The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volume Two: Power & Light. Edited by David G. Grubbs, Christopher S. Kovacs and Ann Crimmins. Cover art by Michael Whelan. (NESFA Press, 2009)
Review by Paul Weimer: Power and Light is the second of the six-volume NESFA collection of the work of Roger Zelazny.
Much of what I said in my review of the first volume, Threshold, stands and is built upon, here. (Read the review of Threshold at the link). This volume, like it’s first, covers a slice of Zelazny’s work, and is full of biographical detail, strange and unusual pieces never seen before, and continues the device of putting most of the words under exegesis, untangling references common and oblique alike, giving a full view of the mythopoetic work that Zelazny was creating. Once again, we get a variety of poetry, incorporating whimsy, humor, and mythological themes alike.
This volume, whose slice concentrates on works from the mid 60’s, is much more about the meat and drink of his career, or to use the stellar metaphor I used previously, this is when the nova began to truly shine. You’ll find the original Divlish the Damned stories here, for example, and having them together helped me appreciate him as a somewhat neglected icon of Sword and Sorcery. But there is plenty more: “Lucifer” and “For a Breath I Tarry”, “Auto-Da-Fe”, and a number of others you will likely recognize if you’ve read any SF from the period. I’ve loved and enjoyed many of these stories before, but I’ve never before had the context and positioning these stories are given here with other Zelazny works. The works involving vehicles, for example, a motif in this volume, all seem to stem from a serious auto accident he was involved in. Adding insult on top of injury, Zelazny’s father died while his then-girlfriend was recuperating from the injuries. That sort of biographical detail really helps contextualize these stories and give them additional meaning and insight.
And I think that it helps make the individual stories and works stronger, and deeper and paradoxically harder to hurtle through, to take at speed. It seems that for me as a reader, and perhaps this is a warning to you, too, that Zelazny at the height of his powers is a strong draught of whatever spirit you want to name, or perhaps just a very strong tea if you do not. Reading, savoring and enjoying these stories was something I could not do for hours on end, for they invoked such imagery and power as to leave me giddy with delight, and the endless clouds of grey clearing to allow me to see the green field realms of myth and story beyond the glass barrier between the world. I took this book in stages, and every time I gave myself space to turn away and then return, the power of the words came flowing into me once again.
The volume claims that his shorter works contain his best writing, and certainly, in this second volume, that seems to be entirely the case for me, even given my longstanding and well known love of the longer forms of the Amber Chronicles and other novels he wrote.
Some of these stories, though, were new and unheralded delights for me, too. For example. “Comes Now the Power”, which I have missed reading until this time even though it was a 1967 finalist for Best Short Story at the Hugos. It’s a short, sharp story about a telepath who is blocked, cannot use his power, and has not been able to for a couple of years now. A world that would not believe that he had such a power. And, then, he contacts someone else who has the same spark. It feels like a brief antecedent by several years to Robert Silverberg’s novel Dying Inside, and in a weird timey wimey way giving an answer to Selig’s problems in a short few pages. Did Silverberg read the story and get inspired to write Dying Inside? I don’t know, and I would love to ask Silverberg if that was the case. Psionics and telepaths were certainly “in the water” in the 60’s and 70’s, but telepaths having problems with their powers are a much less common story motif. In any event, the two works feel like they are in dialogue with each other.
Or take his 1966 story “Love is an Imaginary Number”. Doing what Zelazny does best, diving into the world of myth, here he makes an interesting connection and junction I had never considered before. What if you had a character who melded aspects of two mythological characters who are famous for being bound and tormented. Prometheus, and Loki. And, add to that, our protagonist can shift and change realities. Yet another idea that he would eventually take into later and longer works.
The real star of the volume, though, I think, even beyond his sizzling and scintillating stories, and even his poetry (recall what I said in the first review regarding his poetic nature) is the two parts of “…And Call me Conrad” aka This Immortal. This Immortal was an extraordinary work (it tied for Best Novel with a little known SF novel called Dune) and I want to talk about it. I had read it about a year ago for a podcast, and so I came to the story relatively fresh. So, instead of this being a read for me that was trying to cover ground I had read last years ago, I came to the reading of This Immortal with a strong and specific eye for detail.
And the detail I found. I completely missed in previous readings, intuited here, and was confirmed in the end notes the strong theory that Conrad is not just several hundred years old, but is indeed the Immortal of the title, and may just simply be the god Pan. The book is crammed with mythological motifs and ideas, and I see it as a waystop for him to develop ideas that he would later carry into things like Jack of Shadows, and the Amber series. His dog, Bortan, the Hellhound, such a good and loyal dog. Prince Julian of Arden would be proud to have a dog like Bortan as part of his hounds, for certain. The subtlety of Conrad’s plan to deal with the Vegans, the emigres and everything else shows the patience of someone who lives a long time, but that circumstances and chance can upset even the most well layed plans. I had missed the detail about the deconstructing pyramid gambit in that former bit. And the story renewed my as yet unfulfilled desire to see Greece and Egypt.
Overall, by this now second volume, I can see how the short fiction of Zelazny is definitely his work at its highest concentration, ideas and mythological concepts and motifs in their purest and most undiluted form. Neil Gaiman is quoted: “Nobody else makes myths real and valuable in the way Roger Zelazny could”. And he is absolutely right.
But to be sure, there is some nonfiction here, too. Zelazny was becoming a Big Deal at this time, his star burning bright. And so we get his Guest of Honor Speech from Ozarkon 2. This is an amazing piece because it shows how Zelazny thinks, how much he incorporated mythological themes and ideas into all of his writing, as he discusses the motif of the dying and resurrected god. The volume makes clear a lot of these speeches, with all of their value and humor, have NOT been collected; I am very glad this one survived, and is included in this volume, as well as the several other similarly formatted speeches and talks that are in this volume.
Once again, in an excellent volume, NESFA has captured the soul and art of Roger Zelazny. I look forward to what comes next, in Volume Three, The Mortal Mountain.