Roger Zelazny 1937–
American science fiction novelist, short story writer, and editor.
Zelazny's unique blend of fantasy, science fiction, and myth has earned him a prominent position among the writers of imaginative fiction. Zelazny was one of the first exponents, along with Harlan Ellison and Samuel R. Delany, of the new wave science fiction that arose during the mid-1960s in America. Supporters of the movement emphasized a shift in theme from the external world of hard sciences to the internal world examined through such disciplines as psychology, sociology, and linguistics. In the early 1960s Zelazny wrote prolifically for the magazines Amazing Stories and Fantastic, often using the pseudonym of Harrison Denmark. In 1965 he emerged as one of the most important contemporary writers of science fiction when he won Nebula awards for "He Who Shapes" (novella) and The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth (novelette), and a Hugo Award for And Call Me Conrad (published in book form as This Immortal). Many critics believe Zelazny was at the peak of his creative ability during these years, when his works were characterized by refreshing originality, powerful scenes and language, and a double vision which used comedy to underline nobility. Zelazny's innovative techniques later gave way to what critics feel is a less impressive seriousness. Nevertheless, Zelazny is considered a superior writer of futuristic adventure stories.
Zelazny often incorporates myths and folklore in his plots to present a vision of the future, as in Creatures of Light and Darkness where he entwines elements of Christian, Greek, Egyptian, and Norse mythology. The books in Zelazny's "Amber" series are probably his best-known works. This series is Zelazny's version of the sword and sorcery motif, and was commended at the beginning for its freshness and zest. After five books, however, some critics feel the story is overworked and would be more effective if shortened to one volume. Among Zelazny's other works, Isle of the Dead and Doorways in the Sand are notable for their particularly successful character studies, a feat seldom accomplished in science fiction. Critics agree that with Roadmarks Zelazny approaches the brilliance of wit and imagination displayed in his early works; most critics, however, feel the overall effect of the book is diminished by an easy ending. Although critical acceptance of Zelazny has varied over the years, he has consistently appealed to young adults as an entertaining and imaginative science fiction writer. In addition to the awards already mentioned, he has received the Nebula and Hugo awards for "Home Is the Hangman" (1975), and the Hugo Award for Lord of Light (1967). (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.)
The Times Literary Supplement
Lord of Light is a weird allegorical fantasy which sets out to demonstrate how self-destructive is the human compulsion to create gods and demons. In a mistily realized future world, heaven and earth are ruled over by Hindu gods…. It sounds, and is, far-fetched. Much of the writing is reminiscent of those awful jokes, mercifully no longer fashionable, where scato-logical content was meant to provide comic contrast with a mock biblical style. There are occasional "poetic" bits of description: "Morning's pink parasol opened above the tangled hair of the clouds …" and there is often a strong feeling that Mr. Zelazny must be parodying something—though one is never sure what.
"Other New Novels: 'Lord of Light'," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1968; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3444, February 29, 1968, p. 213.
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The Times Literary Supplement
Roger Zelazny has what most readers mean when they talk of style: an obtrusive style. The Dream Master is full of style—indeed, one hardly sees the wood for its multitudinous trees. Behind the trees stands an intelligent and basically simple story, concerning Render, a "neuroparticipant" who, operating through a machine, can enter his patients' minds and build from their contents complete illusions of reality, and a strong-willed blind woman who comes to him for help and education….
It would work well as a modern myth, the myth of the man-on-the-couch turning on his psychiatrist. But Mr. Zelazny dilutes his effect by throwing in too many fragments of older legend—Daedalus, Tristan and Isolde, the Holy Grail, the Cabala, while his characters quote [Fyodor] Dostoevsky and [Walt] Whitman at each other. This takes up so much space that potentially interesting characters like Render's son and the blind woman's artificially mutated guide dog fulfil little function beyond decoration.
Given these reservations, Mr. Zelazny has his pleasures, his wit and his striking pictures, and a certain admirable throwaway sense of the future…. Roger Zelazny is young; one might hope for more substance and less filigree later were it not for his loyal fans, who tend to prefer exhibitionism to ratiocination.
"Do You Mind?" in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd....
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Only a lover of fantasy who also had more than a passing acquaintance with the Buddhist religion could comment adequately on [Lord of Light]. But, without suggesting other common ground than fantasy itself, it might be hazarded that those who enjoy the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and Mervyn Peake will enjoy this book also…. The spell increases steadily as one reads on. I enjoyed it immensely. (pp. 199-200)
Norman Culpan, "Book Reviews: 'Lord of Light'," in The School Librarian and School Library Review, Vol. 16, No. 2, July, 1968, pp. 199-200.
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Lo and on the "Thousandyear Eve," Anubis, Lord of the House of the Dead, gave his faithful servant the name of Wakim and sent him on a mission to the Midway worlds to search out and destroy "the Prince Who Was a Thousand" [in Creatures of Light and Darkness]. But Wakim was deceived for "the Prince Who Was a Thousand" was both his son and his father …? It's psychedelic myth … chasing phantoms across eternal chasms … a very heady head trip … for probably very few passengers.
"Fiction: 'Creatures of Light and Darkness'," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1969 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. XXXVII, No. 14, July 15, 1969, p. 745.
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The "Alley" [in Damnation Alley] is the post-holocaust road from L.A. to Boston and one that has never been run alive until the last of the Hell's Angels is forced to try it. Boston is down with the plague and only L.A. has the antidote. Thus full speed through a country that rains rocks, has hordes of giant bats and gila monsters, butterflies and spiders and vicious human animals. Only a Hell's Angel could make it. Only a Hell's Angel could believe it.
"Fiction: 'Damnation Alley'," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1969 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. XXXVII, No. 17, September 1, 1969, p. 956.
