About Zelazny

Roger Zelazny in 1988

By John Hertz:  Cat Eldridge and I are just getting used to doing these birthday notices together.  So far we seem to be coöperating well.  Hope you like the results.

In case your equipment doesn’t show it, there should be two side-by-side dots over the second “o” in “coöperating” just above: a dieresis mark.  “Dieresis” rhymes, more or less, with “Why, there is Sis.”  Shows there are two separate sounds, i.e. not coop-er-ate.  Punctuation is your friend, it’s here to help you.

Anyway, Cat told me he wanted to do the birthday notice about Roger Zelazny (1937-1995) for the 13 May 20 Pixel Scroll, so I didn’t do one.  I did say I had an anecdote.  He seems to think I should tell you.

I can’t avoid mentioning “The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth” (Nebula for Best Novelette), This Immortal (Hugo winner), and Lord of Light (Hugo winner).  Zelazny won four more Hugos, two more Nebulas – all before Nine Princes in Amber.  Gosh.

Anyway – or as Pul the grik-dog might have said (The Witches of Karres, ch. 11; grik-dogs can talk as good as anybody), double anyway –

Some years ago I was working at an in-store delicatessen of a supermarket chain in Hollywood.  Various people shopped and worked there.

One fellow-worker said he owned the rights to film Lord of Light.  He hadn’t yet made the film, he said, because the special-effects technology he could get at couldn’t do what he wanted.

Lots of folks there said lots of things.  Some might be true and some not.  Or both.  What did I know?

A woman who worked with us – can a woman be a fellow? – had striking conventional beauty.  That and other things, her conversation, her manner, left me thinking “This woman could be a Playboy Playmate.”  In fact she was a Playboy Playmate.  And, though I hadn’t heard at the time, one of her two Great Reads was Lord of Light.

So I just said “Sure, B– ” (I’m leaving his name out) and went on brewing coffee.  I couldn’t do anything about it anyway.  That’s triple anyway.

Some while later, but more or less around then, I ran into Zelazny at a party.  I didn’t know him, but I knew who he was.  We fell into conversation, as happens in the science fiction community.  I told him how much in particular I liked Lord of Light.  Few had tried what it did.  Few had succeeded.

Ambiguity is difficult because you have to keep the reader engaged.  So is mystery.  Next door in detective fiction some character is trying to resolve the mystery.  In SF there are often one or two characters trying to find their way.  It’s no accident that many an SF story is a Bildungsroman, an adventure of maturation and thus learning.

Also difficult is a story where at the beginning the reader doesn’t know although the characters do.

Lord of Light manages all that.  Also jokes.  There’s one about an epileptic shan, another about soulless followers.

Incidentally, I said, I’ve met a man who said he had the rights to film Lord of Light.

Without missing a beat Zelazny said “Well, if his name was B– it’s perfectly true.”

Zelazny was as accessible, and had as good a memory, as his reputation held.

That was the end of the anecdote for me.  There was more, much more, about Lord of Light, and filming it, and Jack Kirby, and indeed as Burl Ives sang, things too fierce to mention.  But they never had anything to do with me.  What, never?  No, never.  Anyway – quadruple anyway – that’s the end.

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28 thoughts on “About Zelazny

  1. Great story about Roger Zelazny, one of my favorite authors and the writer of my favorite book of all time, “Lord of Light”. Thanks for sharing that.
    I was lucky enough to see some of the Jack Kirby “Lord of Light” artwork at the CSU Northridge exhibit of Jack Kirby’s work a few years ago (2015, put together by Charles Hatfield).

  2. My Zelazny anecdote is a bit more meta. He seems to have anticipated my life by about thirty years. He grew up and went to undergraduate school not far from where I would someday do both of those things. Then he moved to a stone’s throw from where I live now, to work for the same employer I do. Of course, he very quickly went on to become one of the greats of the genre, whereas I’m still struggling, but one can’t have everything.

    I only had the fortune to meet him in person once, but he was very kind to an awkward teenaged fan. One of the finest human beings I’ve ever encountered.

  3. Speaking as someone too young to have met Roger Zelazny in person, thank you for sharing this story. I’m glad that more and more of Zelazny’s fiction is being released on ebook, so hopefully more people will read him these days.

    The commentary on diaereses reminded me of this article on the New Yorker‘s insistence on retaining the mark.

  4. I saw Zelazny at Seacon ‘84. His presence was the reason I was at Seacon ‘84.

    At the time I thought he was writing really strong novels – Eye of Cat and Madwand stood out. And he mentioned Deathmask which would be the sequel to Madwand and Changeling. I don’t know what happened but it was never published – I’ve heard no more about it since that day. And I really wanted to read it.

  5. I met Zelazny at Bob Tucker’s once; fascinating chap; and “Lord of Light” is one of my favorite books. It would be interesting if he had written a novel based on ancient Scottish mythology and called it “Laird o’ Licht”. I remember that the cover story for the joint Canadian-US operation to sneak some of the Iran Hostages out of Iran in 1980 dealt with a proposed movie version of “Lord of Light”. I don’t remember seeing anything about Roger’s response to that.

  6. @Sam Long: According to an anonymous comment (I know, I know) on https://where-there-had-been-darkness.blogspot.com/2010/12/roger-zelazny-book-review-changeling.html, Zelazny simply never got around to writing Deathmask, though he said several times he’d planned it out to complete the trilogy.

    Lines and gags from his books and stories are endlessly useful, e.g., I’ve smoked out a few fen with “So they play that on their fascist banjos, eh?” Also, invocation of protagonist Fred Cassidy’s imaginary affliction (“acrophiila”) from Doorways in the Sand can come in handy when I wish to explain my hiking all the hills of cities I visit.

