And Eternity (1990) is the seventh and concluding novel1 in Piers Anthony's "Incarnations of Immortality" series. Like almost all of Mr. Anthony's series, Incarnations began promisingly enough before quickly crumbling into madness, redundancy and squick.
The series is built on a nifty little concept. The major abstract functions of human existence are actually offices - the management level of some cosmic bureaucracy. The first book, On a Pale Horse, introduces Death - assigned to harvest a quota of souls. The second book, Bearing an Hourglass, brings in Time, in charge of eradicating paradox. Etc. Etc.
Each book follows the same formula. A not-so-everyday bloke completely unlike you or me gets elevated to the position of Incarnation. There, he fumbles about with his office while Satan (The Incarnation of Evil) hatches plots. Eventually our Incarnation hero comes up with an ingenious way of using his power to outwit Satan. The Devil is foiled. Huzzoodily-doo. From a plot perspective, the bulk of the series is repetitive and harmless - just another excuse for Mr. Anthony to stretch a promising concept to the breaking point.
Mr. Anthony can only write two characters - the clever, active male and the attractive, passive female. That's not an uncommon flaw in fiction. Mr. Anthony circumvents this problem in the Incarnations series, however, by having all of his protagonists somehow related (as opposed to, say, Asimov, who only had male leads and just gave them all the same name). It is the best way of explaining way everyone looks and acts the same: they're genetically similar. We've all probably done this in a D&D campaign - it beats the effort of rolling a new character.
By the third book in the Incarnations of Immortality, what little novelty the series had was worn off. The series waddled its way through volume after volume of ponderous rapiness, supposedly concluding with book five, Being a Green Mother (1987). In that one, the generic female protagonist (related to the female protagonist of book 3, mother to the love interest in book 2 and aunt to the love interest in book 1), has sex a lot (largely, but not entirely, of her own free will) and then conquers Satan by making him fall in love with her. Proving, once and for all, there's nothing that undermines a powerful man like emotional attachment to a woman. It was a lackluster end to a series, but Ol' Yeller was pretty frothy at this point, and needed that trip behind the barn.
Sadly, a year later - and with a different publisher - the series got a new lease on life with For Love of Evil (1988), in which Mr. Anthony retold the entire series from Satan's point of view. It was a surprisingly solid rejuvenation of a stagnant and (supposedly) complete series.2 Although the Incarnation of Evil was a (surprise!) generically intelligent and active protagonist, there was a fair bit of entertainment to be mined in seeing him poke fun at the tiresome heroes of the earlier books. The sex was also, as far as the series went, more occasionally consensual. Plus, as everyone knows, demons are fun.
Two years after that, Piers Anthony produced And Eternity. Never content to let sleeping dogs lie, Mr. Anthony grabbed the bedraggled hound and flung it headlong over a shark. Clearly encouraged by his middling success with Evil, Mr. Anthony went after Good: And Eternity is Piers Anthony writing the story of God. Truly, the end is nigh.
And Eternity stars three women (all attractive, all doormats). Two - Jolie and Orlene - were in previous books. The young Jolie was Satan's first lover until she was brutally raped and murdered. Now she's a ghost. Orlene was Time's lover. She called in some occult favors to get a baby, but it backfired and her son had an incurable disease. So she killed herself and now she's a ghost too. Finally there's Vita, an African-American3 teenage prostitute possessed by the two ghosts. Unable to decide between Maiden, Mother and Whore, Mr. Anthony has actually defied the laws of physics to put all three into the same space.
The book abandons the series' formula and replaces it with a nonsensical scavenger hunt. The soul of Orlene's baby has been smuggled away by Nox, another Incarnation with mysteeeerious motives. In order to retrieve her son and make sure he gets to Heaven, Orlene has to fill a shopping list of Incarnation-related items - a blank soul from Death, a grain of sand from Time, the crusty sock from under Satan's bed, etc. Jolie and Vita are along for the ride. Each of the Incarnations send Orlene on a ridiculous sub-quest - generally something Meaningful that allows Mr. Anthony's sock puppets to whine about the society's conservative mores.
As Orlene fills her cart with fresh McGuffins, she learns what a terrible palce the world is. War, terrorism, overpopulation, age of consent laws... humanity has really littered its nest with awful, inexplicable things. In each case, the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of God. Eventually, Orlene/Jolie/Vita realise that they are bearing witness to a greater scheme - a plan by the other incarniations to replace the inefficient Good with a new office-holder.
The book is a Slinky of set-piece scenes: rigid characters wobbling from one Anthonian polemic to another, inexorably falling down the stairs to insanity. The dialogue, such as it is, is stilted and wooden, with the women providing naïveté and the men responding with pedantry. Nor is there any actual conflict. Satan supposedly has a scheme to stop the replacement of God, but, despite it being his (immortal) life's work, the sum total of his interference is to ask the good guys nicely. "Please will you stop trying to replace God?" "No?" "Ok, well, that's that plot foiled - you meddling kids!".
The troubling aspects of And Eternity begin early. On their initial visit to Nox, Orlene and Jolie run afoul of that Incarnation's creepy sex-magic. Orlene is magically transformed into a man. Immediately, she attempts to rape Jolie. Foiled at the last minute, Orlene blunders into the darkness and shags the (more willing) Nox. The valuable lesson? "Male passion". All men, we learn, are like this. Give us a hole and we'll plug it - by force, if necessary. Why are we not busily raping all the time? "They've learned control," Nox explains (52). Mr. Anthony's vision of the world goes beyond nasty, brutish and short - yet he doesn't actually see this as a bad thing. In fact, as the book goes on, man's natural state is used either as an excuse for poor behaviour or, worse yet, a reason to blame the victim. Ladies, if you wear a skirt, a man will look up it. Frankly, you're lucky he doesn't nail you on the spot. That's nature.