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Pauline F. Micciche
[Creatures of Light and Darkness] is another of Zelazny's velvet fabrics with a warp of Christian, Greek, Egyptian and Norse myths spun into one thread and a weft of macabre fantasy about an order of existence which superposes and controls our own universe. The author manipulates the fantasy of the struggle for power between cruel and vindictive entities of the superposing existence around distortions of the various myths. He thus reveals the starkness of essential life and death. The creatures of this superposed world, the creatures of light and dark, have the quality of the shadows of Plato's cave seen indistinctly and constantly changing. In the end only the individuals in power have changed, not the power structure or the method of using power.
Pauline F. Micciche, "The Book Review: 'Creatures of Light and Darkness'," in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, September 15, 1969; published by R. R. Bowker Co. (a Xerox company); copyright © 1969 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 94, No. 16, September 15, 1969, p. 3086.
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Roger Zelazny infuriates me. I am not speaking as a reader. As a science fiction reader for seventeen years, I am impressed almost to the point of reverence by Zelazny. Nor am I speaking in personal terms. I've met Roger, and he is at the very opposite end of the spectrum from infuriating. But in my capacity as a reviewer, I am infuriated by Roger Zelazny. He does things, magic things, with words, things that cannot be neatly marked, catalogued and described. He employs concepts and symbolism that shimmer like a mirage whenever I stare hard in an effort to make certain that I really comprehend. Whenever I am found perspiring under the heat of my desk lamp, staring at a piece of blank paper in the typewriter, and aimlessly twisting and untwisting a paper clip, chances are that Roger Zelazny is the culprit.
Take Isle of the Dead, for instance. You must read it, get inside of it, to appreciate all its dimensions; description is inadequate. The way in which the author uses words must be experienced. It is no good to cite examples, because pulled out of context the words lose their vitality and change into something else, like pieces of flesh torn out of a living body…. Roger must write like a poet, painstakingly searching always for just the right word with the precise shade of meaning. There is humour in Isle of the Dead—not funny passages that can be quoted in a review and sound amusing, but cumulative humour in the...
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Roger Zelazny is a genial writer who sometimes manages to give old themes new twists to accomplish something bordering on the extraordinary. He does this in four instances in this collection of fifteen stories [The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth]—"Devil Car" in which the autos are self-mobile; "The Mortal Mountain" a long climb to the highest mountain in the near universe and well worth the struggle; "A Museum Piece" in which failed artists and cynical critics become living sculptures; and the best, "The Great Slow Kings," a truly funny piece that deals with dragons trying to discuss their contemporary problems over a span of centuries while the world moves on. Not all stars but O.K.
"Fiction: 'The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth and Other Stories'," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1971 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. XXXIX, No. 8, April 15, 1971, p. 466.
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[Nine Princes in Amber] is Zelazny's version of sword-and-sorcery, but it is not for addicts only. Zelazny has not borrowed the standard apparatus for this sort of thing, but has invented his own, and the result is an adventure story with real originality and zest.
True, the hero is suffering from amnesia after a blow on the head as the book opens, but this soap-opera ploy is milked so successfully for suspense that it is readily forgivable. As we find out, with the hero, more and more about his real situation, it becomes more and more evident that the smallest misstep will be fatal. Moreover, the author manages to create real doubt that he will win through, despite the almost insuperable handicap that he is telling his own story in the first person and therefore obviously did win through….
In many respects, the story could have been set with no loss in an Italian court during the Borgia pontificate. The magic, however, is integral, not just pasted on. The language is the mixture of poetry and slang characteristic of recent Zelazny, but it is not jarring here, since it makes a perfect fit with the hero's double life.
And the ending reveals, among other things, how the author managed to create that illusion of doubt—and leaves the door wide open for a sequel. I'll be looking for it.
James Blish, "Books: 'Nine Princes in Amber'," in The Magazine of...
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Just as able, as in his Lord of Light, to conjure a new mythology out of old religion, to mingle future science with a primitive past in a context of magic, to narrate the battles of gods on a cosmic scale and single combat on a heroic scale, [in Creatures of Light and Darkness Zelazny] takes the religion of ancient Egypt as his raw material. But whereas, in Lord of Light, we thought on the whole we could identify with Sam, a kind of Christ-Buddha, in this second novel we are often not sure where our sympathies lie. The awful grotesque is replaced by the comic grotesque; imaginative response is inflated only to be punctured; even comment seems parody of the earlier style: 'the motorcycle that is Time backfires as it races by.' Vigorous imagination, effective narration and powerful visual presentation are still there: but what are we to make of two rival soothsayers who quarrel bitchily over the omens to be read from the steaming entrails that one has just ripped out of the other with a knife? Whom is Zelazny parodying but himself? And yet I don't regret the time spent reading it! (pp. 143-44)
Norman Culpan, "Literature: 'Creatures of Light and Darkness'," in The School Librarian, Vol. 19, No. 2, June, 1971, pp. 143-44.
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[In Damnation Alley] Roger Zelazny takes the hoodlum hero of American pulp fiction, dresses him in the gear of the Hell's Angels and places him in a period several decades from now when the world has been devastated by atomic warfare. We are given a vivid and startling idea of what the future could be like after the nuclear holocaust as the hero makes a journey carrying plague serum between the two major surviving centers of civilization in North America, along the route known as Damnation Alley. However there is a dubious element of doublethink in the moral stance of the novel, for to achieve his mission of mercy the hero kills and maims steadily, and in wholesale quantities throughout the journey. This strong element of gratuitous violence operates at the mindless level of the American crime comic and leaves a nasty taste. This is a pity for Mr Zelazny has some lively ideas in the science fiction aspect of his novel.
John Ives, "Book Reviews: 'Damnation Alley'," in The School Librarian, Vol. 20, No. 2, June, 1972, p. 172.
