Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny
“I’d get what I needed and take what I wanted and I’d remember those who helped me and step on the rest. For this, I knew, was the law by which our family lived, and I was a true son of my father.”
When Corwin wakes up in a private hospital after driving his car over a cliff, he has no idea who he is. When he realizes that he has healed too fast and that he’s being drugged so he’ll stay unconscious, he decides that he better find out what’s going on.
The truth is strange: Corwin is one of the nine princes of Amber, the one true world, but for centuries he’s been exiled in the Shadowland we call Earth. The accident has actually dislodged the spell that his brother Eric was using to keep him out of Amber because Corwin is the biggest threat to Eric’s sovereignty there.
Nine Princes in Amber is the first (rather s... Read More
Roger Zelazny won three Nebula awards (nominated 14 times), six Hugos (nominated 14 times), two Locus Awards, and a few others. The epic sci-fi/fantasy series The Chronicles of Amber is his most famous work, but most of his awards are for other works (and there are many!). You can see a list of them here.
The Chronicles of Amber — (1970-1991) Publisher: Awakening in an Earth hospital unable to remember who he is or where he came from, Corwin is amazed to learn that he is one of the sons of Oberon, King of Amber, and is the rightful successor to the crown in a parallel world.
Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny
The Guns of Avalon by Roger Zelazny
Warning, from me: If you haven’t read Nine Princes in Amber yet, don’t read this review.
Another warning, from Corwin: “Never trust a relative. It is far worse than trusting strangers.”
Corwin has escaped from his brother’s prison and he’s ready for revenge. He doesn’t have the manpower that Eric has, so he needs a technological advantage. Traditional firearms don’t work in Amber, but Corwin once noticed that a jewelers’ rouge from the shadow world of Avalon, where he used to rule, is combustible in Amber. So here’s his plan: get some money (pretty easy to do when you can create your own worlds), purchase a huge amount of jeweler’s rouge, and commission some custom-made firearms that use the rouge to shoot silver bullets (he’s not sure other metals will work). Oh, and raise an army. No problem!
The problem... Read More
Sign of the Unicorn by Roger Zelazny
The usual warning: Review contains spoilers for previous book.
Sign of the Unicorn is the third novel in Roger Zelazny’s CHRONICLES OF AMBER. At the end of the previous novel, The Guns of Avalon, Corwin finally got what he wanted: Eric off the throne. Corwin is now the regent of Amber by legitimate claim and he holds the Jewel of Judgment which has powers over the weather and, as Corwin learns, other powers that may be dangerous to its owner.
You’d think that things might now be easy for Corwin, but not so. The forces of Chaos are crossing into Amber from the shadow worlds, and they must be stopped. But Corwin’s most immediate concern is treachery from his scheming siblings. One of them has just been murdered and someone is trying to frame Corwin. During the... Read More
The Hand of Oberon by Roger Zelazny
The Hand of Oberon, the fourth book in Roger Zelazny’s CHRONICLES OF AMBER, continues exactly where the previous book, Sign of the Unicorn, left off. The story was originally serialized in Galaxy Science Fiction and later printed in approximately 180-page installments. Each, therefore, is short and ends at some dramatic moment. These days, we’d probably be annoyed with an author who did this (why buy 10 books when you could just buy two?). For those of you who feel this way, there is an omnibus edition of THE CHRONICLES OF AMBER — I read it years ago — but it’s a bit unwieldy. If you want to listen to the excellent audio versions narrated by Alessandro Juliani, as I’m doing, you’ll need to buy them separately. The ten-book series is divided into two five-book arcs, THE CORWIN CYCLE and ... Read More
The Courts of Chaos by Roger Zelazny
The Courts of Chaos is the very short last installment of the CORWIN CYCLE of THE CHRONICLES OF AMBER and the fifth volume of the entire series. If you haven’t read the previous books, you’ve got no business here — go away. I don’t want to ruin it for you. Go read the first book, Nine Princes in Amber, and continue on from there.
