
Read an Excerpt
Ghost Writer in the Sky
A Xanth Novel
By Piers Anthony
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2017 Open Road Integrated Media
All rights reserved.
Goar was in a foul mood. He hated his job as Night Watchman and Cleanup Man at the local Fracking Complaints Office, partly because teens liked to throw anonymous stink bombs, but mostly because it was a urine-poor chore in itself. When a bomb got through, not only did Goar have to clean it up, using caustic floor wash that burned his eyes, he got the blame for the remaining smell that could not be completely extinguished. But what could he do? It was the only night job available in town, and he was a dedicated night owl. It gave him time to be by himself and dream his dream of becoming a famous writer. If only he had time for that.
He had tried small pieces and submitted them to publishers. He had real hopes for "The Head," about a headache as a life form that kept seeking new heads to honor for a while, but whose aspirations were in the lavatory. Pretty much like his literary career, actually. Then there was "Camelflage," wherein a camel was really good at hiding, confounding its mean master. What genius ideas! But the rejections arrived almost before the pieces went out. So he tried posting some free on story comment sites, to garner reader comments. One was "Demon Sun," phrased as an adventure of solar exploration, whose protagonist kept finding himself mysteriously changing sizes. The key was in the pun: Demon Sun = Dimension. What a phenomenal surprise ending! Yet online reviews had suggested that he should try tasks more appropriate to his intellectual capacity, like ditch digging or castrating chickens. So that was no good; story sites were evidently ruled by jealous idiots. What he needed was to get into a novel, where his full range of talent could be exploited. But that would require more focus than he could muster at the moment.
This night there had been two stink bombs and a firecracker that landed in his pail and blasted soapy water all over his legs. What a mess! And of course he hadn't caught the guilty teens, who zoomed by in silent cars, tossing their missiles out the windows as they sped by. Sure there was a curfew, but they ignored it with impunity. The police had better things to do than chase after boys who would be boys.
Goar's name meant "fighter," but the only fighting he did was in his imagination. One day he would write the Great American Fantasy Novel with plenty of magic combat, adventure galore, and breathtakingly lovely damsels. If he ever got time to write. As it was he worked by night and slept by day, with the interstice time spent on the dull details of mundane existence. It felt like a treadmill going nowhere.
His romantic life was no better. His last attempted date had quoted from a popular song: "Catch yourself a trolly car that goes into the sea." He wasn't sure what she meant by that, but it sounded negative.
There was a letter in his box with a lawyerly return address. Was somebody suing him? That might at least make life more interesting. Goar opened and heated a can of mushroom soup for breakfast, not bothering with a bowl or spoon — why generate more dishes to wash, when he lacked a woman to wash them? — and settled down to read the letter as he sipped.
Then his jaw dropped almost into his soup. It was a notice relating to the estate of Great Uncle Hoarfrost, who it seemed had recently died. Goar had known him only vaguely, and the crusty old man had never liked him. But it seemed Hoarfrost had mentioned Goar in his will, with this terse message: "Now you will suffer as you deserve, you poor excuse for a cow-flop. Make the most of it." Par for that course. So had the ornery character willed him a white elephant?
Then it described the inheritance: a generous amount in the form of interest from untouchable principal that would pay Goar enough each month to live on, indefinitely. As long as he focused on writing, producing at least a token amount each month, which he would have to send in to a listed Cloud office. When he missed a month, the allowance would be cut off for that month, and if he stopped entirely the account would be terminated. That was what was astounding. Uncle Hoarfrost was in effect paying him to be a writer.
The old man thought that was punishment? "Please don't throw me in that briar patch, Unc!" Goar murmured, smiling.
He called the lawyer's office, just to be sure this wasn't a practical joke. He didn't get the lawyer, of course, but the secretary had anticipated him. "Your uncle says in a codicil, no, it's not a joke. I quote: 'Look at page two, dumbbell.'"
Goar flipped the page. There was a check for the first month. It looked authentic. The behest was real.