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Corwin, the most appealing superman since [Robert] Heinlein's Valentine Michael Smith, continues the family feud begun in Nine Princes in Amber (1970) [in The Guns of Avalon], battling in Shadow, which includes earth as well as Avalon, for the crown of the real world, Amber. Zelazny's dazzling blend of myth, science fantasy and (super) human nature suspends disbelief and raises the highest hopes for volume three.
"Fiction: 'The Guns of Avalon'," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1972 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. XL, No. 16, August 15, 1972, p. 978.
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The Guns of Avalon [is] a swashbuckling tale of parallel worlds. Corwin has his share of human vices, so even his struggle against the forces of darkness lacks the mythic clash of Tolkien's Ring novels. But this well-written, robust story teems with excitement, and one can enjoy it without knowing its predecessor….
"Briefly: 'The Guns of Avalon'," in Psychology Today (copyright © 1973 Ziff-Davis Publishing Company), Vol. 6, No. 8, January, 1973, p. 20.
(The entire section is 68 words.)
The Times Literary Supplement
Roger Zelazny has become something of a cult figure among modern fantasy aficionados in the United States. [Jack of Shadows] is another of his extravagant fables set in a quasi-medieval landscape of revenge and paranoia. To many the whole paranormal affair might seem an extraordinary mish-mash of new and old literary ideas, couched in inferior Morcockian prose, with confusion absolute. But there are obviously some who like things that way.
"SF in Short: 'Jack of Shadows'," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1973; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3715, May 18, 1973, p. 562.
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I regard [Jack of Shadows] as something of a find for me. Mr Zelazny has written several well-received novels already, but I had never come across him before and I read Jack of Shadows with increasing delight and a sense of satisfaction. I doubt if Mr Zelazny can be, or would want to be, characterised as a particular sort of writer—but for the sake of argument I'll suggest he falls into the imaginative fiction category, somewhere between science fiction and fairy tales. In fact Jack of Shadows opens like a fairy story, with strange names and a sort of poetical prose. And, as with all good fairy stories, we are instantly caught, both by the actual narrative and the charm of the imagination that contrived the tale….
The surface narrative is always fascinating, as Jack (who is a sympathetic character) meets, fights and evades his enemies. No incident is overwritten, but given due weight and power….
Mr Zelazny has projected a world with two sides to it: one, the dayside is always bright and sunny with no night at all; the other, darkside is just that. Dayside is, in essence, the world of science and rational argument and not really a very agreeable place…. Darkside is the world of the supernatural, of spirits and superstition. In a central and crucial dialogue with Morningstar, Jack realises that there are different kinds of truth, and that the same phenomenon can be interpreted in more than...
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If there's one thing Roger Zelazny has always had it's a sense of style. Often that's all he's had, but there's no doubt he made his mark early in the sixties … partly on the basis of it. The Doors of His Face is a collection of short stories from 1963 to 1968, but it's a strange collection to say the least.
Oh, a few of the big ones are here: the now famous title story and the equally famous "A Rose for Ecclesiastes" especially…. Other good stories include "The Keys to December" (a story that owes much to Cordwainer Smith), "The Man Who Loved the Faioli," "This Moment of the Storm," and possibly "This Mortal Mountain" (I must say Zelazny has a knack for good titles) all of which generate a real sense of involvement on the reader's part. The rest, however, is filler: short shorts, many of which just don't deserve re-publication.
Many of the short shorts, such as "The Great Slow Kings," "A Museum Piece" (which proves to be an atrocious pun), and "The Monster and the Maiden," for starters, could have been dropped without regret and replaced, say, by the early "King Solomon's Ring" … and "For a Breath I Tarry," which I consider one of Zelazny's best ever. What kind of editorial policy kept these stories out?
If you're a true Zelazny fan this is a must, for it collects some of his better stories in hardcover, but if you're not, wait for the paperback—and hope he'll bring out a collection...
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Roger Zelazny's To Die in Italbar … is an unusual work of science fiction that takes several disparate characters and gradually moves them together. While Zelazny is no feminist and makes it clear, a female god plays a major—and evil—role in his tale. There are enough elements in Italbar to make a dozen stories: intergalactic rivalry, telepathy, a world ruined by atomic war, a pathologist awaiting a cure for his own disease while existing for decades at the moment before death, a Typhoid Mary who can decimate whole planets with a variety of diseases, and the blue-skinned Deiban goddess Mar'i-ram. Only a master of science fiction could weave all these strands into his web, and Zelazny spins them in a deft and satisfying manner.
"Briefly: 'To Die in Italbar'," in Psychology Today (copyright © 1973 Ziff-Davis Publishing Company), Vol. 7, No. 5, October, 1973, p. 138.
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Maybe the Joe Blotz test will help.
The test is used by honest editors considering stories by famous writers: "What would I think of this if it were a story by somebody I had never heard of, by Joe Blotz?" I think I would give To Die in Italbar by Joe Blotz an ecstatic review. "Blotz writes well; he can describe fast action and strong emotions with equal skill; he has a fertile imagination and creates colorful characters. Joe Blotz is clearly one of the most promising new writers to appear in a long time. Perhaps he is too much influenced by Roger Zelazny, but …"
No, it doesn't help. There is no avoiding the shadow; it is impossible to write about late Roger Zelazny without comparing it to early Roger Zelazny.
In 1963 Roger Zelazny published "A Rose for Ecclesiastes"; in 1968 Lord of Light won the Hugo. These dates define Zelazny's prime; sans peur et sans reproche, he was the darling of science fiction. I remember asserting publicly in 1967 that there was more real science in a page of Zelazny than in the collected works of George O. Smith; at about the same time, Harlan Ellison wrote that Zelazny was the reincarnation of Geoffrey Chaucer. I quote these statements as evidence of the spirit of the age rather than of critical acumen; either of them could be translated as "Wow!" with negligible loss of content.