It is important to note that this only applies to heterosexual sex. There are only two mentions of homosexuality - probably the most telling being when when Orlene succinctly refers to it as "ultimate horror". (234). To put things in perspective, Orlene has just returned from witnessing a violent terrorist attack. Prior to that, she served a stint as Death's sidekick, taking dying babies out of dumpsters. Yet, in the Anthonoverse, homosexuality is the worst thing to which she could ever bear witness.
The second mention is when Roque, a middle-aged man, first explains why he can't have sex with the fifteen year old Vita. "'No! You can't be gay!', she exclaimed in horror" (128).4 Fortunately, Roque does not have that "vice". He's not gay, he explains, he's merely a pedophile! Whew! For all his life, he's really, really wanted to have "the wildest of sexual orgies" with a young woman, who "may not even be of legal age". Sadly, as a judge, his dreams are frustrated by those out-moded strictures of society that forbid him from having sweaty liaisons with minors.
The UK edition had pornier ghosts but a less pervy depiction of Vita. She's also a suspiciously mature sort of 15 - on top of being very, very pale.
The sexualisation of minors is a recurring issue in Mr. Anthony's many books, but it may reach its nadir in And Eternity. Vita and Roque are separated by over thirty years. Yet, by the midway point of the book, they're banging like rabbits. Roque's initial resistance is swiftly overcome by that pesky instinctual need to plug holes. And although he has enough self-control to keep himself in check for a while, Roque is soon swayed by the irrefutable arguments of the three women and the Incarnation of Nature. The latter puts in a guest appearance solely to reassure our heroes that "underage" is "only by society's definition, which is seldom honoured in practice" and that Nature sees "no harm in it". In fact, as a prostitute, Vita has already "had plenty of sexual experience already" (118). Which, of course, makes it all completely ok for her to be his "nymphet" (134).
Later, Mr. Anthony continues to score points in his one-sided debate by sending Vita through Purgatory. She spends four days there, but due to timey-wimey-plotty-wotty-bollocks, four years pass on Earth. Vita returns and leaps back into bed with her lover. She's the same girl she was when she was fifteen, but now it is legally approved. Clearly, Mr. Anthony posits, these laws are bullshit.5 The silent reader's response? She is indeed the same girl, as she's still fifteen. This is no less creepy and, also, eew.6
Nor is any of this some sort of Nabakovian character study. Mr. Anthony uses Orlene's ridiculous magical power to sense auras to define what is objectively good in his world. Roque and Vita's sexual relationship passes that test - their behaviour isn't some sort of tasteless excuse for character building; it is declared by the author to be right. He's not raising questions - he's giving the answers. And the answer according to Mr. Anthony? Tap that underage ass.
There's so much more wrong with this book that it is hard to refrain from bullet-points. God, the Incarnation of Good, is solely selected by Christians, with other religions watching harmlessly (and still subject to his edicts). A "princess" is a woman noble enough to share her husband with courtesans, because, of course, men always "want more than is convenient" (261). JHVH, the "Jewish God", meanders around helplessly and owes a favour to Satan, who once took pity on him and stopped the Holocaust. Vita and Jolie - a fifteen-year-old girl and a medieval ghost - debate Evolution vs Creation, and decide, to the satisfaction of the Incarnations, that they both have equal merit. The list goes on and on.
As Anne so often asks, "doesn't anyone think this shit through?" It is hard to encapsulate the omnipresent creepiness of And Eternity. Where other authors meander into squicky sexual politics, their missteps often feel like clumsy blunders. But while these other authors are fumbling through textual manslaughter, Mr. Anthony is busily committing first degree murder. He does think this shit through. His ickiness is premeditated, and this book exists solely as a platform for him to expound - at length - about his dispicable, illegal social theories. The earlier books in the Incarnations series had some semblence of plot, but And Eternity is wholly composed of Mr. Anthony's own distorted preachings. This is the Gospel according to fantasy's creepy uncle. May God have mercy on our souls.
1: There is actually another concluding book. The eighth volume, Under a Velvet Cloak, was self-published in 2007 by Mr. Anthony as part of his Herculean attempt to render every one of his properties into so much fetid glue. By all accounts, Under a Velvet Cloak is so terrible that even And Eternity shines in comparison. I don't wholly believe this, but am in no hurry to discover the truth of the matter.
2: In his self-aggrandizing conclusion to And Eternity, Mr. Anthony explains that the series was meant to be seven volumes all along and the "SERIES CONCLUSION" printed on the cover of Being a Green Mother was a grevious misstep, committed by a publisher he was soon to quit. I remain unconvinced. As evidence, see footnote 1.
3: You'd never know that from the cover art. Add racefail into the mix.
4: Mr. Anthony uses the word "horror" no less than three times in this scene and the one above. Vita feels Orlene's "horror" when Nox threatens "ultimate horror" (234). Then the "exclaiming in horror" (128). Both revealing and lazy.
5: He has a point - very few nations' legal codes take into account the intricacies of multi-dimensional travel. Write your MP or Senator now.
6: "The thrust of his loin and the jet of his culmination" (132). Eeew indeed.
By Jared (@pornokitsch), who wonders what Anthonian hell will be like.