Apple’s series Mythic Quest took a trip back in time in its latest episode, providing a bit of backstory for the show’s head writer, a washed-up science fiction author named C.W. Longbottom, and the story that made his career: Tears of the Anaren (pronounced Tares with an exaggerated, trilled R in Anaren).
There’s a bit of backstory required here. Mythic Quest is one of Apple’s original shows for its streaming platform, Apple TV+, created by Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Charlie Day, Megan Ganz, and Rob McElhenney about a video game studio’s staff and their efforts to create an MMORPG called Mythic Quest. McElhenney plays the studio’s egotistical founder, Ian Grimm, and is joined by lead engineer Poppy Li (Charlotte Nicdao) and head writer, C.W. Longbottom (F. Murray Abraham).
Longbottom’s one of those character’s who has appeared on the periphery of the studio’s staff—a science fiction writer who once won the Nebula Award for best novel, but is now pretty out of touch with the modern entertainment world, and seems like he’s just one or two complaints to HR from getting tossed out for being a creep.
One of the things that made my ears perk up in the show’s first season was the mention of the Nebula Award—it’s just not a thing you typically see in a TV series. Over the course of the show, we’ve had some glimpses into Longbottom’s past—he won the award, and had a meandering career that includes a long-unfinished fantasy saga that his publisher has begun to threaten to finish without him.
Now in its second season, the series has expanded a bit to explore the lives of some of its side characters–Danny Pudi’s head of monetization Brad Bakshi got one episode, and last week, Longbottom got his own backstory fleshed out. In the episode “Backstory!” viewers went back to the 1970s to see where Longbottom got his start as an aspiring writer, with some neat cameos along the way.
We’re introduced to Carl Longbottom (played by Silicon Valley‘s Josh Brener) at the start of the episode—a bright-eyed writer who submitted a story and was summoned to the offices of Amazing Tales magazine (edited by Sol Green who is played by the episode’s writer, Craig Mazin, best known for writing HBO’s Chernobyl), where he’s been hired as a junior copyeditor along with two other aspiring authors: Peter Cromwell (Michael Cassidy) and A.E. Goldsmith (Shelley Henning). They learn that they’ve been selected because while their stories weren’t publishable, they were grammatically impeccable.
It’s a dream job for the trio, who get a glimpse of some of their heroes in the building—Isaac Asimov (Chet Grissom), Ray Bradbury, and Ursula K. Le Guin (Nicole Ghastin). They agree to read each other’s stories: A.E. wrote Transistor Moon, Peter wrote The Horror of Westerly Mansion, and Carl wrote Tears of the Anaren.
They make copies and read their submissions. Goldsmith’s is the furthest along, and she and Cromwell quickly click as they share suggestions. Longbottom’s story, on the other hand, is far more amateurish, and and they politely rip it to shreds. Longbottom is arrogant, frustrated, and hurt, but goes about making some of their changes and turns it into a novel, only to be soundly rejected by the group again. To add salt into the wound, Goldsmith’s story is accepted for publication.
Still upset, Longbottom has a chance encounter with Asimov in the elevator, and after finding him signing copies of the magazine in another room, hands him his manuscript to ask for help. Asimov takes it, and sends it back, thanking him for letting him read it, and providing a few suggestions.
Those few suggestions are essentially a re-write of the entire novel, and after staring at the pages, Lognbottom hits the figurative “accept all changes” button, and gets the book published. The resulting Asimov-written book goes on to get Longbottom his Nebula award, something that Goldsmith points out after the 1973 awards ceremony. (In real life, that year’s Nebula Awards saw Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama take the top honor, with Poul Anderson, David Gerrold, Robert Heinlein, and Thomas Pynchon also nominated.)
Years later, we catch up with Longbottom at a renaissance fair where he’s drunkly cooking chicken, and Grimm recruits him to help write his new video game.
Now, Apple has released the story in its original draft form as an ebook and audiobook. It’s short—only 38 pages (and 40 or so minutes as an audiobook), but it’s a neat tie-in to the series, played as a goofy, tongue-in-cheek read that pays a bit of homage to the 1960s/70s era of the genre.
It opens with an introduction from Grimm, who says that the book “found me in my formative years, opened my eyes, and set me on a path towards becoming the visionary behind Mythic Quest.” As a bonus, the audiobook (which is well-produced, with sound effects and music) is narrated by McElhenney and Abraham.