Roger Zelazny was a Speculative Fiction
writer who loved to blur the boundaries between Science Fiction
. He is best remembered for his series, The Chronicles of Amber
, but he wrote much, much more.
He began during the early days of the New Wave Science Fiction
movement, in the mid 1960s, and while he never identified with that movement, he did share its interest in literary technique. He wrote in a style that veered wildly between the flowery prose
of high fantasy and the mundane prose
of everyday life—the former to give his readers a sense of wonder; the latter to draw them in and make them feel a part of the story, and, often, to add a touch of humor. Together with New Wave authors like Michael Moorcock
, he helped redefine modern fantasy.
Early in his career, he developed a reputation for writing mythology-based SF. His first novel, This Immortal
(originally, Call Me Conrad
) borrowed from Greek Mythology
, and Lord of Light
and Creatures of Light and Darkness
were based on Hindu
and Egyptian Mythology
, respectively. He quickly branched out into more general forms of Science Fantasy
, while still relying heavily on archetypal themes, like the Tarot and the conflict with Chaos in The Chronicles of Amber
. He did return to his mythological-SF roots with two later works: Eye of Cat
(Native American Mythology
), and The Mask of Loki
Zelazny engaged in several collaborations, including works created with Philip K Dick
, Robert Sheckley
and Alfred Bester
. His last two novels, Donnerjack
and Lord Demon
, were completed posthumously by friend and mentee Jane Lindskold
His Post-apocalyptic novel Damnation Alley
lent its title (but little else) to a 1977 film
. His short story "The Last Defender of Camelot" was adapted (by George RR Martin
) for an episode of The New Twilight Zone
For biographical details and analysis, see the analysis page
Roger Zelazny's works with their own trope pages include:
Roger Zelazny's other works provide examples of:
- After the End: Several of his short stories, including "For a Breath I Tarry" and "The Stainless Steel Leech" among others, are set in various post-human worlds, amongst the robotic servants who have inherited the Earth.
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: In Home is the Hangman, a space-exploring AI returns to Earth and a scientist is sent to investigate whether it's out to murder its programmers. Far from it.
- And I Must Scream
- Animated Armor: Merlin's servitor in "The Last Defender of Camelot"
- Author Appeal: In quite a few books (The Chronicles of Amber and Lord of Light among them) people smoke a lot— usually cigarettes, sometimes a pipe. Zelazny was himself a heavy smoker until middle-age when he gave it up for health reasons. Whenever he got stuck as to where to go next, he would have a cigarette to think about things, and would put this activity into the text. When he stopped smoking during the second set of Amber books, he also stopped writing about his characters smoking.
- Author Existence Failure: Donnerjack and several other works were incomplete at his death. It is moving that Zelazny himself finished off several books of other authors who had died.
- Automated Automobiles: Devil Car, and other stories.
- Balance Between Good and Evil: The pantheon Zelazny created for Isle of the Dead and To Die in Italbar balances creative against destructive gods.
- Bring News Back
- Carnival of Killers: In Roadmarks the antagonist hires the "Black Decade," ten highly skilled assassins/hunters from the entire range of Earth's history have been hired to eliminate the protagonist. This includes an assassin robot, a genetically enhanced and cybernetic super soldier, and a martial arts master.
- Character Name Alias
- Dead Man Writing: Played with in Roadmarks: A character writes a note to his employer explaining why he intends not only to resign but to kill his employer before he departs. He ends it with a postscript — "By the time you read this, you will already be dead."
- Deus ex Machina: The bottle that Kai Wren creates at the start of Lord Demon has the power to grant him any three wishes. At first, he doesn't want to use it, preferring to solve his problems the old fashioned way, but when the fight starts turning against him, he uses the first wish to boot his enemies to their home dimension.
- Disappeared Dad: Sandow to his son; Randy's father in Roadmarks; Oberon to Corwin; Corwin to Merlin. Zelazny's own father died early.
- Doomed Moral Victor
- Excited Show Title!: "Horseman!"
- Eternal Engine: In Jack of Shadows, there is a Machine at the Heart of the World (the purpose of which is to stop the Earth from rotating).
- Eye Color Change: In Dilvish The Damned, some witches have eyes that wax and wane with the moon.
- Gentle Giant: Mondamay in Roadmarks.
- Guinea Pig Family: In This Immortal, the Absent-Minded Professor borderline Evilutionary Biologist (he euthanized the last dog on earth) George Emmet wanted to experiment on his children...but his wife put her foot down.
- Friend to All Living Things: Justified for Francis Sandow, on the planets whose ecosystems he designed. It's a plot point in one novel when an animal is frightened of him, since it means he's entering enemy territory, and identifies him in a short story.
- Have We Met Yet?: Played with in Roadmarks — on several occasions, people reminisce about a previous meeting with the time-travelling protagonist then add that they're not sure if it's happened to him yet, because he looked older then. It turns out that he's growing younger instead of older as time goes on.
- Historical-Domain Character: The time-travel novel Roadmarks has significant cameos by several, including the Marquis de Sade and a small German man named Adolph.
