A surprise. Not a pleasant one, I might add. The first underwhelming, even disappointing Zelazny book I have ever read. Sure, Creatures of Light and Darkness were very… particular, a difficult mix of poetry and prose that read as if the writer was high all the time, but even that book had its moments of greatness and pure reading pleasure. The Dream Master has none. And really awful covers, each and every one of them :P.
The main idea is pretty cool and had served as a basis for the movie Dreamscape which Zelazny wrote an outline for. I would also venture a guess that it thoroughly inspired Nolan’s Inception, even though I found no mention of it in any interview. But the similarities are many, and striking. In not so distant future the humanity grew so far from their origins that mental problems became a new norm. Suicides have become one of the most common cause of death. But with new problems arose new solutions. And thus we a guild of Shapers was born – a fraction of a percent of humanity ultra-stable and psychically strong enough to be able to access others’ dreams and alter their subconscious without grave consequences for themselves.
Drat! Zelazny did it again! Or, to be precise, he did it in 1966 for the first time – winning a Hugo Award for his debut novel This Immortal in a tie in with Herbert’s Dune. Dune is known by almost everyone. It has a new, beautiful edition lovingly done by Folio Society, several movies based on its premises, etc. And what about This Immortal? It’s not even the most popular of Zelazny’s books, or best known – these titles probably go to the Amber series, or Lord of Light. I put This Immortal on my TBR list only after I found that Zelazny himself considered this novel as one of his favorites (along Lord of Light, A Night in Lonesome October, and two others – the list can be found here).
It’s a small, unprepossessing book less than 200 pages long (precisely 174 pages). Compared with most modern books it almost seems like a novelette, not a full-fledged novel. But don’t be misled by its length. One important thing about Zelazny is that he was first a poet. He excelled in short forms, and the majority of his novels is rather succinct. However, in no way does it affect their value or their deeply ingrained poetry. Zelazny was a master of words.
Making lists is one of the favorite pastimes around the web – and probably not only there. Lists of best books in any given year or month, lists of worst zombie movies ever, etc… It’s as if structuring and prioritizing one’s experience or even group preferences became the best source of available information. Show me your list and I’ll tell you who you really are.
We’ve been mentioning our own lists on the blog at least several times already – the TBR lists, mainly. The problem is, my personal lists are few and far between, and they are not even proper lists with any discernible hierarchy. I have rather sets of items, where each item holds more or less similar position to any other. And even of those I have only two worth mentioning: TBR and TBB.
Roadmarks’ original title was “The Last Exit to Babylon”, but the publisher declined it, so it became a part of the cover illustration instead. One of the best-known novels by Zelazny, Roadmarks is a rather short and seemingly unprepossessing, ending in less than 200 pages. As do most of Zelazny’s books, one might add ;). Roger Zelazny, as befits a poet, was a great believer in succinctness. Forget 700-pages bricks in hardcover, suitable mostly for beating somebody to death with them. If you want to read his works you will need to be content with stories tightly bound in a very limited amount of choice words.
The structure of this book is somewhat baffling at first – it starts with chapter “Two”, followed by “One” and then by another “Two”, and so on, right to the end. The names of the chapters have nothing to do with chronological order, they are just two perspectives on the events happening in this book: “One” follows the fate of the main protagonist, Red Dorakeen, while “Two” shows us jumbled in time vignettes of other Roadmarks characters: from Randy, Red’s son, through a bunch of all-time assassins, to a left-over alien killing machine currently engaged in the art of pottery, and finally to dragons. Apparently Zelazny wrote all “Twos” and then shuffled them and inserted each between the chronologically structured “Ones” in this new, chaotic way. It was supposed to serve as a physical reminder that on the Road there’s no such thing as timeline – whether successful or not, that is the reader’s decision.
Zelazny was a literary master, that’s an undisputable fact, period. The Lord of Light, an ingenious sf masterpiece, or first five books in The Chronicles of Amber series – these are first in a row of books being not only milestones in the evolution of sf/fantasy genres, but also wondrous works of art and literature in general. This review, however, is about something entirely different – a very short (280 small pages, medium font plus illustrations!), stand-alone novel, Zelazny’s last – and one of his own favorites.
It’s illustrated by Gahan Wilson and the illustrations are apt. Very simplistic, maybe even going over into the field of caricature, and capturing some of the dark humor of the book. Could they be better? Yeah, certainly – but anyway they are a quite handsome complement to the text of the book. And let me tell you, A Night In The Lonesome October is a rare gem indeed, Koh-i-Noor of quirky fantasy, smallish but 100% pure.
What could I say to preserve the sense of wonder and ultimate relish coming from reading that book for a first time? I really don’t want to spoil the experience for anyone who hasn’t yet read it. That means that this review won’t be digging deep into plot construction or characters – if you want to know it, read the book 😉