Roger Zelazny

Roger Zelazny was a science fiction writer who started writing in the early sixties. He died in the early nineties.

I was introduced to Zelazny in the late 70s (thanks Scott) with “Nine Princes in Amber” which is the first of the original Amber series. Since then I’ve read anything else that I can find by him.

His works are always difficult to put down. His style varies as he was often  experimenting with his storytelling. Some folks compare him to Hemingway because of his minimalism but I disagree – mainly because I don’t like Hemingway.

In no particular order, here are descriptions of some of my favorite works by Zelazny:

Nine Princes in Amber

This written in the first person. It starts with the narrator waking up in a hospital with no memory of how he got there, who he is, or anything at all. Within the first few pages he knocked out a forceful attendant, stole enough money to get around, escaped from the hospital, and is on his way to confront the person who had him confined in the hospital.

The action continues thru 5 books, the original Amber series, which I binge-read. Later, Zelazny wrote 5 more Amber books. I’ve heard varying opinions about the second 5 but everyone agrees that they are lesser works than the first 5.

Lord of Light

This is set in a world where some technologically advanced humans start acting like Hindu gods over everybody else. The main character is Mahasamatman who “preferred to drop the ‘Maha’ and the ‘atman’ and called himself ‘Sam'”. The book is about Sam’s efforts to share the god-like technologies with the rest of the humans. It’s awfully funny in places (When a nobleman had a seizure, Zelazny writes “The fit hit the shan.”)

A lot of folks were off-put with the structure of this novel. The story starts with the penultimate chapter then rewinds back to the beginning. This leads to many WTF moments.

A lot of action occurs as well as many beautiful scenes. I was left feeling that the Hindu gods were way cooler than the Norse ones. At least in Zelazny’s narrative.

Doorways in the Sand

Fred Cassidy had no money and no family. His uncle’s will said that if Fred stayed in school, a trust fund would keep Fred “very comfortable” until he graduated. After Fred graduated, the remaining money would go to a terrorist group or something. When we meet Fred in this book, he is already the world’s most senior undergraduate. The book is often laugh-out-loud funny.

Zelazny’s experimental streak is in full force with this one. Each chapter starts at the chapter’s climax and then back to the beginning thru the chapter’s end. It’s a bit dizzying.

This Immortal or …And Call Me Conrad

I already posted about this one over here : This Immortal or …And Call Me Conrad

Creatures of Light and Darkness

This time the adventure revolves around Egyptian gods with a smattering of bafflegab to keep it scifi. The story behind the story is that Zelazny never intended to publish this. He was just using this as a way to experiment further and develop his style. The story also became famous for it’s Agnostic’s Prayer:

Insofar as I may be heard by anything, which may or may not care what I say, I ask, if it matters, that you be forgiven for anything you may have done or failed to do which requires forgiveness. Conversely, if not forgiveness but something else may be required to insure any possible benefit for which you may be eligible after the destruction of your body, I ask that this, whatever it may be, be granted or withheld, as the case may be, in such a manner as to insure your receiving said benefit. I ask this in my capacity as your elected intermediary between yourself and that which may not be yourself, but which may have an interest in the matter of your receiving as much as it is possible for you to receive of this thing, and which may in some way be influenced by this ceremony. Amen.

Home is the Hangman

This is a collection of 3 stories about a protagonist who is a tech-savvy mercenary secret agent type with a fondness for literary aliases. At one point in a story, we learn that his alias’s last name is Hemmingway. At another, his friend calls him Ernie. The writing is as good as ever. My only quibble is with the technology – the computer records of the protagonist’s aliases are kept on punch cards.

This collection takes its name from the first story about a self-aware robot named Hangman. The story revolves around the robot returning to Earth after an absence of several years. The robot’s creators are worried that robot has come back to kill them. They’re convinced the robot has a very good reason to. Then its creators start getting killed and the protagonist is hired to stop that.

Jack of Shadows

The Earth has stopped rotating. The sunlit side is ruled by science and the dark side is ruled by magic. Jack gets power wherever there are shadows.

When we meet Jack he gets killed to prevent his stealing a valued prize at a contest. This really pisses off Jack because it hurts and it’s awfully difficult to get back from where he’s reincarnated – the West pole.

The serious lit-crit types like this one because Zelazny takes a break from experimenting and instead uses the techniques that he’s learned from these experiments and spits out one hell of a story. Whatever. I liked it.

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