Ramon in Paris by Kiron (Bill Dowling)Ramon for Beginners...

...Who He Is and How He Got That Way

The thing to remember about Ramon is that he was almost 200 years old before he even heard of Amber. His mother was a collie and his father came from a nice neighborhood -- which is to say, mom was probably a prostitute in late 18th-century France and Dad was the amnesiac Corwin of Amber. Not that Ramon ever met either of them as a boy. Indeed, surviving the orphanage might have marked him as unusual in itself -- in prerevolutionary France, orphanages were sometimes called "angel makers."

Actually, that's two things to remember about Ramon -- he's never had any first-hand experience of family. The ties of affection, rivalry and duty that bind the elder Amberites -- even if only in hostility much of the time -- are alien to Ramon. He's read about such things. He's probably discussed them abstractly with some of the finest Shadow Earth minds of the last two centuries. He just hasn't live them.

Our orphan boy was old enough to storm the Bastille and to push tumbrels during the Terror. He took part in some of the nastiest struggles with the Spanish guerillas during the Napoleonic Wars. After 1815 he lived the life of a revolutionary intriguer, at the barricades for gauchiste factions in 1832, 1848 and 1870. With the collapse of the Paris Commune he became terminally disillusioned with socialist revolution and indeed swung hard the other way -- his own sense of alienation inclined him in a rightward direction. He remained a conspirator at heart, but now in the service of reaction.

He was, quite simply, a nasty piece of work.

Ramon came to realize he was stronger than others, faster than others, and just not prone to aging and dying like others.It was enough to make a man philosophical. Fortunately it was not hard for a revolutionary to meet intellectuals, and Ramon's circle of acquaintances came to include most of the 19th century's greatest philosophers, writers and artists. He met Marx and Coleridge, and later, Ruskin and Nietsche. As the century turned, he inaugurated one of his most important identities: Ramon Fernandez, French philosopher of esthetics and associate of the great modernists. Ramon continued to work secretly on behalf of radical right-wing causes, which by this time meant fascism. Back in Spain on behalf of Franco, he had an epiphany of sorts -- he was doing the same thing (chasing Spanish guerillas) that he'd done for Napoleon. Immortality, Ramon decided, had to mean something better than this.

So he decided to Do Something to Improve Mankind. Unfortunately, what he did was accept the position of Minister of Education in the Petain's Vichy French government. This was not a good career move. It was a great way to hit bottom in the self-disgust department, though, and also a very good reason to get out of town and change identities again after the war. It was the middle of the 20th century, Ramon was a displaced European intellectual -- naturally he ended up in California. As Raymond Fredericks, he lived the life of an artsy-fartsy dilettante, befriending science fiction writers, musicians and philosophers.

It was there that a man came, claiming to be his Uncle _________. Ramon was really the son of Corwin of Amber, the one true kingdom and yadda yadda yadda. Corwin was banished from home and it would be dangerous to approach him, but Uncle __________ thought Corwin's exile unfair, and thought it especially unfair that Ramon should be alienated from his heritage. At first Ramon figured it was the drugs. But then his Uncle took him through shadow to a Very Strange Place called Tir Na Nog'th and showed Ramon how to walk the Pattern there. Over the ensuing years his uncle taught Ramon how to use his new abilities. They had some great conversations. Ramon even tried to use his new powers to help his friend, SF author Philip K. Dick, out of a financial jam, but ended up confusing Dick terribly -- Dick interpreted Ramon's help as a kind of gnostic revelation, one he pursued to the end of his life.

Eventually, Uncle ____________ stopped coming around. Ramon traveled in shadow for a time, not daring to seek out his father, his uncle, or Amber itself. Then came the Black Rain and Ramon ceased to exist. What's more, Ramon ceased to ever have existed. And most bizarrely, he knew it too.

Then it passed. But its passing convinced Ramon it was high time to find Amber and learn about this strange family of his. But when he did, he did so as a fully-formed adult. Ramon has no feelings of loyalty toward Amber as such, nor any appetite for power there. (His one stint in government service didn't work out so well.) All of his loyalties are intensely personal (he will do a lot for friends) or stupendously vague (the universe as a whole). He values his close shadow colleagues as much as his "real" cousins. He also was thoroughly sick of intrigue before he ever set foot in Amber. In fact, one of the things about Amber that makes Ramon uncomfortable is how he finds himself slipping back into habits that he thought he had put aside. Ramon shot at his father before he ever spoke to him, for instance. His laid-back California-ism increasingly gives way to a so-far unfocused bitterness.

Bill Dowling's superb trump captures a lot of its subject. The Eiffel Tower, denoting the influence of Ramon's birthplace. The vaguely goth black t-shirts and boots. The skull is a bit of a joke: it alludes to Bill's personal interpretation of Corwin as Death. What looks like a laptop case contains Ramon's proudest possession -- the Trump Amplifier he constructed with the help of three engineers from the planet Barimen. Truth be told, Ramon prefers Trump to Pattern, but he has worked at the latter power too, and is perhaps the only Younger Amberite to have walked the Primal Pattern. More wiry than bulky, Ramon is not fragile -- he is the Endurance Champion of "the brat pack." Per player request, Bill drew Ramon as a cross between actor Sean Bean and poet Antonin Artaud with black hair, but I see some Michael Keaton, too. Fine by me. Thanks, Bill!