Another Fine Myth is the first installment in Robert Asprin's series of humorous fantasy novels known as "the Myth Adventures." In 1978, when this book first appeared, this was rather an original concept, which is why I enjoyed the early books of the series. As the years dragged on, though, my enjoyment waned and I eventually came to have bad feelings about the entire endeavor. As anyone who knows me well is aware, I'm actually not a fan of humorous fantasy novels, even ones as supposedly well-written as the "Discworld" books, of which I have not read a single word and have no intention of doing so (Please don't use the comments to try to dissuade me from this. Seriously).
Nevertheless, Another Fine Myth is a good, if light, read. Its plot concerns Skeeve, an apprentice wizard with a knack for thievery. Indeed, his skills as a thief far outstrip those as a magician, a fact his master says is retarding Skeeve's ability to cast spells with any success. Hoping to shock some sense into him, his master decides to show Skeeve the true power of magic by summoning a demon, which he does just as a magical assassin appears. The assassin and Skeeve's master slay one another, leaving the apprentice behind to deal with the strange, reptilian demon.
As it turns out, "demon" is simply a slang word for traveler between dimensions. The traveler Skeeve's master has summoned is known as Aahz and he offers to take Skeeve on as his apprentice, teaching him magic, since his own ability to use magic has been temporarily lost due to the summoning ritual that brought him to Skeeve's world. Of course, the assassin that killed the master was not alone and his comrades are now after Skeeve, which is why he and Aahz flee, hoping to evade them long enough for the demon to teach Skeeve the magic they need to survive all these people wanting them dead for reasons as yet unknown to them.
What follows is a humorous fantasy picaresque filled with all manner of bizarre situations and strange characters, especially the latter. Asprin had a real knack for creating quirky, yet oddly believable, characters and I suspect that he's had a strong influence on my own NPC characterizations, which can be quite ... unusual, as my players will attest. Likewise, the central premise is a classic fantasy one: a nobody in the "real" world, in this case a fairly mundane fantasy one, finds himself thrust into a much bigger -- and more dangerous -- world than he ever realized existed, along the way acquiring knowledge, power, and influence he otherwise never would have possessed. Sound familiar?
There's lots of good ideas to mine in this novel and its sequels, particularly if one doesn't take one's fantasy too seriously. As I said, I found the later books increasingly less good. I suspect that Asprin kept writing them because they continued to sell well rather than because he had anything new to say with these characters. It's a common problem in genre fiction, where interminable series seem to be the norm. Mind you, the same is true of roleplaying games, where the power of "the brand" generally wins out over anything resembling esthetic integrity. Regardless, Another Fine Myth at least is worth a read if you've never had the chance to do so. Asprin is an under-appreciated writer and I think one gains a better sense of his unique virtues from his early books rather than his later ones.