Roger Zelazny

Wyrd and Wonder is a month-long celebration of all things fantasy hosted by Lisa, Imyril, and Jorie. The list of daily prompts can be found here.

One of the main reasons of why I love fantasy are the wonderful unreal locations, the more different from my life, the better. I do also read books set in generic Medieval settings or modern urban cities but I always prefer more exotic locations. Oh, and except for Cogman’s series, all of them are complete.

Amber by Roger Zelazny
First seen in “Nine Princes in Amber”. In this universe, there a just two contrasting real worlds: Amber and Chaos. All other worlds are just reflections of them. So, the people of Amber, more specifically the royal family, can walk anywhere in those other worlds, called the Shadows. The Shadows can be, and are, anything: one world is our modern world, the next a Star Wars type science fiction world. Quite a few are far less developed agrarian worlds. And the characters travel to many of these in just one book. First book: “Nine Princes in Amber”

Discworld by Terry Pratchett
Being a whole world (on the back of a turtle) Discworld, too, has many locations. Perhaps my favorite is the city of Ankh-Morpork which is suspiciously similar to London.
It’s a walled city with the river Ankh running through it. And Pratchett says it so much better:
“A city like Ankh-Morpork was only two meals away from chaos at the best of times.”
“It wasn’t that the city was lawless. It had plenty of laws. It just didn’t offer many opportunities not to break them.”
“Throat took a deep breath of the thick city air. Real air. You would have to go a long way to find air that was realer than Ankh-Morpork air. You could tell just by breathing it that other people had been doing the same thing for thousands of years “
Most Discworld books are stand-alones and they can be read in any order. I love the city watch books (first one: “Guards! Guards!”) and the witches books (first one: “Equal Rites”).

Menzoberranzan by R. A. Salvatore
The vast underground city of the drow, or the dark elves, is led by the Matriarchs of the most powerful families who are also high priestesses of the spider goddess Lolth. They are an evil and cruel race whose city is full of schemers and terrible places.
Not all Drizzt books are set in Menzoberranzan but the Dark Elf trilogy is. It follows Drizzt’s childhood and struggle to escape the city: “Homeland”, “Exile”, and “Sojourn”.

Divine Cities series by Robert Jackson Bennett
In Bennett’s series, divine beings literally lived on the Continent. They influence pretty much everything in the lives of their people. They also enslaved the city without a god to defend it, Saypur. However, 75 years go the people of Saypur rebelled and found a way to killed the divinities. They conquered what was left of the Continent after the divinities died. Now, strange this are happening on the continent again. The series focuses on two cities Bulikov in the first and third book and Voortyashtan in the second book. These are cities where natural laws didn’t apply when their patron gods were alive and when they left, things changed dramatically.
The trilogy is “City of Stairs”, “City of Blades”, and “City of Miracles”.

Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman
Somewhat reminiscent of Amber, this universe has many, many alternate worlds. They have different levels of technology and they’re also on different scales in the chaos/order spectrum. In chaotic worlds, magic is possible and might even be more prominent than science. Chaos is personified by the Fae and order by dragons. They’re powerful and hostile to each other and the Librarians try to stay neutral between them. The Librarians can travel from world to world using their Library which seems to exist in the middle of the worlds.
The first book is “Invisible Library”.

Temeraire series by Naomi Novik
In this world, dragons are huge and used for aerial combat instead of any sorts of airplanes. The Napoleonic wars are still going strong with lots of dragons on both sides. In England, the Dragon Corps are scorned not just by the other military branches but especially by civilians. Most people thing that dragons are just animals to be used, even though they can talk and are clearly intelligent. The dragon characters are great! Also, different cultures view dragons very differently. For example, in China dragons are hugely respected and they’re part of society, unlike in England.
The first book is “His Majesty’s Dragon” (or “Temeraire” in UK).

Seattle in the Clockwork Century series by Cherie Priest
In this world, Seattle is a walled off-city where only the most desperate people live. The city has been tainted by gas which kills people and animates their bodies. The world around it has also changed, but I really enjoyed the claustrophobic Seattle when our heroine Briar Wilks must descent there, to look for her teenaged son. And added bonus is that Briar is a middle-aged heroine, who are still quite rare in fantasy.
The first book is “Boneshaker”.