    Always loved the bravura style. Pity that he couldn’t write female characters worth beans, but there was a lot of that.

  7. If I recall correctly, materials for the imagined Lord of Light movie ended up being used in the Iranian exfiltration scheme described in the movie Argo, though that movie is fictionalized for a variety of reasons.

  8. I adore the Amber novels, but I think I’m about 10 years too young for the cultural zeitgeist which seems to make Lord of Light meaningful to people. To me, it just reads like oblivious cultural tourism of the Hindu religion. But I am sad that Zelazny died so young; I think we missed out on some wondrous works because of that loss. And everyone who knew him says he was an awesome person.

  9. ISTM that it’s not cultural tourism, but a snarky look at the cultural tourists; the colony ship’s crew picked a religion with an explicit reward system as a way of keeping themselves in charge. (The fact that they began by conquering a local life-form that could be cast in the role of a Hindu demon may have aided the choice.) The idea of religion as not simply an opiate but a deep control had been around for a while by then — I’m not sure Asimov (in one of the early Foundation stories) was even the originator. This doesn’t set aside other facets of the story, such as a grating homophobia; I’m just not sure the above charge is fair. And wrt age — I don’t remember connecting it to any existing zeitgeist when I first read it (not long after it came out), but that may have been because it was the first inside-out novel I’d read. (Even Stand on Zanzibar goes steadily forward, instead of starting with the beginning of part 3 and then giving us parts 1 and 2 before returning.)

  10. When I was working at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, I also did proofreading for them. F&SF serialized the novel, and thus I am one of the first people in the world—outside of Zelazny’s agent, and Joseph and Edward Ferman—to have read those immortal words, “…then the fit hit the Shan…”

  11. It’s my impression that there was a period of fascination with, and cultural appropriation of, the Hindu religion that went on in the U.S. in the 60s/70s. I completely missed that, and whatever I know about the Hindu religion now is a result of educating myself about it as an adult.

    They were seriously planning to make an amusement park based around the book. There was massive popular support in the general populace for this, and for the proposed film. There’s obviously a lot more to it than just “here’s an SF book making a snarky commentary about the use of religion to control the populace.”

  12. I had the great pleasure of knowing Roger. I don’t even have stories to tell, we just hung out. I miss him.

  13. The first time I (unsuccessfully tried to) read Lord of Light, I managed to completely not notice the shift in the time frame, and was as confused as something that is very confused.

  14. I wish I had had the chance to meet Roger Zelazny, given how much his work, particularly the Amber Chronicles, has influenced me.

    My second favorite is not Lord of Light (although that is great, it’s not lifechanging) but possibly Jack of Shadows.

  15. Paul Weimer: Jack of Shadows is my most reread Zelazny. After that, And Call Me Conrad.

    I still admire “A Rose for Ecclesiastes”, which struck many as such an advance in sff storytelling in 1963 that it was voted into SFWA’s Hall of Fame collection in 1970, but I would be surprised if younger readers are as impressed.

  16. Roger was disappointed that so many people asked him when the sequel to Jack of Shadows was coming out, since it ended on “a cliffhanger.” It’s such a perfect ending.

  17. @Jeff it’s a moment of pure poetry!

    @Mike Rose would not be revolutionary, today, no indeed.

  18. While I love the Zelazny novels that nearly everyone loves, some of my absolute faves never seem to get mentioned. Like Doorways in the Sand! Or Coils! They’re great, too!

  19. My favorite Zelazny is And Call Me Conrad, but I’d rank The Dream Master (the expansion of He Who Shapes) as his best novel. And he wrote so much great short fiction.

    @Kyra: Doorways in the Sand is one of my favorites!

  20. @Philrm: I’m not sure whether I like He Who Shapes or The Dream Master better. I think my slight preference for He Who Shapes has to do with reading it first.

  21. I went out of my way to replace the copy of Doorways in the Sand that I’d lost; in some ways it was the last book for a long time that had the magic that attracted me to Zelazny’s work. OTOH, I reread Jack of Shadows for a local book club a few years ago and recall the consensus being that it was … minor. Tastes differ….

  22. @JohnAA: I have trouble choosing between “He Who Shapes” and The Dream Master, too. Like you, I’ve come down as preferring “He Who Shapes,” but I love the additional material in The Dream Master as a related story.

  23. I think the original He Who Shapes is a tighter story for not being expanded as it is, but I do like them both.

  24. @JohnAA: It’s a close call for me, too, and probably influenced by my reading The Dream Master first.

  25. The May 2013 issue of NYRSF has an essay of mine titled “The reality and mythology enveloping Zelazny’s Lord of Light, the FBI, the CIA, and Ben Affleck’s Argo.” It covers the background of how he came to write the novel (as gleaned from his interviews and correspondence), as well as the subsequent curiosities such as the theme park in Colorado, the FBI raid that shut it down, the CIA’s use of the material to rescue the hostages in Iran, and what was included and not included in the Argo movie. I went through a lot of newspaper archives in researching the theme park and subsequent events (not just the Wired article).

    For those familiar with the six-volume NESFA Press collection of Zelazny’s stories and the six-part Zelazny biography contained within, I covered some of the Lord of Light saga therein, but it’s much expanded in the NYRSF essay.

    The essay isn’t on-line at the NYRSF site but if anyone wants to read a pdf of the essay, I’d be happy to share it. You can find my email address at: https://www.med.mun.ca/Medicine/Faculty/Kovacs.aspx or ask someone at NESFA Press or NYRSF to forward your message along to me.

  26. I met him at a number of cons. He was an interesting person to talk to. I enjoyed his books.

    My one “bitch” is he was not a good speaker. All of the times I heard him on panels, he basically gave a “stream of conciseness”. There are those who can pull it off. He could not. YMMV.

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