Earlier, I reviewed Brian Daley’s Coramonde dualogy of fantasy novels. While I loved Coramonde, I think the Floyt/Fitzhugh trilogy is the best thing Mr. Daley wrote, and is certainly the one that made the strongest impression on me.
The trilogy consists of Requiem for a Ruler of Worlds, Jinx on a Terran Inheritance, and Fall of the White Ship Avatar. Just the titles are evocative, unusual, memorable, and interesting, fully fitting to their respective books yet only able to be understood when you pick up the book and read it. It could also easily be called the Third Breath trilogy, as it takes place during the “Third Breath” of mankind’s expansion into the Galaxy, but in truth it’s a story of two characters: Hobart Floyt, Functionary Third Class in a regimented, moribund Earth, and Alacrity Fitzhugh, a “breakabout”, a wandering spaceman with a secret in his past, and how the two of them survive inexplicable attacks, uncountable conspiracies, and come to transform not one world or two, but perhaps the destinies of all the worlds of the Third Breath… all because one old man makes a single bequest to a man he has never met.
Requiem for a Ruler of Worlds begins with a prologue, introducing us for the first (and last) time to Caspahr Weir, dying ruler of a multi-system empire he built himself from a beginning as a slave. Even as he prepares for death, someone has guessed he has planned some last, great gesture and recognized it will come from a recent, secret bequest in his will. But they find that even dying, Weir is too stubborn to reveal the secret, why he has chosen to make a bequest to an unknown worker on distant, isolated, insular Earth… and what that bequest might be.
Hobart Floyt is an ordinary man – an administrative Functionary, Third Class, in a future Earth like many that were pictured in the dystopian images of the late 1950s through the 1970s: a world apparently almost covered by sprawling, enclosed megacities of uncountable levels and depth, like Asimov’s Cities in The Caves of Steel carried to their logical conclusion, with virtually everyone slotted into specific and limited functions and the people mostly indulging themselves in meaningless entertainments, many of them distorted, nostalgic re-creations of ancient days. Floyt’s only notable characteristics are a love of bicycling, which he does regularly and shows considerable endurance and surprising strength, and a fascination with genealogy that extends to tracing lines of descent not just on Earth but off it. Other than that he lives a rather ordinary, dull life, punctuated by mild embarrassments and annoyances.
Until a beautiful, unknown woman tries to assassinate him.
And until he is informed that he has been named as an Inheritor of … something… from the recently deceased Caspahr Weir. A “something” that will not be revealed until the Willreading – on Weir’s distant homeworld, and that cannot be claimed unless Floyt is there – in person! – for that reading.
But Earth cut itself off from the Galaxy centuries ago, and its people are conditioned to hate and fear all things alien. Yet Earth cannot pass up this chance; Weir’s bequest could be anything – up to, and including, an entire world. So Floyt must be sent out into the Galaxy where no Earthman has gone in a hundred years. He will need a guide, a protector… yet, from the point of view of Earth’s government, someone dispensable after the mission is complete…
… someone like Alacrity Fitzhugh, breakabout spacer who has had the bad, or possibly good, luck to choose that very time to try to tour Earth… and gets set up for a charge of murder. He can either end up sentenced to death… or undertake one mission under the mysterious “Project Shepherd” – take Hobart Floyt to the Willreading, help him claim his inheritance, and return Floyt – and the inheritance! – to Earth.
To ensure Alacrity follows through, he has to undergo mental conditioning that will (A) prevent him from discussing the conditioning with anyone other than Hobart (or others already in the know, such as the Project Shepherd people), and (B) program him to place Hobart’s welfare and mission success as top priority.
Hobart is similarly reconditioned to accept Alacrity’s leadership, though not to accept much else alien.
The two are sent off, to perform a seemingly simple mission. But there are other forces on the move, some of which don’t want either of the two men to survive to reach the Willreading, let alone collect the bequest, and others who simply want to use the situation for their own ends.
But all of them have no idea just what a force has been unleashed on the Galaxy – least of all the two hapless and clueless causes of the plotting and scheming!
The Floyt/Fitzhugh books are, first and foremost, about these two characters; it is, in many ways, a trilogy of “buddy movies”. I find myself somehow reminded of Torg and Riff from Sluggy Freelance, as there is something very similar to Torg in Hobart’s cluelessness, nice-guy image, and surprising hidden depths, and to Riff in Alacrity’s cynicism, impulsiveness, and concealed ability to be obsessive and even dangerous, and even more in the way both pairs of young men manage to be the focal point for nigh-cosmic forces and events.
There is, however, a third main character, and that is the universe of the Third Breath itself. This is a big, sprawling, chaotic, endlessly energetic universe with uncountable numbers and types of alien species, semi-humans, and humans intermingling without discrimination or care, gypsy caravans IN SPACE!!!, cyborgs, secret agents, ancient conspiracies, legal drugs of a thousand types (and illegal ones of a thousand others), a hundred civilizations spanning thousands of lightyears, and always, always behind them all the legacy of the mysterious, almost mystical Precursors.
There is undoubtedly a considerable inspiration from the Floyt/Fitzhugh novels in Grand Central Arena – much of the … flavor of the Arena is touched by the overall feel of the Third Breath galaxy, and some of the interactions and sports required by Weir’s “Willreading” festivities inspired the concept of the Arena’s “Challenges”.
At the same time, it was clear that Daley himself was drawing on the work of many older authors – the ForeRunners from Norton’s books, for instance – and building on his own experiences and interests.
I very strongly recommend these books, especially since they are now available in Kindle editions. Mr. Daley, alas, is no longer with us… but his work remains, and can still brighten an evening or three. Come, and meet Mr. Hobart Floyt and the blue-gray haired Alacrity Fitzhugh… and watch as they become the random factor that not all the prophets in the universe could have foreseen.