Well, now. He would certainly take advantage of this amazing opportunity to become a successful and maybe famous writer. But first things first. He typed an email to his employer: "Take this job, liquify it, and shove it up your leaky tubes. Find someone else to mop up your fecal matter. In sum, frack it! I quit."
Then he turned in for the day. Better to sleep on it before he tackled the writing itself. Just in case this was actually a glorious dream.
He slept well, waking in the afternoon for a lunch of canned spaghetti with chocolate crackers. They were running low; he would have to get out and shop for more. The message and check remained. The deal was real.
Instead of heading off to work, he sat at his computer, ready to start typing his masterpiece. And discovered that his mind was blank. It was as if a stink bomb had scored on his imagination, making it reek. He had no idea of a title, let alone a story line. It seemed he had dreamed of having written a wonderful novel without actually working out its details. Such as a plot. Such as characters. Such as a unifying theme.
Oh, well. He tried. The Great American Fantasy Novel, he typed neatly in italics. Once upon a time there was a poor excuse for a cowflop — oops, writer — whose fabled ability as a storyteller was all in his weak imagination.
He didn't even need to reread that before deleting it. For one thing, the main text shouldn't be in italics. He tried again.
Once upon a time there was a handsome prince who — Who did what? Well, maybe it would work better with a pretty girl.
Once upon a time there was a lovely princess who — what, lay down in her own loveliness? And why was he still in italics?
A wee small voice in the murky back of his mind tried to hint that maybe uncle Hoarfrost had known what he was doing. Forcing Goar to put up or shut up, and so far he was shutting up. He was indeed starting to suffer.
Maybe princes or princesses weren't sufficiently magical. Try something that was all magic, like a genie. Once upon a time there was a family of seven genies. G Ermaine was the Genie of Relevance. G Olf was the patron of little white balls. G Nius was the most intelligent. G Ode did his magic with crystals. G Mini was a small pair of twins.
Oh, wait — that would add a genie, making the total eight. All right, so make it eight genies. Or was the plural still genie? He would look it up in due course.
G Em Stone was rare and precious, but her brother G Eneric was rather common. So one fine day the seven or eight genie(s) went out to have a great adventure.
The text stalled. What adventure? He was back to square one. Just when he was going so well. Sigh. Delete.
Well, maybe a different protagonist. Once upon a time there was a walking skeleton with fat bones. Worse, he suffered from osteoporosis. All of the other skeletons used to laugh and call him names. They never let poor —
Maybe something less ambitious, to start?
Once there was some pocket change that was constantly changing pockets. All it wanted was to rest in the same pocket for a while. But then it wouldn't be change.
He struggled all night, determined not to give up, but just got more frustrated. He generated unprinted reams of deleted efforts that hardly deserved the name of prose. He seemed to have a huge mental block that prevented him from writing. In fact, it was Writer's Block. He had thought that was humor, but it was turning out to be deadly serious.
As dawn approached, he fell into a daze, as this was normally the time he came home and got ready for sleep. Then something weird occurred.
There was the sound of horse's hooves echoing on his roof, which was odd because he lived in a basement apartment; the roof was ten floors up. Then a black horse came through the wall as if it were made of smoke. The horse halted right in front of Goar as he sat facing the computer, but now the computer wasn't there, just the horse.
"We must talk," the horse said.
Goar focused on what he could manage at the moment. "Your lips didn't move. How can you talk?" Let alone the fact that few if any horses talked at all; if you asked them to they said "Neigh!"
"Telepathy," the horse said. "My projected thoughts are entering your mind, and your mind is translating them to your familiar words. Similarly, your thoughts are reaching me, your words being superficial."
Oh. Nice to have an explanation. He was obviously imagining this. Give his imagination some credit for making a modicum of sense. "Um, I never heard of a talking horse, outside of old TV humor programs, and anyway, you don't look like Mister Ed. So what's happening here?"
"I am the Night Colt. I have a deal to propose that may significantly benefit us both, if you are interested."
