Thursday, January 29, 2015

Four For Tomorrow

Roger Zelazny
Completed 1/18/2015, Reviewed 1/25/2015
3 stars

I haven’t read much Zelazny.  I was introduced to him though “Lord of Light” in my SF lit class in college.  I loved it.  Then I read his other Hugo winner, “This Immortal”, but didn’t enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed his writing style.  Now I’ve read a collection of novellas, and it reinforces for me that I love how he writes, but I can’t say I loved the stories themselves. 

I chose this book because it contained a story called “A Rose for Ecclesiastes”.  According to always perfectly reliable Wikipedia, heh, it’s his riff on the Christian myth, the way “Lord of Light” riffs on Hinduism and “This Immortal” the Greek Pantheon.  And being a novella in a collection (collections not being reprinted as often as novels), I figured it would be hard to find outside of Amazon.  So when I found this at Powell’s, I jumped on it.  And my experience with shorter fiction is that it often provides a different perspective on authors, their thoughts, and their prose than their novels. 

Rose is another Martian tale.  Galinger is a brilliant linguist.  It qualified him to travel to Mars to establish communication with its dying race.  The Martians trust him and give him access to their sacred history texts.  By doing so he unwittingly assumes the role of a long awaited prophet with the power to redeem the Martian race.  I have to admit that I didn’t care for the story at first.  I was distracted by the details of the story, as well as the quaintness of its old-fashioned view that there is intelligent life on Mars.  It’s more difficult for me to read books about indigenous beings in our solar system now that we know that if life exists there, it’s not going to be anything like us.  It is more likely to be microbial at best. 

While thinking about the review, I was able to overcome my modern prejudice and came to appreciate it more, particularly the idea of the reluctant messiah.  I think other writers have done it better elsewhere, but it’s not a bad story.  It’s just not great.  And I think I had higher hopes of something more profound than what Zelazny accomplished here.

The same holds true for two of the other stories.  “The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth” is a riff on Moby Dick or perhaps “The Old Man and the Sea” on Venus.  And “The Furies” is a bizarre psychic noir-ish piece where three people with glorious gifts and crippling physical or social limitations hunt down a terrible space pirate. 

The story I liked the most was “The Graveyard Heart”.  It’s an extrapolation of the shallowness of the jet set.  They hibernate between social events, allowing them to live nearly forever since they only age a few days each year when they are awakened for their parties.  It captured the despair of the uber-wealthy who eventually find no meaning in their shallow existence. 

What really stood out about these stories is Zelazny’s prose.  Even though I found myself not really interested in the premises and characters, I found the book hard to put down.  I kept on reading for the joy of the words themselves.  I just felt that despite the original critical praise the book received (again per the infallible references on Wikipedia), his stories fall a little flat.  I’ve not given up on him as an author.  I have my eye on his collaboration with Philip K Dick “Deus Irae”, and I figure I have to read at least one book in his Amber Chronicles to keep my geek card.  3 out of 5 stars.  

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