“It is a pain in the ass waiting around for someone to try to kill you. But it was April 30, and of course it would happen as it always did.”
So begins Trumps of Doom, a novel by the author about whom I’m blogging today.
Z is for Roger Zelazny.
And, beloved blog followers, I’ve a confession to make. Today’s date is the reason I chose to participate in the April A-Z Challenge at all: the last day of the challenge, the day for Z posts, falling on April 30. Too good an opportunity to pass up, given my fondness for playing with coincidences. I should also warn you now, in case you don’t know — I will make a lot of obscure fiction references in the course of this post. (This paragraph alone begins with one…)
I first read Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber (followed immediately by the other four novels in the first half of The Chronicles of Amber series) when I was fifteen years old. In fact, I could tell you exactly when, to the day, when I read those novels. They were together in the two-volume Book Club edition, with that bad cover art by Boris Vallejo. But as bad as the cover was, something about that picture — the enormous cats, probably — made me think of the kind of fantasy fiction Andre Norton wrote, and the dust-jacket description pretty much had the same feel, so I gave these books a try. Besides, it was right before spring break, I was only allowed to check out two books from the library at a time, and I needed something to get me through the next week. Two books that were actually five books seemed perfect.
Those novels turned out not to be nearly as “Norton-esque” as I’d expected, despite the giant cats. (Very minor spoiler: those tiger-sized Siamese cats in the cover picture are not nice kitties.) What they were was something I hadn’t encountered before: sword-and-sorcery fantasy run smack into the ordinary world (not “real world” — that means something completely different in this context *g*), with narrative style that, as someone once described it, is “like The Lord of the Rings as told by Raymond Chandler.”
After reading The Courts of Chaos (fifth Amber novel), I went looking for other fiction by Zelazny. Alas, I lived in a small town at the time, one that didn’t even have a library except the one belonging to the local college. That library had two more of Zelazny’s novels — To Die in Italbar, and Lord of Light. I checked out and read both. I didn’t like either one. (I didn’t like Lord of Light because I didn’t quite get it at the time. But hey, I was only 15. When I reread it several years later, I thought it was pretty darn good for a Zelazny novel that had nothing to do with Amber.)
I lose track of exact chronology after that; I couldn’t tell you when I first read Madwand, for example. I only this past winter got a copy of Flare (coauthored by Roger Zelazny and Thomas T. Thomas) as a gift from my twin. It’s not a very good story — I blame the other guy for that — but as I said way back in my H post, book lovers are like dragons: we hoard. We collect. We acquire. When I like a lot of books by a particular author, I want everything by that author. There are still things written by Zelazny that I don’t have a copy of, and occasionally that drives me nuts.
I don’t set out to imitate any other writer, even one whose work I admire. However, I cannot in honesty say that I was not influenced by Zelazny’s fiction, especially The Chronicles of Amber. I mean, alternate universes and stuff. (Nice symmetry, since I started this challenge with “A is for alternate universes.”) Magic and science so intertwined that there’s no way to separate the two — written about by an author who strongly believed that there was no clear dividing line anyway. (See, now, how this post ties in to so many of the other ones I’ve done for the A-Z Challenge… Yeah, my writing — and my views on fiction in general — have definitely been influenced.) Treating mythology like jazz music: start with a theme, and then play a new, improvised variation on it and see what happens. (That simile is not accidental — but I bet you expected me to say “not chosen at random” instead… *shakes head* I am trying to avoid the badly obvious puns, friends. Really.)
There’s even a touch of metafiction in my stories that points back this way. Geoffrey, one of the main characters in “that novel,” read The Chronicles of Amber as a teenager because a relative of his, an older cousin whom he much admired, had read and liked them. (Geoffrey read all of the original Sherlock Holmes stories for the same reason… and that was a fun bit of character research for Geoffrey’s author to do.) Geoffrey’s cousin, not as fictional as Geoffrey himself, read those novels because of a friend from university who happens to be yours truly. (No, I have not actually written myself — or a “Shadow” of myself — into any of my fiction. Not directly. No one like that guard in Castle Amber named Roger, who tells the protagonist that he’s working on a novel during the quieter times… And y’know, sometimes Theodore Krulik’s book about the Amber novels is really useful for tracking down a quote in a hurry. This is not one of those times. I wanted the “I’ll be happy” quote, and it wasn’t there. *sigh*) None of this metafiction actually appears in what I write, and it isn’t even relevant, but I know about it, and my twin knows about it (obviously — we’re mindlinked, y’know), and now you, O Reader of my blog, know about it, too.