But we were wowing with good reason. In an...
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Action, tense personal conflict, realistic dialogue, vivid characters, and exotic locales have made [Zelazny's Amber series] hotly sought by SF fans. However, this third volume [Sign of the Unicorn] takes up the tale with no synopsis and plunges into action so fast that even readers of the first two books may want to check back to refresh their memories. Those unfamiliar with the prior volumes may be completely bewildered. And it all ends with the most dramatic cliff-hanger yet.
Frederick Patten, "Book Reviews: 'Sign of the Unicorn'," in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, February 15, 1975; published by R. R. Bowker Co. (a Xerox company); copyright © 1975 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 100, No. 4, February 15, 1975, p. 412.
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Mystery gathers strength from having roots in reality. A shoot from soil we know is always more pleasing than the unoriented and monstrous growths that often pass for advanced science fiction…. [Today We Choose Faces] postulates strange habitats populated with weird people but, throughout, it remains in touch with what we know. It is a satisfying and successful novel which exercises the mind rather than befuddles it. (p. 404)
Martin Sherwood, "'Today We Choose Faces'," in New Scientist (© IPC Magazines, 1975), Vol. 66, No. 949, May 15, 1975, pp. 404-05.
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The inhabitants of Roger Zelazny's Sign of the Unicorn are not human beings at all but a race of aristocrats who live in another dimension and who can slip in and out of Earth, which they call Shadow, when they feel like it. They are a squabbling crew of brothers and sisters, a sort of outsize Borgia family complete with daggers and swords and Renaissance castles, and the plot of the novel is closer to that of a thriller than to most science fiction plots. I mention the book, though, because it is good, because it solves the stylistic problem of science fiction in an interesting way, and because it represents a sort of boundary of science fiction, the place where it ends.
To take the last point first, the members of the family can speak to each other by means of decks of playing cards, and can actually conjure each other up physically with them. This is a form of whimsical magic which has nothing to do with science, or science fiction. On the other hand, when on Earth the family can manipulate landscapes at will, so that trees, rocks, mountains, and weather compose themselves into whatever arrangement is required, and this, it seems to me, while remaining in the realm of magic and fantasy, has something of the conceptual interest of science fiction.
Witches and wizards in medieval romance can change scenery about, turn castles into hovels and so on, but we see it's been done, we don't see them doing it, and...
(The entire section is 540 words.)
R. D. Mullen
[Zelazny is perhaps as skillful as any other SF writer (with the obvious exception of Ursula Le Guin) and far more skillful than most.]
[Zelazny] would surely be a great success as a scriptwriter for soap operas, who found the theme best suited to his talents and inclinations in one of the stories in Four For Tomorrow, "A Rose for Ecclesiastes," perhaps the best story ever on Mars as a dying world, but who went quite overboard in another, "The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth," perhaps the most turgid and cliché-ridden of all the retellings of [Herman Melville's] Moby Dick. The other two stories in the book, "The Furies" and "The Graveyard Heart," are neither as effective as the former nor as mawkish as the latter.
Early on in This Immortal the centuries-old protagonist is addressed as follows: "I was curious as to the sort of sensibilities a human might cultivate, given so much time—especially in view of your position as a master of your world's history and art." But alas!, though we do have a quite original post-catastrophe Earth in this story, we learn very little about its history or art, and even less about the sensibilities of the narrator-protagonist, who turns out to be a great fighting man, and who describes his fights in great detail.
R. D. Mullen, "The Garland Library of Science Fiction: 'Four for Tomorrow'," in Science-Fiction...
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[To Die in Italbar] is classified as 'science fiction' and whenever I pick up a random sample of that genre, I am always struck by its banality. 'SF', as its fans like to call it, must be the most vacuous form of the novel, interesting only to fantasists and to those who prefer the shadow of the novel to its substance (which is why science fiction is always shown to best effect on the screen). This particular narrative opens somewhere near Italbar, "a thousand miles distant from the space port", where Heidel von Hymack is making his way through the shadowy rain forests of Cleech…. (p. 670)
As long as the novel stays at the level of simple, linear adventure, it has all the merits of a fast and furious plot. But science fiction has two weaknesses which are inherent to it and which always do their best to tear down the delicate tracery of the narrative. There is, first, the tenuous—not to say pallid—romanticism which lies at the heart of science fiction, and which takes it closer to the pre-Raphaelite nightmare than any other twentieth century form. In this novel, we are treated to H's visions, which go something like this: "… but the blue mists swirled about him and there were perfumes, breezes, a kind of quiet ecstasy …". And then there is the violence and the intergalactic warfare of the book; science fiction generally excises all interesting human motives, actions and reactions for the sake of a few tacky...
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T. A. Shippey
[Roger Zelazny's To Die in Italbar] avoids central characters altogether, except in so far as a plague vector is central. We open with a series of apparently unconnected scenes whose characters share only a quality of bizarre invention: a telekinetic dream-sculptor, a frozen pathologist, a professional deicide, a man who is both disease-pool and universal panacea. As the book progresses these parallel figures are (as one of the characters remarks) "cramp'd into a Planisphere". But the sense of their separateness remains; Mr Zelazny relies heavily on his ability to suggest the presence in the background of whole worlds and policies and technologies, all profoundly interesting but too large for comprehension. It is almost a pity that the convention of the novel forces a plot and an ending on him.
T. A. Shippey, "Obsequious in Space," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1976; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3858, February 20, 1976, p. 187.∗
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[In Doorways in the Sand] Zelazny has succeeded in that most difficult creation in science fiction: a genuine three-dimensional character. He's Fred Cassidy, a 29-year-old perpetual student in an unnamed twenty-first-century university, with acrophilia which expresses itself in simian rooftop ramblings…. Zelazny uses his dry chuckle, superb writing, and a fascinating narrative to make the reader want to reach out and shake Cassidy's hand.