Goar had been schooled never to look a gift horse in the mouth, but he had never been much for schooling. "Why should I make any deal with an imaginary horse? It will dissipate the moment I wake up. I may be a fool, but there are limits."
"I see you desire more background, but I don't want to bore you."
Was that a warning? "Bore me," Goar said.
"I come from the fabled Land of Xanth. Are you familiar with it?"
"It's a magic realm resembling the state of Florida with added dragons, tangle trees, nickelpedes — "
"Whoa, there, horsie! I know what dragons are, but then you veered to left field. Can you flash me pictures, maybe?"
"Yes." The Colt flashed him pictures of carnivorous trees with green tentacles instead of leaves that grabbed unwary passers-by and hauled them in for meals. Also of bugs like giant centipedes with pincers that gouged out nickle-sized chunks of flesh. "Many Mundanes are eager to visit Xanth."
Goar was taken aback. "Why should anyone ever want to go there?"
The Colt flashed another picture, this time of attractive nude nymphs running around, screaming cutely, kicking their lovely legs high, and swinging their long hair around fetchingly. "They love to celebrate with men in the natural way."
Goar licked his lips. It had been some time since he had had a girlfriend, even one wanting to put him on a trolley to the sea, and she hadn't looked remotely like that. Nor had she been eager to "celebrate." In fact it was just after he had made his interest known that she made her remark. Possibly that was not coincidence. "Point made. Go on."
"Xanth is a kingdom where every citizen has a magic talent, ranging from the simple ability to make a spot on a wall, up to making motions slow or even freeze, or even Magician caliber transforming to other shapes. It is also largely made of puns."
"Oh, crap. Right when it was getting interesting." He had just spent the night trying to wrestle puns into a writable story, and was sick of them.
"You might like some of the puns. Shoes grow on shoe trees. Panties grow in pantrees. Zombies live in Zombie Houses. Step on an Infant Tile and turn into an infant. Shin digs."
"Music that lures you in, only to feel a kick in the shin. A little like Boot Rear."
"It's a pun. You get a kick out of it."
"I see. Continue."
"Then there's the husky tail that lends people different talents, the Tail Lent. Lots of people would like to grow one of those. And some folk dwell in cheese cottages."
Goar grimaced. "Cottage cheese?" But he was becoming intrigued. Maybe this land would be worth visiting, if only for its weirdness. "How could I get there for a look-see?"
"You can't. Not physically. Only in your imagination."
"Double crap!" Goar swore. "If I had imagination, I'd be writing my novel."
"Yes, I sensed your frustration. That's what summoned me."
"Okay, you call yourself the Night Colt. Exactly what does that mean?"
"As I said, I don't want to — "
"Bore me," Goar commanded.
"In Mundania, which is the dreary realm you occupy, folk mostly generate their own bad dreams. But in Xanth these dreams are crafted under the direction of the Night Stallion, and delivered to worthy dreamers by the Night Mares. It's quite an industry, as they devise the screenplays and get them acted out by licensed actors, then deliver them to each sleeper. Similarly the Day Mares deliver daydreams to waking clients. Those are generally pleasant, such as finding patches of jelly bean plants, each bean a different flavor, like grape, strawberry, cherry, or other jelly, and completely non-fattening. The Night Stallion has a comprehensive catalog of sleepers who deserve punishment, so as to know exactly when and to whom to make every delivery. Timing is vital. It's an essential job." The Colt paused. "One I would very much like to assume, one day."
"Oho! You crave advancement."
"Exactly. I'd love to rule the herd, and have access to all those mares, apart from the importance of the position. But the Night Stallion is jealous of any possible competition, and ruthlessly eliminates any males that make the scene. I dare not go abroad by night lest he catch me and destroy me. But neither can I go abroad openly by day, where the day horses are; I'm a night horse. I have to remain completely silent and invisible, on pain of extinction."
"So you're up the creek without much of a paddle, let alone canoe."