Chief inspector Chen series by Liz Williams
While this series is set in the future, it has plenty of fantasy elements. Chen is a police officer in Singapore Three and he gets all the cases which have any supernatural elements. Soon enough, he gets a new partner Zhu Irsh, who is a demon from Chinese Hell. The case takes Chen to Hell. Even though most people don’t seem to really believe it, human souls (or at least the souls which lived and died in the Chinese culture because there are hints that European afterlife is somewhat different) go the Heaven or Hell according to how well the surviving members of the family have dealt with the Celestial and the Hellish bureaucracy. If the right permits are signed and offerings made, a soul should go to Heaven. However, it’s also possible to get special visas for a living human to visit Hell. Chen has one so that he can investigate cases.
The first book is “Snake Agent”.

Of course I must end this piece with one of the most weirdly wonderful fantasy worlds ever:
Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Full whimsy and delight, with a dash of more darker tones, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is deservedly a classic.

Oh dear, reminiscing about all this wonderful series, I now want to reread all of them. And I have such a huge stack of TBR books waiting.

A stand-alone post-Apocalyptic book.

Publication year: 1969
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1990
Translator: Leena Peltonen
Format: print
Page count: 172
Publisher of the Finnish translation: Book Studio

Hell Tanner is a not a nice man. He used to be a smuggler and the leader of a violent biker gang and by his own admittance, he’s a rapist and a slaver. He might also be the last hope for many people.

The world is a destroyed wasteland (or at least the US is): filth, fish, and stones rain down during storms, many areas are very radioactive, many animals have mutated into giant man-eaters, and many, many people have died. Some of the survivors have banded together into violent gangs. But a few cities still stand and people still live in them.

One such city is Los Angeles and another is Boston. Each have declared themselves independent states. LA gets word that there’s a plague in Boston. LA still has medicines and the ability to make more of them. Someone just needs to get to it to Boston. It’s not possible to fly anymore because of unpredictable storms and winds.

Tanner is given the choice of either driving to Boston and getting a full pardon or spending the rest of his life in a tiny cell. He tries to run away but is caught. So, without another choice he climbs into a heavily fortified moving vehicle and heads towards Boston, with two other cars. The hope is that at least one of them would get through.

Tanner loves to drive and so he set to Boston but he hates anyone else telling him what to do and that he’s forced into accepting this deal. The other drivers make it clear that they have nothing but contempt for Tanner and so does California’s Minister of Traffic who gives Tanner the deal. No wonder, Tanner doesn’t care of the people or situation. But along the way, he encounters other people and has to decide if he can trust them or not. We also get short glimpses of the people in Boston. They struggle to live with the plague which kills lots of people every day. Some few still hope that the medicine will come.

This is a short and quick read. The imagery and the atmosphere of the story is great, creating a paranoid and claustrophobic feel.

Publication year: 1992
Page count: 310 + an excerpt of If Faust You Don’t Succeed
Format: print
Publisher: Bantam Spectra

The demon Azzie Elbub works in one of the oldest pits in Hell but he has other ambitions. He gets his chance when one of the souls in his pit turns out to have been taken mistakenly before his time. Azzie is ordered to take the man’s soul back to Earth and when he gets there, he stays on Earth.

It’s the year 1000 and the millennial contest between Good and Evil is rapidly approaching. Azzie meets the old god Hermes and he encourages Azzie to make an entrance to the contest. Azzie flies around getting money he needs to get started and even has to bodily burst into a meeting between the demon lords who are deciding Hell’s entrant. His suggestion is a twisted fairy tale: the Sleeping Beauty. He will build the Princess and her Prince Charming from body parts which will have belonged to cowards and other similar people. He will also coach the two from the start so that tale will have a really unhappy ending, thus proving that people are evil. This seems to be the best idea so far and the lords agree. They give Azzie an unlimited credit card and he flies to work.

Unfortunately, the demons in Supply don’t seem to know how important Azzie’s work is and at every turn he has to bribe and threaten the demons to get the required stuff, like an Enchanted Castle and an Enchanted Forest. Indeed, Azzie’s biggest foe in the book is Supply.

Azzie manages to get help from Ylith, his old witch girlfriend. He also gets a vile servant Frike. The little man with the hump wants the henchman job so much that he kills his two rivals.

Writing humor is hard. For some reason, I didn’t click with this book. I know intellectually that some of the stuff was funny, especially the demonic bureaucracy and the other Supply demons, but they just didn’t make me laugh. Hermes also seemed inexplicably helpful to Azzie, for no other reason that he’s the main character. I mean Hermes didn’t even ask anything in return for his help and advice.

A stand alone SF book.

Publication year: 1990
Format: print
Page count: 340
Publisher: Baen

This book has multiple POV characters and two main time lines. One of the time lines is centered into 12th century, during the Third Crusade, and the second one is set in the 21st century in a futuristic US. Additionally, the main POV character in the future story line has dreams/hallucinations about being various people in other times.

