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Literature / Roadmarks

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Roadmarks is a Science Fantasy novel published in 1979 by Roger Zelazny.

The setting is a highway that can only be found by people with a certain unspecified mystical knack, where each of the exits and off-ramps lead to different points in history. And not just a single history, but to alternate histories as well; some of the people traveling on the highway are lost, trying to find the way back to the timeline they originally came from, while others have abandoned their original timeline and are seeking one more to their liking.

Known only as The Road, created by the fabled Dragons of Bel'kwinith for unknowable purposes, it has always existed, along with its strange collection of travelers. The Road slowly changes in response to those traveling it and reflecting the constant changes caused by tampering with history.

The novel alternates chapters (labeled either One or Two) that tell the story of Red Dorakeen's search for his past with vignettes involving a variety of places and characters along the road, all of which eventually feed in to the resolution of the main plot.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Strong female characters, both physically and in personality, feature in the alternative chapters.
    • Strangulena has strangled over a hundred lovers and is recruited as an assassin. She's easily strong enough to get the job done.
    • Leila, an old friend of Red's with semi-dependable precognition, joins Red's son Randy in chasing Red down. She's quite tall and solid, described as carrying her purse like a football. She hopes to save Red's life, but isn't above placing bets against him is there's profit to be made!
  • Anachronic Order: The vignettes are in no particular order; for instance, the first shows Randy having an encounter on the road, while a later one shows him arriving on the road for the first time. Zelazny reportedly wrote them out on separate pieces of paper and shuffled them into a random order before interleaving them with the Red chapters. However, Author Notes in one of Zelazny's collections relates that his editor required rearranging a few of the chapters for story purposes.
  • Ancient Astronauts: One of the characters is Mondamay, the world killer (retired) from a distant offshoot of Earth where an alien race deposited him. He is enlisted as an assassin against his will.
  • Artificial Intelligence: Two of the characters in the story are computers in the form of books: Flowers of Evil accompanies Red in the One chapters while his son Randy discovers and is assisted by Leaves of Grass in the Two chapters. Both assist in navigating The Road.
  • Berserk Button: Leaves enjoys songs about drinking and fornicating. Don't tease her about it unless you plan on walking back to Present Day Earth.
  • Carnival of Killers: The antagonist hires the "Black Decade", ten highly skilled assassins/hunters from the entire range of Earth's history, to eliminate Red. This includes an assassin robot, a genetically enhanced and cybernetic super soldier, and a martial arts master.
  • Dead Man Writing: Played with — 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."
  • Disappeared Dad: Randy's father disappeared when he was very young.
  • Everybody Smokes: Cigars, by preference.
  • Gentle Giant: Mondamay is a large alien robot with the power to obliterate entire planets, but finds himself left behind by his creators due to massive system malfunctions. He becomes a potter and lives a peaceful life until reactivated by an assassin and ordered to kill a friend.
  • Godwin's Law of Time Travel: Subverted; a highway runs from one end of time to the other with offshoots that lead to alternative time lines and poor Adolph still can not find a place "where he won".
  • Have We Met Yet?: Played with; on several occasions, people reminisce about a previous meeting with Red then add that they're not sure if it's happened to him yet, because he looked older then. See Merlin Sickness below.
  • Historical Domain Character: Other travelers on the road include Ambrose Bierce, the Marquis de Sade, and a small German man named Adolph who's said to be searching without success for a timeline where his cause was victorious.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: Yet other travelers on the road go unnamed but resemble famous fictional characters including Doc Savage and one of his enemies, John Sunlight.
  • Merlin Sickness: 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.
  • Out with a Bang: A woman who specialized in killing her partner at "the moment" so he was coming and going at the same time.
  • Science Fantasy: The story mixes science fiction tropes like robots and cyborgs with fantasy tropes like dragons and mystical powers. (Reader's choice which side the time travel falls on.)
  • 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.
  • You Didn't Ask: Used deliberately against one of the villains. Mondamay is placed under a compulsion to obey the villain's orders; the villain's plan fails due to a fact Mondamay knew all along but chose not to volunteer; the villain asks why he didn't warn him, and Mondamay replies, with exact truth, "You never asked me."