Roger Zelazny Critical Essays

Introduction

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.)