The chapters with a heading of “Sura” and a quotations from Omar Khayyam, focus on the 12th century. Thomas Amnet is a Knight of the Temple and the Keeper of the Stone for the Templars. The Stone gives its keeper magical powers and near immortality. Amnet is an advisor to the Grand Master of the Order and so he’s also in the middle of intrigue between the various Christian factions. Amnet is known to be a wizard and the Stone can give him flashes into the future. However, recently when Amnet looks into the Stone, a man’s face prevents Amnet from using it properly. Amnet fears that this is a rival wizard and that they will have to fight.

Raynald the Chatillon, Prince of Antioch, insults a group of important Muslims and as a consequence, their military leader Saladin declares jihad against Raynald. The new King of Jerusalem decides to defend Raynald. Meanwhile, the order of the Assassins are killing knights but decide not to side with Saladin. One of the assassins, Hasan, looks young but is in fact a over a hundred years old and a wizard but not connected to the Stone.

In the 21st century, Tom Gurden is a jazz musician and in trouble. He feels like several men have been following him and they have saved his life a few times. However, now they have tried to kill him. Gurden calls to an on-line psychiatric unit, Eliza 212, and tells his story to her. He has also had a couple of dreams where he was a man in various places in time. In the first dream, Gurden is a poor scholar in Robespierre’s France. Later, Gurden’s old lover returns and a man tries to kill Gurden.

The plot is a rather complicated mystery. There are several POV characters in the chapters set in the 12th century but in the 21st century Gurden is pretty much the only POV character; there’s only one short scene from another POV.

The story lines don’t merge until the very end, but a reader is likely to guess what’s going on. Amnet is a loyal Knight who sometimes warns his Master about future decisions but will follow him in the end. He guards the Stone jealously from even his half-blooded apprentice.

Gurden turns out to be an expert martial artist in addition to a masterful musician. He’s become careful and almost paranoid in recent months. Sandy is his former lover who comes back to him at the start of the book

The book starts with a scene where Sandy orders a specific glass made. Glasses similar to that one feature in Guren’s dreams; the dream always starts when he hurts his hand on a glass. The people he is in the dreams are quite different from each other and don’t seem to have much in common. Yet, he doesn’t gain any knowledge or powers from the glass.

The 12th century chapters have most characters in them. Most of them are Christian knights who aren’t romanticized but shown as scheming men who are cruel and greedy at times. We also get a few brief glimpses from Saladin’s POV. As far as I can tell, the story line is historically accurate (except for the magic and Amnet, of course) but condensed for brevity.

I enjoyed the historical chapters more than the future ones. The future characters felt a bit bland while Gurden felt a bit too conveniently competent. I would have wanted to know just who Sandy was.

It’s a nice quick read but not as good as Amber.

Another short stand-alone SF book.

This one has again a weird structure. Instead of normal chapter numbers, each chapter head is either “One” or “Two”. The book starts with “Two” and the “One” and “Two” chapters alternate after that. “One” chapters are about Red Dorakeen who is trying to find just the right exit from the Road which stretches apparently through all of time. The right exit has been blocked and so he’s trying to smuggle explosives to open it up. The Road has cops, too, and they are trying to prevent stuff being blown up so the confiscate Red’s explosives. Soon after, Red finds out that someone has put assassins after him.

The “Two” chapters are about everyone else. Most of them are about Randy Dorakeen who is trying to find someone. However, later we find out about his youth and how he found the Road so his story is very much not linear. Some of the “Two” chapters are about Red’s enemies. Some historical characters make cameos, and Marquise the Sade and a Tyrannosaurus Rex are significant secondary characters.

The Road is literally a road with gas stations and hotels along the way. Most people on it know what’s going on. The people drive cars on it. Red’s companion is a chatty artificial intelligence which can habit a book (I presume it’s a reading device but it only has one book in it, Flowers of Evil) or the car.

This one reminded me of Amber. Driving along the Road and trying to change things? The first Amber book came out 1970 apparently and this was written in 1979.

A weird little book.

This is short book (my copy has less than 200 pages) which came out in 1969. Apparently a painting of the same name was an inspiration to the story.

The main character Francis Sandow was born in the 20th century and is now over a thousand years old. He own his own planet, Homefree, which he has also worldscaped in the home he wanted it to be. He was one of the first human space colonists and so had survived in suspended animation for some centuries. Now, he’s one of the 100 wealthiest men in the galaxy.