Dan Miller, "Science Fiction: 'Doorways in the Sand'," in The Booklist (reprinted by permission of the American Library Association; copyright © 1976 by the American Library Association), Vol. 72, No. 15, April 1, 1976, p. 1095.
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In describing his own works of fiction, Graham Greene takes care to distinguish between two kinds of books: his serious novels, like "The Power and the Glory" and "The Heart of the Matter," and what he calls his entertainments, like "Stamboul Train" and "The Confidential Agent." By signaling his intentions so clearly, Greene has saved readers and critics a lot of trouble. Serious literature may be entertaining, but that is hardly its primary function; we may be abashed or uplifted by a book without being amused. When entertainment is the author's avowed purpose, however, different expectations are aroused and different standards of taste apply….
[The] identification of science fiction with entertainment was so complete that if a book used a futuristic setting or scientific gadgetry but was unmistakably "serious"—like Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" or George Orwell's "1984"—no one except a S.F. fanatic would have dreamed of calling it science fiction.
Things have gotten more complicated nowadays. People like Samuel Delany and Ursula LeGuin are writing books that are unmistakably science fiction but which, for better or worse, demand to be judged according to the standards of serious literature. And for the first time, it is possible to talk about a "science fiction entertainment" (in the Graham Greene sense) without being redundant. A good example is Roger Zelazny's "Doorways in the Sand."… The...
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Zelazny is writing a novel about Prince Corwin of Amber. But he's releasing each division as he finishes it, [The Hand of Oberon] being fourth in the series. It begins with the next paragraph after the end of Sign of the Unicorn, its predecessor, and concludes with a cliff-hanger that will be resolved in the next.
This creates some problems for the reader. Much dialog is background-as-conversation, never an easy trick, though Zelazny usually keeps one's interest. Even with a chapter-long flashback written to summarize past events, there is sometimes the feeling of having missed something important. Names are thrown at the reader, who may only learn some pages after the fact why the characters reacted as they did, the full explanation being in an earlier book.
Zelazny is inventive and knows how to use language. His description of Corwin's hellride from Amber to Earth is practically a cinematic montage….
Corwin is a prince of Amber, the only true reality. All other worlds, including our own, are Shadows of Amber. Shadows that can be shifted or traveled between by Corwin and his family. Caught in the middle of a fratricidal struggle for Amber's throne and facing an invasion of demonic forces from without, Corwin struggles for answers in Amber, in Shadow, and in such realms between as a floating city visible only when the moon is seen in full.
Keep in mind my warning,...
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R. D. Mullen
[The Dream Master and Isle of the Dead are two] very different novels even though similar in "style" (i.e. in diction and in making much use of myth). The first is a near future novel of psychological realism and tragic overreaching concerned with "neuroparticipant therapy" in which the psychiatrist participates in and shapes the dreams of the patient, and is in my opinion second only to [Thomas M. Disch's 334]…. The second is a bang-bang interstellar adventure story, a puerile daydream, albeit one of the sixties rather than the twenties, and thus mixing Philip Marlowe with John Carter to produce a hero of a more "mature" type.
R. D. Mullen, "Books in Review: 'The Dream Master' and 'Isle of the Dead'," in Science-Fiction Studies (copyright © 1976 by R. D. Mullen and Darko Suvin), Vol. 3, No. 10, November, 1976, p. 303.
(The entire section is 136 words.)
[Doorways in the Sand] is just great fun. Fred Cassidy, professional college student (thirteen years and no degree) is suddenly the target of everyone searching for a missing alien artifact….
Classic space-mystery, this can not miss with the sci-fi crowd. And young adults might identify with someone who has spent nearly all his life in school.
Robin Adams, "'Doorways in the Sand'," in Young Adult Cooperative Book Review Group of Massachusetts, Vol. 13, No. 2, December, 1976, p. 66.
(The entire section is 75 words.)
The time [of Deus Irae, written by Zelazny and Philip K. Dick] is post-World War III; the place a wasteland America, peopled with mutant races and presided over by a God of Wrath, one Carleton Lufteufel, who had been instrumental in bringing about World War III in the first place. Tibor McMasters, an incomplete (born without arms or legs, fitted with bionic counterparts), is commissioned to seek out the God of Wrath and to paint his portrait. It is the search for Lufteufel, and its implications, which the book explores. Dick and Zelazny's names will draw hard-core science fiction freaks—the only ones who will stay with this philosophical, allusive tale.
Jay Daly; "Adult Books for Young Adults: 'Deus Irae'," in School Library Journal (reprinted from the March, 1977 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1977), Vol. 23, No. 7, March, 1977, p. 154.
(The entire section is 147 words.)
Philip Dick and Roger Zelazny's co-production, Deus Irae, lavishly strews wheezes, rather than ideas. Post-atomic, fragmented, monster-laden world; sardonic religion, the Servants of Wrath, idolizes Carl Lufteuful, the man who pressed the ultimate button; limbless painter sent on pilgrimage on cow-powered cart to find the Holy Face; various encounters with weird philosophical beasts, machines, mutants and metaphysics. Much irony about the relativism of religion and morality, somewhat in the style of James Branch Cabell. Vigorous, jumpy, startling, unflaggingly inventive, and rather a bore.
Eric Korn, "So Many Notions to the Page," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1977; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3930, July 8, 1977, p. 820.∗
(The entire section is 111 words.)
Roger Zelazny is one of my favourite authors. He writes well, with humour and quite astonishing invention and has earned several top SF awards. Doorways in the Sand is not one of his best but is still very enjoyable reading, with a mysterious alien artefact, galactic cops and robbers, lots of excitement and plenty of humour. Pure escapism—and I loved it!