OK. So Oberon is back and we learn that he’s been manipulating events all along. Now he’s on the throne, which is fine with Corwin because after Eric’s death he’s decided he doesn’t want to sit there anyway. Corwin’s concern is with repairing the pattern that Brand destroyed when he let the forces of Chaos into Amber. To heal the land, someone must sacrifice himself and Corwin is willing, but Oberon insists on making the decisions. He wants Corwin to take the Jewel... Read More
This Immortal by Roger Zelazny
The Earth has been mostly depopulated as humans have discovered more sophisticated and comfortable cultures elsewhere in the universe. Much of its infrastructure was destroyed during “The Three Days,” and most of the mainland areas are still “hot.” Genetic mutations have caused the birth of creatures previously thought to be only myth. Now Earth is a strange and dangerous place, fit only as a tourist attraction and a vacation spot for the Vegans.
But some people still love Earth, including long-lived Conrad Nomikos, Commissioner for the Arts. Conrad hates the Vegans, so he isn’t happy that he’s been assigned to be the tour guide for Cort Mishtigo, a rich Vegan who may be planning to buy up more of Earth. But even more interesting than Mishtigo’s plans for Earth is the nature of Conrad himself. Who is he?
This Immortalis a gorgeous novel and Conrad Nomikos makes a... Read More
Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny
The scholar Brian Attebery in his book Strategies of Fantasy writes that works of science fantasy can be divided into two categories: the beautiful and the damned. No middle ground to be had, technology and the supernatural remain relative to the era, and combining them is disastrous to the point of comedy or successful to the point of being a mind-opening experience. Falling into the latter category, Lord of Light, unlike many of Zelazny’s other works of science fantasy, is a flawless blend of the archetypes of science fiction and the mythologies of Hinduism and Buddhism. The result is simply the peak of imaginative literature.
Working with Indian history,... Read More
The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth: And Other Stories by Roger Zelazny
My experience with Roger Zelazny has been hit or miss, and while I consider The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Moutha miss, it’s not terrible. The main fault of these fifteen stories is that characterization remains uniform throughout. The same cigarette-smoking, coffee-drinking, detective noir Joe Cool hero populates the main character role of seemingly every story. Though the type is likeable, this lack of variety gets monotonous. Secondly, the outcome of every story has the hero victorious and triumphant, albeit in occasionally surprising ways, and this general predictability likewise undermines the integrity of the collection. Smoking butts, throwing never-miss left hooks, and having the suave line for the ladies are par for the course of this short story collection.
There are strong points, how... Read More
Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny
In 1971, Roger Zelazny penned a wonderful mix of fantasy and science fiction that I think rivals his AMBER books for sheer imagination and exciting action. Jack of Shadows is set on an imaginary world, similar in some respects to our Earth, vastly different in others. One side of the planet (which does not rotate) is always in light, while the other is constantly at night. The “dayside” is much like 20th century Earth, with science ruling and the inhabitants enjoying the fruits of modern industry and technology. The “darkside” is similar to the medieval fantasy tropes of many fantasy stories, with magic in the ascendance and different supernatural lords ruling over their fiefs or domains, each with special localized powers.
Jack of Shadows, or “Shadowjack” as he is sometimes called, is a unique individual in that his magical po... Read More
A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny
This wonderful little tome was Roger Zelazny’s last book and I think it’s among his best, certainly one of his most enjoyable. The title comes from a line in Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Ulalume,” which goes:
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year;
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
In the misty mid region of Weir —
The story is told in first person present tense by Snuff, a dog who wanders the foggy October nights with a man named Jack. As the story progresses it becomes obvious that the setting is the late 1800s in Victorian England. The novel is divided into thirty-two chapters, one for each night of the month, along with an introduction chapter. As the month progresses and the story unfolds ... Read More
A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny
A Night in the Lonesome October is an odd little book. It’s a mashup of H.P. Lovecraft, Sherlock Holmes, Victorian horror, monster movies, and dry humor, from the point of view of a dog. It’s definitely worth the read if you like pastiche-style horror. It’s written in a weird style and it won’t be for everyone — I’m not even sure it’s exactly for me! I didn’t like it quite as much as Steven did, but I did have fun reading it and found its style unique and intriguing.