He’s content to live on Homefree with a contracted prostitute but someone is send him pictures of people who have been long dead. Some of the people in the pictures Sandow loves, such as his first wife, and some had been his enemies. However, Sandow wants to believe that the pictures are fakes. Then, Ruth, of his oldest friends, sends a message that she’s in trouble and Sandow leaves to the planet where she lives. But he finds out that Ruth had been kidnapped and a message had been left to him. The message says that Sandow should look for his women from the Isle of the Dead and it’s addressed to Shimbo. Shimbo, the Shrugger of Thunders is an alien god and he’ bound to Sandow.

Then Sandow learns the people in the pictures might be alive in a manner of speaking. All of them had memory records made at the moment of their death and the records are now missing. Someone could clone them back to the land of living. Of course, Sandow has to travel to the Isle of the Dead.

Once again Zelazny puts a lot of content into less than 200 pages. This is very much a space opera world where humanity has settled many planets outside Earth (though Earth is apparently one of the richest ones) and “seventeen other intelligent races, four of whom I consider smarter than men and seven or eight who are just as stupid”. The Pei’ans are one of the more wiser aliens. When Sandow realized how far into the future he had come, he sought out a Pei’an as a mentor. After thirty years of Sandow became a worldscaper and bonded to one of the the Pei’an gods, Shimbo.

The worldscapers are all bonded to a Pei’an god. Does this make them gods? Sandow admits that he thinks that the bond is just a mental exercise that lets out his own natural powers even though he has to call on Shimbo to be able to shape the planets. Sandow is the only non-Pei’an who has been allowed to become a worldscaper.

Sandow thinks that his money is financing atrocities which he never sees. To his credit, he tried to stamp them out when he was younger but humans just found different ways to commit crimes against each other. That’s a pretty bleak view of humanity.

Women in the story are, once again, just pawns. All the women mentioned in the story have been Sandow’s sexual companions and are now just victims, alive only to spur Sandow to action.

The world was interesting but the story was a bit too short to really get involved in it.

The story has also been published with the name “… and call me Conrad”.

It’s part of my 9 books for 2009 –challenge.

In this story Zelazny mixed post-apocalyptical world with ancient myths and a dash of space opera.

Conrad Nomikos is an immortal. How long he’s lived isn’t clear but he could have been around since ancient Greece. He’s cagey about it, though. He has lived through the Three Days, when a lot of the Earth turned into radioactive sludge. Later, he resisted the blue skinned alien Vegans when they turned Earth into their amusement park and he’s still trying to resist them in his own way.

Currently, he’s the Commissioner of the Earthoffice Department of Arts, Monuments, and Archives. He’s been put into a position he loathes; a tour guide to a rich Vegan, Cort Myshtigo, who wants to visit select places on Earth. When other people around the small office hear where the Vegan and Conrad are headed, they want to come along, too. Among them are Conrad’s ex girlfriend, his best friend, and Hasan who is called the Assassin. But first, the Vegan wants to see a voodoo ceremony. Reluctantly, Conrad agrees even though he’s not sure if there are any genuine voudoun priests anymore. However, the ceremony was a bit more than any of them expected.

Zelazny takes his readers for a wild ride considering how thin the book is; the old paperback I have is little over 200 pages. Most of the Earth is covered in radiation which gives birth to weird creatures which even resemble beings out of old Greek myths such as satyrs and centaurs. Some other myths have come to live, too; wild people who live in the forests and capture and eat others, and even a Dead Man walking and killing.

Most of the humans don’t live on Earth anymore. There’s a mention of colonies in our solar system and some live on Vega as poor workers. It turned out that Vegan males and human females are attracted to each other and so some of the women wanted to move to Vega. The Vegan senses are different from humans and so the humans on the alien planet can’t really integrate into the Vegan society. The Vegans were the ones who rescued humans from their nuclear war and gave humans another place to live.

Conrad himself is a striking figure; he’s taller than most humans and he’s also stronger. On the other hand, he has a limp and half of his face is incredibly ugly. I think there’s even some fungus growing on his face. Despite that, he manages to attract beautiful women to himself (of course…). During the fight against the Vegans he was a terrorist and he’s still a formidable fighter.

The rest of the party seems like archetypes. There’s the Assassin who is also a formidable fighter. He keeps to himself and talks little. Phil is Conrad’s best friend and married to Conrad’s ex-girlfriend. There’s Diane who hates Vegans passionately and tries to persuade Conrad to kill Myshtigo. Myshtigo himself doesn’t feel very alien but he’s also not talkative.

However, when these are mixed together they feel like a new interpretation of the old myths. The book is definitely worth reading.

Edited by Gordon Van Gelder
Tachyon Publishing was kind enough to give me a copy to review.