Jeremy Weston, "Review: 'Doorways in the Sand'," in New Scientist (© IPC Magazines, 1978), Vol. 77, No. 1091, February 23, 1978, p. 520.
(The entire section is 78 words.)
ALEX De JONGE
Whatever one's view of [J.R.R. Tolkien's] The Lord of the Rings there can be no doubt that it has done dreadful things to the young imagination. There are simply too many long, level-paced pseudo-epics, three-part sometimes, about these days, ranging from chivalric to post-cataclysmic settings. The will to epic has even affected the work of one of the most talented science fiction writers, Roger Zelazny, who used to do such wonderful things with myth. The Hand of Oberon … is as well written as ever, but it is part of his tiresome Amber epic, and much too much space is devoted to recapping or describing complicated intrigues which are simply not good to read about. This is largely a waste of his splendid imagination, and let's hope that Amber finishes soon.
Alex De Jonge, "Spring SF: 'The Hand of Oberon'," in The Spectator (© 1978 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 240, No. 2813, April 1, 1978, p. 24.
(The entire section is 157 words.)
There is no set "Roger Zelazny" story. He can take the reader on tour across a radiation-scarred America in one story and show him/her a wizards' duel in the next, swinging easily from hard science to dark fantasy. What his stories do have in common is a strong sense of background. He works as hard at making his settings three-dimensional as he does with his characters. (Or should I say "as he does with his other characters?") Setting, however, doesn't speak, and one can dwell only so long on descriptions of ruined towers and tattered robes. The rest has to be left to subtle hints and the reader's imagination.
Lew Wolkoff, "Science Fiction: 'The Illustrated Roger Zelazny'," in Best Sellers (copyright © 1978 Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation), Vol. 38, No. 3, June, 1978, p. 73.
(The entire section is 131 words.)
[Courts of Chaos] concludes a remarkably popular sword-and-sorcery chronicle about the children of Oberon, a swarm of rival royal siblings in a corner of space/time ("Amber") whose continued existence involves a sort of jiggery-pokery hopscotch court called "the Pattern." The madly shifting alliances of Corwin (the narrator), Brand, Fiona, Random, Deirdre, and the rest are sorted out in the final battle of Amber with its enemy and opposing principle, the Courts of Chaos. Often a clever and thoughtful writer, Zelazny here is an anything-goes artist who slaps together Yeatsian imagery and paradoxes of cause and identity with the aid of a perfunctorily realized fantasy-landscape and a style of jarring unpredictability. Admirers of the series profess to find in it all sorts of Jungian resonances and manipulation of witty incongruities. The rest of us will be rather relieved to see it end.
"Fiction: 'Courts of Chaos'," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1978 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. XLVI, No. 16, August 15, 1978, p. 906.
(The entire section is 159 words.)
LESTER Del REY
Recently, writers and publishers in the book field seem to be discovering the serial all over again. No, not the series of novels, in which each story has some kind of an ending…. I mean a serial—a single story published in several books. That's a matter of turning one into many, making each book only an installment of the whole.
That strikes me as being completely unfair to the reader, who purchases a book in the expectation that he's getting a story—only to find out that he must wait a year or two before he can discover what happens—and then may have to wait that long again. (p. 168)
The case in point is the five-part serial of Roger Zelazny that began back in 1970 with the publication of The Nine Princes of Amber. Now finally in 1978 the fifth and final (?) installment has just been issued—The Courts of Chaos…. In this series, an average of two years passed between installments. There were at least eighteen major characters to be remembered, most of them highly complex and interwoven even more complexly. (Nine princes, four princesses, five other major characters—one playing a dual role.) And there was nothing resembling a conclusion to any of the first four.
The basic situation and indicated plot were fascinating. (pp. 168-69)
As told in the first book, Corwin, the viewpoint hero, had been exiled and robbed of his memory long before. He had existed on...
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ALEX De JONGE
Roger Zelazny is [a] favourite writer, when he is not writing about Amber. His latest, My Name is Legion … is not, as its title might suggest, another of his splendid re-workings of mythological material. The book consists of three ingenious stories about a kind of private detective who has achieved total anonymity by erasing his particulars from the Central Data Bank. The stories are highly imaginative, concerning such matters as possibly criminal dolphins and the interplay between artificial intelligence and artificial original sin. All good stuff.
Alex De Jonge, "July SF: 'My Name Is Legion'," in The Spectator (© 1979 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 243, No. 7877, July 7, 1979, p. 22.
(The entire section is 111 words.)
Zelazny moves [in Roadmarks] from sword-and-sorcery to a literary time-travel/quest frolic that's only slightly less giddy than the hijinks of George Alex Effinger…. A confusing, meandering lightweight—but Zelazny's bright imagination and wry wit are in top working order; so readers who fancy erudite diversion may want to travel this road, even if it goes nowhere in particular.
"Fiction: 'Roadmarks'," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1979 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. XLVII, No. 17, September 1, 1979, p. 1032.
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Roger Zelazny is one of my favourite writers of light fiction, but though I have read some half a dozen of his books. [My Name is Legion] is the first to come my way which crosses the tenuous borderline between fantasy and SF. Here are three stories describing three missions by 'the nameless one', a big-scale, freelance, single-handed troubleshooter. All are narrated in the first person, and are rooted in a technology basically our own but advanced some few score years. The first concerns a man-made submarine volcano, the second dolphins, and the third a humanoid robot who seems to have run amok. Zelazny's action is nearly as fast as Harry Harrison's (and I know of none faster). The protagonist is untrammelled by [James] Bond-type sex diversions, and his superhuman ability and resource are cloaked by careful planning and training. Success is achieved with a minimum of suffering by others, whose deaths, when they come, are not usually at his hand. (pp. 410, 412)
Norman Culpan, "From Sixteen to Upper Sixth: 'My Name Is Legion'," in The School Librarian, Vol. 27, No. 4, December, 1979, pp. 410, 412.
