Analysis / Roger Zelazny

Zelazny started writing during a fashion in sci-fi/fantasy for psychological focus and experimentalism known as the "New Wave" note . His early short story He Who Shapes describes a doctor able to enter the dreams of his patients by technological means to confront and ease their neuroses. The story moves right out of conventional territory, the very narrative voice itself being progressively overwhelmed by the deep tides of myth and symbology that the overreaching doctor founders in.

Zelazny himself never cared for the "New Wave" label, let alone the notion that he led it. But he did continue in the expansive, risk-taking spirit of the time, developing an extensive array of fictional worlds and narrative approaches. He's the kind of writer who can get computers and deities into the same work without it seeming dissonant.

His Master of Arts was in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. Zelazny's career management was very thorough. He made the decision not to publish until he felt he knew enough of life to draw characters. Once writing, he progressed from short stories to novellas to novels. Even when he was being published, he didn't give up his day job as a civil servant before it was clear writing would pay.

His early work attracted the bulk of the critical attention, particularly by the literary community. His greatest commercial success and best known work is the (later) Amber series. It is a tale of princes locked in rivalry around the claim for a throne. The princes are gods, but Zelazny loved to mix genres: these immortals, these primal forces in human form initially have the morals and at times the style and speech of gangsters out of a hard-boiled detective novel.

While the bulk of the Amber series marks Zelazny settling down to a more straightforward prose style, there are stream-of-consciousness sequences and touches of poetry. The best dialogue is eloquent yet unornamented.

The influence of Zelazny forms a baseline to modern sci-fi and fantasy: he is one of those writers other writers read and love. Neil Gaiman dedicated The Wake to Roger, who died of cancer during its production, aged only 58.

His later works were not as well received by critics. The Amber series in particular has been dismissed as a straightforward power fantasy.

Unusually for a writer interested in deep psychology, Zelazny tended to steer away from the "destructive testing" of characters. Rather than habitually showing us how characters come apart under pressure, his characters have integrity. This maturity is perhaps also part of their willingness to engage with their enemies in extended and meaty conversation where other writers would give up and put in a fight scene.