This short story collection has a very impressive collection of authors from Alfred Bester to Roger Zelazny and I was pleased to be able to sample many writers I haven’t read before and, of course, read stories from some of my favorite authors. All of the stories are good and these are the ones that impressed me the most:

Ray Bradbury: All Summer in a Day. A story about Venus where the rain stops and the sun comes out only for one hour in every seven years.

Theodore Sturgeon: A Touch of Strange. About humans and their not-quite-human lovers.

William Tenn: Eastward Ho! A story set in a post-apocalyptic US where the power balance of the white people and Indians has turned over its ear. One white man is sent as an envoy to an powerful Indian chief.

Philip K. Dick: The Electric Ant. Where Garson Poole, the owner of a powerful company, finds out that he’s not human. Then he tries to find out the true nature of reality.

Karen Joy Fowler: The Dark. This one feels like an excellent X-Files episode. Strange things have been happening to people who go to the Yosemite National Park. Keith Harmon is sent to the park to look for a possible plague spot and he founds out much more than he bargained for.

Ursula K. LeGuin: Solitude. An interstellar anthropologist brings her two children with her, when she tries to study a strange and primitive culture where humans don’t seem to form communities.

Peter S. Beagle: Two Hearts. When a griffin starts to plague a village, one young girl decides to take the matter to the King personally. Anyone who has read the Last Unicorn will encounter some very familiar people here.

Stephen King: The Gunslinger. The first part of the first book of the Dark Tower -series.

A throughly enjoyable collection!

The final book in the Corwin saga starts with Dara appearing to Amber with commands to the Amberites. Even though they are skeptical at first, soon Corwin is galloping toward the Courts of Chaos. And what is hanging in the balance is no less than the fate of Amber and all of the Shadow worlds. However, the series doesn’t end with a huge battle. Yes, there is a battle but somewhat earlier and Corwin doesn’t really have a part in it.

For me the Courts of Chaos doesn’t have as a satisfying ending as it could have had. We finally find out to whom Corwin is telling his tale and that’s an anticlimax. All the earlier plotting is really revealed to be much simpler than it was represented earlier. That’s quite possibly intentional, though; usually plots turn out to be simpler in reality than when you’re trying to figure them out. 😉

Don’t get me wrong: I really enjoyed the first Amber series. It just didn’t end with a bang but neither did it end with a whimper, but more like “That’s it? I want more!” The ending was also far more, well, sugary than I had remembered. (I thought that the whole crossbow-thing was the end.) I would have preferred for the siblings to continue their rivalries. Then again, just because Corwin is feeling brotherly towards the others doesn’t necessarily mean that his siblings return the feeling.

Apparently, Manna from Heaven has Amber short stories. Unfortunately, the only version available here is almost 30 euros and I consider that to be too high for a book with less than 200 pages.

This is the book that turns many of the things that we’ve learned in the previous books into their ear. Corwin is, of course, in the middle of everything racing thither and yon mostly in the Shadows. We learn some things about Dara, Brand, and the other characters. But are the people telling these things really trustworthy? We are also told some things about what the various plotting factions are doing but can we trust this info either? We just don’t know. If we can trust it, some things are becoming clearer.

However, I can’t really trust any of them and I’m occasionally struck by Corwin’s desire to trust his siblings even though he thinks all the time that he can’t trust them. I was also a bit disappointed that so little came from their ancient rivalries. Centuries of hating or at least disliking each other is thrown away with a hand shake and: “I guess you’ve changed”? If I had been born and raised to expect the worst from my siblings I probably wouldn’t have been able to shake it off so quickly.

Of course, Zelazny isn’t writing a fat fantasy and I’m actually happy to be spared of hundreds of pages of angsty introspection of “should I trust him or not”. Just seemed a bit quick, that’s all.

On the other hand, I’m not entirely happy with the way he keeps changing the rules. In the first book Corwin thinks that he can’t takes his troops with him through the Trump. However, in the next book the solders are moved with the use of two Trumps and by this time it’s an established fact of moving. Horses can go through, too. Now, of course, in the first book Corwin might just not have the time to move the soldiers. However… I didn’t get that impression. So, Zelazny thought it would be cooler (not to mention easier for the plot) to change it. The problem is that the reader can never know what “rule” is going to be changed next. And now with the Pattern, well, shouldn’t one of the intrepid explorer siblings have found out the truth before now?

But it’s also a clear sign of the strength of Zelazny’s writing that (at least this) the reader starts to think of these things instead of just dismissing it as “just fiction, of course it doesn’t make sense”. Amber is a fascinating setting.

Next Page »