"Exactly," the Colt agreed again. "I need to survive until my time comes, but I am severely constrained. I can risk it only between shifts, when neither the days nor the nights are out. That's half an hour before dawn and half an hour after sunset."
"What do you do in those limited times?"
"So far, nothing. But I could deliver bad dreams, if I had them. I can't craft them, because I'm a deliverer, not a creator. I need a private source."
"I think I'm beginning to get a glimmer. You want me to craft you some dreams to carry, so you can torment sleepers."
"Almost," the Colt agreed. "I can't deliver bad dreams, because that's the province of the mares. Also, if I go abroad before dawn, many of my subjects would wake before the dreams really take hold, wasting my effort."
"So you're screwed," Goar said.
"Gelded," the Colt agreed. "But there may be a loophole. Suppose I deliver a dream of any type just before the client wakes — to take effect in the waking state? Not a daydream, but a happening? It would give me valuable practice without technically violating either the night or day realms."
"Maybe so," Goar agreed thoughtfully. "But tell me this: why should I bust my behind crafting dreams for you to take the credit for? What's in it for me?"
The Colt hesitated. "May I speak candidly?"
"Speak," Goar said. "I really want to know."
"You are a failed writer. You have never written anything worthwhile, and now have walked smack into a Block so you can't write even bad stories."
That was more candor than Goar had sought, but he had to concede its accuracy. "So I'm a dismal flop as a writer, just as my scheming uncle said. How can I prove him wrong?"
"By doing what you can do, which is devising apt titles and opening situations, then letting them play out with real people in Xanth. Let them work out the continuations for you, because they will have no choice. You can put them into situations that they must find their ways clear of."
Goar considered. "It might be like seeing my stories made into movies, and I could watch what happens and make notes."
"Exactly," the Colt said once more. "Then you could write the full stories, having seen their continuations, and be on your way to success and fame."
"If I can't go to Xanth myself, how will I know what happens there?"
"You can't go there, but I can. I can't show myself by day, as I explained, but I can be there, and watch what happens, then tell you in the dusk session."
The notion had its appeal. "But suppose — "
"Oops, my time is up," the Colt said. "I shall return at dusk." He faded out.
And Goar woke up. Had it all been a dream? More correctly, had it been real? The Night Colt visiting him in the dream state, but with a real deal? This seemed likely, because otherwise it evinced more imagination than Goar had managed all night, literally.
Well, he had about twelve hours to prepare for the next stage, assuming it was real. He needed to devise some story titles and settings for the Colt to deliver.
What titles? What stories? His Block remained in force.
Excerpted from Ghost Writer in the Sky by Piers Anthony. Copyright © 2017 Open Road Integrated Media. 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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Not my favorite but still worth the read. It was a little hard to follow for the first read with the popping in if characters. However I will reread after I go back a few books.
Have enjoyed becoming part of the world of Xanth and look forward to seeing more.?.but will admit to becoming a little lost in some of the details of this one ( Ghost writers) along the time of Metra joining the group in the multiple worlds . Still will remain a great fan since the age of 13, I'm 57 now. Greatest joy would be to meet you one day and have my ragged, re-read copy of A Spell for Chameleon signed! So until your next novel, stay well, be happy and thank you so much.
Another great time in the magical world of Xanth. I have read them all and some are better than others, this being of the later persuasion. Dear Piers your author notes remind me of me lol without your bennifits lol
Great book, fun puns, still trying to read them all
Ghost Writer in the Sky (Xanth, #41) by Piers Anthony Never to disappoint new readers can get lost in Xanth again as they follow two mundanes as they try to solve one of the mysteries of magical land. The new readers will find indication of other stories, and old readers get the reminder of their favorite stories. Like all Xanth stories the Puns are profound. It is an uproarious laughter when the puns are the cause of the problems, or the solution to them. This is a lovely jaunt in a land of mischievous nature. This book stands entirely on its own, just allowing the reader to begin again their love affair with Xanth.