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Orson Scott Card
Roger Zelazny is a frustrating writer. He is capable of startlingly original writing, powerful scenes and new ideas in a field where ideas tend to be a bit threadbare from overuse. And yet, about halfway through his latest novel, Roadmarks …, he seems to get bored and throws his book away. The ideas are potentially very good: a freeway through time, where new exits and new forks in the road are created whenever travelers make some change in history and where old roads fade away as they are left unused: the son of one of these time travelers, who searches up and down the road for the father who abandoned him in—of all places—Cleveland; a man who suspects he is immortal and keeps having fits of madness in which he dreams of earlier lives and earlier memories; a character obsessed with altering the past so that this time the Greeks win at Marathon. As he introduces these ideas and figures, Zelazny raises high expectations in the reader; this will be an intelligent novel, an emotional novel, a memorable experience. But then, once he has proved that he can actually juggle all these ideas in a rather complex form, he turns to an easy ending involving dragons, a few quick switches in the plot and finally a bad joke. I wish Zelazny had realized what a potential masterpiece he had with Roadmarks—in 500 pages he could have created something unforgettable.
Orson Scott Card, "Slantwise through Time,"...
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MARSHALL B. TYMN, KENNETH J. ZAHORSKI, and ROBERT H. BOYER
[Nine Princes in Amber] is the first book in the Amber series, five closely related novels which, while of uneven quality (the middle three are the best), are on the whole excellent, both for their unusually original fantasy elements and for their literary qualities. Readers should be cautioned at the outset that the series must be read in the proper sequence to gain the full (or in some of the novels any) understanding of the world of Amber, one of the more ingeniously conceived secondary worlds in fantasy literature…. The series starts out like many standard sword and sinew works but develops rapidly in literary quality. Characterization improves; style becomes more polished; and philosophical complexities emerge. But even in the first book, such a secondary world as Amber is enough to draw the reader into the rest of the series. Nine Princes in Amber introduces readers to the princes and princesses of Amber…. Corwin is the narrator and central character throughout all the books. In this first one Corwin is living on our earth, his favorite Shadow Earth, as Carl Corey…. Corwin, with the help of Random, the playboy of the family, succeeds in returning to Amber and regaining his identity…. Despite Zelazny's inventiveness, Nine Princes in Amber is the weakest book of the series, and could turn readers away from the others. The book features quantities of gratuitous sex and countless unnecessary throat-cuttings and...
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To those familiar with science fiction, the recent work of Roger Zelazny must be considered something of a letdown…. Mr. Zelazny has not been especially popular these past few years. But with Roadmarks, his latest, there is reason to believe that his writing has regained the depth and fluency that have not been apparent for so long.
Roadmarks is written in the typical Zelazny style, which is often hard for an inexperienced science fiction reader to follow at first, but which reveals itself in later readings to be succinct and flowing….
In terms of being a science fiction "mystery," Roadmarks is excellent, and it makes use of the "trick ending" method as well as any recent work. Readers concerned with hidden messages and allegories will find it loaded, and its appeal should cover both the "hard" and "soft" audiences of science fiction quite well.
Matt Berger, "Fiction: 'Roadmarks'," in Best Sellers (copyright © 1980 Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation), Vol. 39, No. 10, January, 1980, p. 372.
(The entire section is 161 words.)
[Roadmarks] is a throwaway novel, I'm sorry to report. It reminds me of a half a dozen Philip José Farmer books in which brilliant ideas are presented, then left underdeveloped, trivialized, or just cast aside in pursuit of an irrelevant plot…. In this case, the central premise is one of those outrageously literalized metaphors which only work in science fiction and fantasy. In mainstream they'd be gibberish. Consider a "road through time". Zelazny's Road, which may have been built by dragons, runs from the far past to the far future…. With discipline and imagination, there's no limit to what a first rate author like Zelazny could have done with it.
Unfortunately he does damn little. There are two narratives, the main one (chapters labelled "One") and a subsidiary, out-of-sequence one ("Two")…. Frequently a lot of attention is devoted to characters whose roles are quite trivial, and often they're interesting characters, e.g., the Chinese monk whose prior personality as a super-competent killer from the future is slowly returning. (There's a novel in him.) When the hero finally meets the guy who is causing all the trouble, the villain's motivations are glossed over before they make a bit of sense. When the son and father meet, little happens to justify the space devoted to this "subplot". There are several deus-exmachinas all at once and one dragon-out-of-a-hat. The problems tend to solve themselves and most of the...
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Carl B. Yoke
Renewal is an abiding concern of Roger Zelazny's writing, especially his early work. In fact, this theme is so deeply engrained in his thinking that most of his significant fiction uses it in one way or another. "A Rose for Ecclesiastes" treats the restoration of fertility to a barren Mars and the salvation of the natives from racial suicide. This Immortal treats the restoration of an irradiated Earth. Lord of Light treats the renewal of a society. The five "Amber" novels treat the restoration of the land and the salvation of the world of form from Chaos.
In Zelazny's writing, renewal comes in two distinct forms: renewal as a physical objective and renewal as a psychological objective. Most of the guises in which it appears are of the physical kind, such as the revival of a planetary ecology, the restoration of fertility, the restructuring of a culture, the remolding of a religion, and the salvation of a species. The most persistent form, however, is psychological. It manifests itself as a metamorphosis of personality, a general raising of consciousness.
Inevitably, Zelazny's protagonists must achieve what Carl Jung has called "individuation," that is, the psychological state created when a person has successfully integrated the opposing systems of his personality into a separate, individual unity—a whole. With this integration also comes complete knowledge of self. As Zelazny views it, however, the...