- Human Popsicle: In Permafrost characters are frozen solid and remain... alive.
- Humanity's Wake: For a Breath I Tarry is set in a post-human world inhabited by our robotic servants. They regard mankind as godlike figures from a golden age.
- I Have Many Names: A series of short stories, collected in My Name Is Legion, about a secret agent whose real name even his employer didn't know, whose aliases were always the names of obscure-but-notable historical figures. (In a break from the usual procedure, the historical figure always had nothing whatever to do with the job at hand; for instance, on his first appearance he was undercover as an engineer, but using a name whose original owner was a doctor.)
- Inn Between the Worlds: Psychoshop (written with Alfred Bester) has a similar nature, but instead of a bar, it's a sort of pawnshop, "where you can dump any unwanted aspect of your spirit as long as you exchange it for something else".
- Journey to the Center of the Mind: He Who Shapes, see the main text.
- Lightspeed Leapfrog: The backstory of Francis Sandow from Isle of the Dead. He couldn't find his place on Earth and joined the first interstellar expedition on a sleeper ship. Then he found the hard way he wasn't fit to be a colonist, thus he joined the first passing ship that had a vacancy. And then he kept joining new expeditions to run to the farthest border. After over 6 centuries he found that borders outran him:
I made one more trip to get away, and it was already too late. People were suddenly all over the place, intelligent aliens were contacted, interstellar trips were matters of weeks and months, not centuries.
- Like a Badass out of Hell: Dilvish the Damned.
- The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday: Psychoshop, a remarkably mobile shop where you pawn elements of your mind!
- Mark of the Supernatural: In This Immortal, protagonist narrator Conrad Nomikos has heterochromia, among other odd features. But then he is probably a mutant and is definitely hundreds of years old. His unique appearance is an important plot point.
- Mechanical Horse: Bronze from Creatures of Light and Darkness; the horse from Dilvish the Damned (either demonic or mechanical) probably qualifies too. Also, more distantly, the Brass Baboon in Donnerjack.
- Merlin Sickness: In Roadmarks, certain people start out as old men (or women) and grow younger over time. The question of what they have in common and why this happens is central to the plot.
- Mugging the Monster: "The Last Defender of Camelot" begins with a trio of muggers picking on a harmless-looking old man who turns out to be the last surviving Knight of the Round Table — and not just any knight, but Sir Launcelot du Lac, who never lost a fight in his entire life.
- No Man of Woman Born: The sword from The Bells of Shoredan
- Plot Coupon: Inverted in Forever After.
- Psychic Powers
- Public Domain Character: Merlin, Sir Launcelot and Morgan Le Fay in "The Last Defender of Camelot"
- Reality Is Out to Lunch
- Really 700 Years Old: Many characters.
- Rebellious Spirit
- Sapient Steed: Dilvish's steed, a steel horse that's the embodiment of a demon, in Dilvish the Damned.
- Shadow Walker: In Jack Of Shadows, this is one of the title character's signature abilities.
- Sleight of Tongue
- Sophisticated as Hell: In Lord Demon, the title character Kai Wren meets an Irish Sidhe. After exchanging the appropriately formal official greetings, Kai Wren tells the Sidhe his name. The response? "Lord Demon? Holy shit!"
- Talking Your Way Out: Characters are often very chatty — a feature that saves the skin of more than one of them.
- Underwater City: Underwater colonies are a significant part of the backstory of "The Eve of RUMOKO".
- The Unpronounceable:
- The Changing Land features a demon named Melbrinionsadsazzersteldregandishfeltselior. The long name is necessary for the invocation ritual, and if the sorcerer attempting it were to get as much as one syllable wrong, the demon would kill him. Understandably, wizards are reluctant to attempt it. Subverted inasmuch as one of the antagonists is a wizard named Baran, whose native tongue is a horribly complicated agglutinative language, so he has no problem pronouncing the name and using the demon for errands.
- One of the stories collected in My Name Is Legion features a sapient dolphin named 'Kjwalll'kje'k'koothaïlll'kje'k (which is also, no doubt to the delight of Zelazny's copy-editors, the title of the story itself).
- Unusual Chapter Numbers:
- Roadmarks, which involves time travel, begins with "Two", followed by "One" — then another "Two", another "One", and so on through the book. The chapters numbered One follow the protagonist through the story; the chapters numbered Two contain related scenes in other times and places, and are not in chronological order.
- Virgin Sacrifice
- We Can Rule Together: Subverted in "The Last Defender of Camelot"; the villain admits that he never expected to have Launcelot join him, and was only saying it out of spite.
- What Is This Thing You Call Love?: The demons in Lord Demon can't truly feel it, nor can they truly hate. Except main character Kai Wren.
- You Didn't Ask: Used against one of the villains in Roadmarks. A character is placed under a compulsion to obey the villain's orders; the villain's plan fails due to a fact the character knew all along but chose not to volunteer; the villain asks why he didn't warn him, and the character replies, with exact truth, "You never asked me."