The best way I can think of to describe A Night in the Lonesome October is that a huge amount of it takes place between the lines. This works well for some aspects of the book, and less well for others. Many of the f... Read More
Wild Cards edited by George R.R. Martin
Sept 15, 1946: Wild Card Day. When aliens from the planet Takis wanted to test their newly developed virus on a species that is similar to them, naturally, they brought it to Earth. Though they were thwarted by one of their own princes, a foppish alien who has become known to Earthlings as Dr. Tachyon, the virus fell into the hands of evil Dr. Tod, a Nazi sympathizer who, thinking it a biological weapon, decided to drop it on New York City. His archenemy, Jetboy, tried to stop him in a now-legendary air battle above Manhattan, but Jetboy was unsuccessful. When the virus was dumped on New York City, it killed 90% of the people it infected. Nine out of every ten who lived mutated into strange, often hideous, creatures who became known as “Jokers” while one in ten developed a special superpower and became an “Ace.”
WILD CARDS is a shared universe in which several SFF au... Read More
Aces High by George R.R. Martin (ed.)
Aces High is the second volume of George R.R. Martin’s long-running WILD CARDS anthology. In the first volume, Wild Cards, we learned how aliens from the planet Takis decided to test their new virus by using humans as their guinea pigs. In the 1960s, they let loose what has now become known as the Wild Card virus on Manhattan. Much of the world population died and many of the survivors became grossly deformed and are now referred to as “Jokers.” A much smaller proportion of those who were infected gained one or more superpowers and are now known as “Aces.” In Wild Cards, we followed several Aces and Jokers as they dealt not only with their new status in life, but also with the social and political events of the 1960s.
Aces High, which is named after the upscale res... Read More
Black Thorn, White Rose edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Black Thorn, White Rose is the second in Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling's series of adult fairy-tale anthologies. I'd have to say that this is my favorite of the bunch; most of the volumes are good, but this one has so many wonderful stories that have stayed with me for years. A few highlights:
"Stronger Than Time," by Patricia C. Wrede , is a sad but hopeful take on "Sleeping Beauty," told through the eyes of Arven, an ordinary peasant widower. He has lived his whole life in the shadow of a mysterious briar-guarded tower. When a prince enlists his help breaching the tower's defenses, the reader is just as surprised as Arven is. Why does the prince need Arven's help? I dare you not to mist up a little when all is revealed.
... Read More
The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology by Gordon Van Gelder (ed.)
The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology is an excellent collection of 23 stories picked from the treasure trove of short fiction that's been published in the eponymous magazine over the past 60 years. Editor Gordon Van Gelder — also the editor of the magazine since 1997 — has done an admirable job, picking stories that illustrate the diversity of both the genre and the magazine. As such, this is a great anthology for SF&F fans as well as newcomers looking for a taste.
The line-up of authors in this collection looks like a veritable Who's Who of speculative fiction: Ray Bradbury, Read More
Wings of Fire edited by Jonathan Strahan & Marianne S. Jablon
I don't like dragons.
This is probably not the first sentence you'd expect to find in a review of Wings of Fire, an anthology devoted exclusively to dragon stories, but I thought it best to get it out of the way right from the start.
There's nothing inherently wrong with dragons. They're just terribly overused, one of those tired genre mainstays that people who typically don't read a lot of fantasy will expect in a fantasy novel because they were practically unavoidable for a long time. To this day, I confess to having to suppress a mental groan whenever I encounter them.
For a long time, I actively avoided reading any fantasy novel with the word dragon in the title. Granted, I made several exceptions to this rule in the past, most notably The King's Dragon by Read More
Francis Sandow — (1969-1973) Publisher: Human Francis Sandow is amused when the alien Pei’ans mistake him for Shimbo Darktree, God of Thunder, but the Shimbo’s enemy, Belion — a true supreme being — arrives for a showdown.
Changeling Saga — (1980-1981) Publisher: Two stories by the Hugo and Nebula Award winning author Roger Zelazny following the development of an evil wizard’s baby taken to earth unaware of his dark magic past. He returns to his home land and is a powerful sorcerer, but he has many enemies and one want him dead… In ‘Changling’, the people had long suffered under Det Morson’s power…lived in terror of his dragons and other minions. When at last, the wizard Mor joined the fight, Det and his infamous Rondoval castle were destroyed. But the victory was not complete, for the conquerors found a baby amidst the rubble: Det’s son, Pol. Unwilling to kill the child, Mor took him to a world where the ways of magic were considered mere legends — a world called Earth. Years later, the boy grew to become Daniel Chain, a nightclub guitarist possessing mental energies he doesn’t understand. But those mental abilities will soon determine his fate in a terrifying clash of power…on a world which, as yet, he knows nothing about. In ‘Madwand’ Pol Detson, son of Lord Det of Rondovel, has come home. He is now a powerful sorceror of unsurpassed natural ability — in a world where the power of magic is the only kind that matters. But Pol is still an untrained talent, a ‘madwand’. To take control of his powers, to rule in his father’s place, he must survive arduous training and a fantastic initiation into the rites of sorcery. As friends, Pol has one dragon and one thief. As enemies, he has the most powerful wizards of the land. And at least one of them wants him dead.