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[With Changeling the] prolific and popular Zelazny has produced a short but satisfactory fantasy novel on the "changeling" theme. A baby from a world of magic is brought to technological Earth, while an Earth child is carried off to the magic world…. The writing is clear, the characterization adequate, the background and system of magic intelligently worked out, [and] the pacing brisk….
Roland Green, "Adult Fiction: 'Changeling'," in Booklist (reprinted by permission of the American Library Association; copyright © 1980 by the American Library Association), Vol. 77, No. 1, September 1, 1980, p. 35.
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Someone recently made a very perceptive comment about Zelazny, which I'll repeat here: of his first two novels, This Immortal proved far more influential on his later work than did The Dream Master, and it might have been better the other way around. Immortal was jazzy, witty, and polished, but without much depth. The Dream Master was an elegant, substantial tragedy. The course he took later caused Judith Merril to ask, "Will Zelazny ever write the insides of his novels? Can he?"
He certainly didn't this time. Changeling is all around more satisfying than his previous one, Roadmarks, but still it has no insides. By way of improvement, it is a fairly complete story, which shows few signs of slapdash until the rather perfunctory end. It is not much ado about nothing, but the characters are sticks of wood.
Zelazny's powers of invention are working full force. The background is extremely good….
The problem is that Zelazny has overlooked the potential for tragedy. Instead he has written a light romp, like a very literate prose comic book. Mark, the one from the scientific world raised in the magical one, starts out as a decent, sympathetic type who is warped by hatred and misunderstanding until he becomes destructive. Even his "twin" tries to work out a reconciliation with him, but he is driven to his end. This is powerful stuff, but most of it...
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["The Last Defender of Camelot"] is a superlative collection by one of the genre's better authors. There are a number of early stories (including the author's first two), which are minor but vivid vignettes; and, at the heart of the book, several novelettes…. "For a Breath I Tarry," which Zelazny indicates is his favorite, is a touching story of a machine, one of the guardians of a future Earth. Interested in the long-dead human race, the machine decides to become human, and so discovers, unexpectedly, fear and despair and love.
"Science Fiction: 'The Last Defender of Camelot'," in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the October 17, 1980, issue of Publishers Weekly by permission, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1980 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 218, No. 16, October 17, 1980, p. 64.
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No large sf collection should be without Zelazny's latest anthology [The Last Defender of Camelot], featuring the author's own choice of stories originally published over the last two decades. A brief but engaging introduction and the remarks prefacing each story explain the origin of each work, and occasionally leave the reader mildly amazed that, for instance, a cloud formation resembling a horse and rider could conjure up the compelling tale "Horseman!" Many of the stories are quite short, but all are effective.
Rosemary Herbert, "Fiction: 'The Last Defender of Camelot'," in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, November 15, 1980; published by R. R. Bowker Co. (a Xerox company); copyright © 1980 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 105, No. 20, November 15, 1980, p. 2436.
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Roger Zelazny's The Changeling is 40,000 words of very pretty trade paperback,… and I rather wish there had been a few more words. Perhaps there were; there appear to be places where segments that ought to have occurred are simply missing, rather than skimped….
But the author triumphs over the editing (?)…. This is very good science fantasy, counterpointing the lives of two attractive male heroes who, as babies, were exchanged between a magical milieu and our mundane one. (p. 43)
[The] two young men do come into contention—partly because both of them are involved with a particular girl, partly because Mark is such a rockhead—and the old struggle between technology and magic undergoes another climactic cycle.
As noted, this is not a perfectly told story, because of its discontinuities. But it's very good reading when there's something there to read, and filling in your own blanks can be rewarding rather than annoying. There are some very attractive minor characters, one of whom is a dragon, and in general this is a very pleasant book. (pp. 43, 156)
Algis Budrys, "Books: 'The Changeling'," in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (© 1981 by Mercury Press, Inc.; reprinted from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction), Vol. 60, No. 1, January, 1981, pp. 43, 156.
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[In The Changing Land] Dilvish, of the Elvish race, bent on revenge against Jerelak, tries to gain access to the Castle and does so by being captured and thrown in the dungeon. Aided by other prisoners, he escapes, and eventually brings about the fall of Jerelak and Baran, the reorganization of the Castle by the Elder Gods and the re-creation of the universe outside it. Zelazny names one of his characters Hodgson in a nod to William Hope Hodgson's powerful "House on the Borderland." But unlike that novel, this book is at best a qualified success, a good idea given lackluster treatment.
"Science Fiction: 'The Changing Land'," in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the February 6, 1981, issue of Publishers Weekly by permission, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1981 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 219, No. 6, February 6, 1981, p. 371.
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The Last Defender of Camelot is subtitled simply, "A Collection By Roger Zelazny." The generally accepted definition of a "story" is a fiction in which one or more characters are faced with a problem and strive to solve it. By this definition, less than half of the 16 pieces in TLDoC are stories. Most are anecdotes, or situations, or conceits, which are economically sketched and left standing there…. Cute situations, but not stories. Nobody grows, no problem is solved or even attacked. Call them prose poems. If you agree that the situation is interesting or the conceit elegant—or if you simply enjoy the way Zelazny strings words together—you enjoy the piece.
I report that I enjoyed all 16, and I have a tendency to prefer story to non-story. My particular favorites were the original novella versions of "He Who Shapes" (Nebula winner) and "Damnation Alley," both superior to the books they later became, "For a Breath I Tarry," "The Game of Blood and Dust," and the title story…. If you already own both The Dream Master and Damnation Alley, you own 54 percent of this book.
But if you don't own copies of all five favorites I cited, or "Halfjack" or "The Engine at Heartspring's Center," you would be well advised to look this one up. (pp. 166-67)
Spider Robinson, "The Reference Library: 'The Last Defender of Camelot'" (copyright © 1981 by...
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