Follow TV Tropes


Literature / This Immortal

Go To
"Nothing is cheaper than past glories."
Conrad Nomikos

This Immortal, originally serialized as ...And Call Me Conrad in 1965, is a Science Fiction novel by Roger Zelazny. In 1966, it won the Hugo Award alongside Frank Herbert's Dune.

It is set on an Earth that has been mostly abandoned by humans after a nuclear fallout. This turned most of the planet's landmasses into Hot Spots, displacing what's left of humanity to the coastal regions and islands, with the majority of the human population living and working off-planet under the wing of the Vegan Combine centered around Vega. The Vegans themselves, having never seen a destroyed civilization before, treat Earth and humanity as a museum and vacation spot, building resorts and touring Earth's remaining historical sites.

The story centers around Conrad Nomikos, Comissioner of Monuments, Arts and Archives on Earth, who is asked by the Office — the closest thing Earth retains to a functioning on-site government — to take a Vegan journalist named Cort Myshtigo on a tour around Earth. They are joined by a group of people close to Conrad, all for their own reasons, but soon it becomes apparent that someone within that group wants to see Myshtigo dead. It is up to Conrad — himself a mystery to many people — to uncover who plans to kill Myshtigo, whether the journalist is truly just writing a travel guide to Earth, and whether to try to preserve his life or stand aside.

This Immortal contains examples of:

  • The Ageless: Conrad Nomikos has stopped aging somewhere in his mid-20s and keeps reinventing new identities for himself at somewhat regular intervals to hide that fact. His inner monologue implies that he can die from unnatural causes, but will live forever otherwise. This comes in handily in the end when Tatram Yshtigo judges Conrad to be morally upright and long-lived enough to take control over all affairs concerning Earth.
  • Amazing Technicolor Population: The Vegans, Humanoid Aliens able to live and breathe on Earth, have blue skin.
  • Benevolent Alien Invasion: After taking in those humans stranded in space after the Three Days, the Vegans basically ended up in control over Earth — and why not? They provide employment, allow humans to live on their planets, are technologically advanced and psychologically disinclined to disorder, as evidenced by their never having experienced or seen the decline of a civilization before encountering humans. They even go so far as to buy the land on Earth on which they want to build vacation resorts.
  • Bring Help Back: When Conrad and Hasan are stuck in a Hot Spot while tied to stone pillars with no way to free themselves, Conrad manages to send Bortan to fetch help. It works, although only after a false start — Bortan originally thought that any hands would do and offered them one torn off of a nearby body.
  • Canis Major: Bortan, Conrad's dog he once found as a puppy and raised, never imagining it would grow as big as a horse — with plates at his sides and other mutations — or live for as long as thirty years and counting. If not for natural causes (mutation through radiation), Bortan would qualify as a Hellhound, and Conrad even calls him that repeatedly.
  • Cannibal Tribe: The Kouretes, a tribe of half-human mutants led officially by Procrustes and inofficially by would-be shaman Moreby from Taler. They live in wooden shacks in the mountains near a Hot Spot and engage in cannibalism of whoever they manage to capture. Their name is actually ironicthe Kouretes come from a Greek myth who prevented cannibalism by dancing around the infant Zeus while clashing their spears and shields together to drown out his crying and prevent his father Cronus from finding and eating him.
  • Captured by Cannibals: The group is taken captive by the Kouretes, a tribe of half-human mutants living near a a Hot Spot in the mountains of Greece. They don't bother with niceties but pretend their captives could win their freedom through a Duel to the Death against the Dead Man, whom the Kouretes worship. While Hasan fights the Dead Man, the others try to break free, and through a combined effort they manage to both kill the Dead Man and flee.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome:
    • At first, Conrad tries to prevent Myshtigo's murder because protecting the latter is part his job, but also because he sees no reason to let it happen until he's found proof otherwise. He also tries to protect everyone, even Hasan, when the group is caught by cannibals by offering himself to fight the Dead Man and tries to save Myshtigo from a boadile even though letting the animal eat the latter would solve many problems.
    • More or less name-dropped when Hasan insists on fighting the Dead Man:
    Conrad: Congratulations. You've won yourself a Do-It-Yourself Hero Kit, complete with monster.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Hasan. You don't get to be the world's most deadly assassin without being one.
    • Hasan frankly admits that he's no physical match for Conrad, and wouldn't dare meet him he chooses a ranged weapon which will give him a much better chance at survival.
    • Hasan also knows that he hasn't got much of a chance against the Dead he poisons his fingernails, scratches the Dead Man, and spends the rest of his time just surviving until the Dead Man falls over.
  • Disney Death: Cassandra allegedly dies in an earthquake which lays waste to the general area she and Conrad live in. It turns out she was out on a boat during the quake and survived.
  • Duel to the Death:
    • Conrad challenges Hasan the Arab to a duel to the death (after having payed his death tax and acquiered a duel permit, of course) in order to stop him from killing Myshtigo. The duel is fought using slingshots but is interrupted by a group of Kouretes, so no one actually dies.
    • When captured by the Kouretes, the group is given the option that one of them fight the Dead Man in a duel to the death to win all of their freedom. