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Literature / Doorways in the Sand

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Doorways in the Sand is a 1976 novel by Roger Zelazny. It tells the story of perpetual college student Fred Cassidy, who has found himself a suspect in the theft of a priceless alien artifact. While clearing his name, Fred has to deal with alien abduction, telepathic plants, overly patriotic Brits, the perils of mirror-reversal, and — worst of all — administrators who are trying to force him to graduate.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Ain't No Rule: Turns out there's no rule barring the university from awarding a PhD to a student who doesn't have a B.A. Over his objections.
  • Benevolent Alien Invasion: Roughly speaking. It's not an invasion, and it's officially benevolent, but there are sinister behind-the-scenes aspects.
  • Clear My Name: Fred is suspected of stealing the Star Stone. Correctly, more or less.
  • Cliffhanger: Chapter 8 of the book ends:
    But then everything was going to turn out all right, wasn't it? It always does in the various mass entertainment media.
    I sprang toward Jamie, my arms outstretched.
    His hand slowed in an instant's indecision, then swung the gun back toward me and fired it, point-blank.
    My chest exploded and the world went away.
    So much for mass entertainment.
Chapter 9 begins, "It is good to pause periodically and reflect on the benefits to be derived from the elective system of higher education." It continues in that vein for several paragraphs before returning to the question of what happened after Fred was shot in the chest.
  • Heart in the Wrong Place: Someone attempts to murder the main character, Fred Cassidy, by shooting him in the left side of the chest. Fortunately for Fred, he'd recently passed himself through an alien matter-mirroring machine and his heart was now on the right side.
  • How We Got Here: Every single chapter. Zelazny was playing with a different way of telling a story. Each chapter starts as The Teaser, then does a Flashback to the ending of the prior chapter, catches up to the opening, then continues on to the chapter end.
  • Human Popsicle:
    "For a number of years and a variety of reasons have I been a man whose very blood is snow-broth ..."
  • I Have Your Wife: Fred's former roommate and co-suspect's wife, that is.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: "Warp and Woof" textiles.
  • Mirror Chemistry: After Fred reverses himself by going through the Rhennius Machine, he has to deal with this. It's also key to the operation of the Star Stone, which is only active when mirror-flipped.
  • Mutilation Interrogation: threatened on Mary; done to Paul Byler.
    Zeemeister: "You could say he spilled his guts."
  • My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: Ragma has a slight case of this: "Brace of roods" instead of double-cross, and "doodlehums" for hoodlums.
  • Noodle Incident: Dr. Merimee was discharged from the university after an incident involving a donkey, a girl, and a dwarf. It's probably best not to speculate too much.
  • On One Condition: Fred remains a student because his uncle died and left a substantial fund to provide for his education; when he graduates, the remainder of the fund will be donated to the Irish Republican Army.
  • Organ Dodge: Fred survives a close-range gunshot to the chest due to his reversed status.
  • Psychic Static: Fred memorizes a phone number to block a psychic alien. He also learns that alcohol tends to dampen psychic transmissions and begins self-medicating afterwards.
  • Renaissance Man: Since Fred has taken every undergraduate course available from Anthropology to Zoology, he qualifies.
  • Retired Badass: Uncle Albert appears to have been a former all-around hellraiser. He's very retired now, however, on account of being technically dead. (see Human Popsicle)
  • Roof Hopping: Fred climbs buildings, and as a result likes to get around this way. The opening scene of the novel has him navigating his way over several roofs so he can climb in a window and make it to an advising appointment more or less on time.
  • Shout-Out: A rather odd one: when Fred was forced to give up his math major in order to avoid graduating, he wrote a poem that starts, "Lobachevsky alone has looked on beauty bare." The in-story poem can be found here.