Dilvish Stories — (1981-1982) Publisher: Escaping from Hell was only the beginning for Dilvish and Black, his demonic metal horse. Finding Jelerak, the evil sorcerer who sent him to two hundred years of torture, was the only thing that interested him. But Fate had other plans. The armies of Colonel Lylish attacked his homeland, and only Black could carry Dilvish through the enemy lines to warn the king. The city of Dilfar was under siege, and only Dilvish, descendant of Selar, could raise the ghostly legions of Shoredan and bring them to its aid. Then a damsel in distress cried out for his help — but really wanted his blood! Twin sorcerers needed him as a pawn in a deadly game for power. An ancient, forgotten goddess tried and failed to stop his quest for vengeance, while a werewolf almost succeeded. Then, when Dilvish finally climbed to Jelerak’s stronghold in the tower of ice, he found nothing but greater perils separating him from his ancient enemy.
Millenial Contest — (1991-1995) With Robert Sheckley. Publisher: A riotous new fantasy series that will challenge the funniest the field has to offer–from the creator of the bestselling Amber series and one of the genre’s legendary humorists. Azzy Elbub, demon, has his sights set on the Millenial Evil Deeds Award, given to the being whose acts do the most toward reshaping the world. But his evil plans go far astray…
The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny — (2009) Publisher: The first in a six-volume series, Volume 1: Threshold contains all of Zelazny’s short works from his early years through the mid 1960s — a period of experimentation and growth that flowered into gems such as “A Rose for Ecclesiastes,” “The Graveyard Heart,” “The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth,” and “He Who Shapes.” The stories in this series are enriched by editors’ notes and Zelazny’s own words, taken from his many essays, describing why he wrote the stories and what he thought about them in retrospect.
Manna from Heaven — (2006) Publisher: This collection includes all five previously uncollected Amber stories, plus the prologue from the rare limited edition of Trumps of Doom, and 16 other fantasy and science fiction stories (including a collaboration with Harlan Ellison).
Coils — (1982) Publisher: A new entity is being born. Its cells are microprocessors, its soul lives in data banks from Wall Street to Red Square. It is neither good nor evil. But it is very dangerous. The Angra Oil Corporation thinks it is just another resource to be used up…. Coils: The story of a man and a woman trapped in the battle between a soulless corporation and the soul of a new machine.
The Black Throne — (1990) Publisher: As children, Perry, Annie, and Edgar Allen Poe met on a mystical beach out of space and time. Fifteen years later, Perry discovers that he is living the stones written Dy his alter ego, Edgar Allan Poe, as he encounters a world of reality gone mad.
Donnerjack — (1997) Roger Zelazny and Jane Lindskold. Publisher: This “new” Roger Zelazny work was finished posthumously with the help of his coauthor and friend, Jane Lindskold. Unlike some after-the-fact “collaborations,” this one has Zelazny written all over it. It’s a typical tale from one of science fiction’s greats, a world-spanning story that deals heavily with mythology and the ability to cross between two realities. In this case the realities are the real world, Verité, and the virtual world, Virtù. When Donnerjack — one of the architects of Virtù — loses his lover Ayradyss, he makes a pact with Death to return her from the dead. In return, Death demands their first-born child, who will be the first baby born from a Verité/Virtù union, and a force to be reckoned with in both worlds.
Lord Demon — (1999) Roger Zelazny and Jane Lindskold. Publisher: Seeking revenge for the murder of his devoted human servant, Kai Wren, the great demon warrior, is forced into a series of dangerous alliances in order to preserve the Demon Realms, but he has been weakened by years of peace and the threat of betrayal among his closest companions.