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11. GET OFF MY CLOUD
What happens when a novelist has a breakdown from writing too many science-fiction stories? In Marsham Craswell's case he goes into a semi-coma and starts living his stories. Such is the power of Craswell's imagination that it has exiled him to a fantasy planet where, as the Mighty Multan of the Sword, keeper of the great diamond and destroyer of the legions of Dok-men. And to Stephen, the psychiatrist intent on saving him, there is only one hope: to "introduce" someone into the Craswell fantasy world. That someone has to be the sort of sane, dependable extrovert capable of dominating Craswell's imagination with his own commonsense reality and thus of talking him back to consciousness. And who better than Stephen's witty sport-writer friend, Pete?
Pete's willingness to help begins to wane, however, when he learns that the "introduction" is to be by means of a unique two-way encephalograph capable of linking his mind with Craswell's. Also he has to be sure to avoid finding any sympathy with the Sci-Fi fantasy for fear that he too will be caught up irrevocably on the Craswell planet.
And indeed, when Stephen throws the switch and Pete blinks at the forbidding green desert of Istak, he begins to wonder at his chances. Craswell, in full warrior gear, is reluctant to recognise Pete's existence. But when Pete starts trying to destroy the fantasy by conjuring up such earthy objects as phone-booths, village bobbies, and taxi-cabs, Craswell retaliates by proclaiming him Nelpar the mighty magicians. Having thus written Pete into the story, Craswell resumes his quest for the Snake.
Not until they meet Garor, the ravishing priestess and keeper of the Snake does Craswell's determination start to falter as Pete gleefully shrinks her outfit to a revealing mini-armour. But with Garor around, Pete finds himself beginning to enjoy, even sympathise with, the fantasy. And the next thing they are staked down in a pit being approached by a giant spider - a creature for which Pete has an acute real-life phobia. For a moment it looks as though Craswell's imagination will win. But at the last moment Pete's commonsense prevails, and they all surface safely in the hospital ward. Fine - until Pete starts meeting the Craswell coma characters in the real world outside - including Garor.
Written by Peter Phillips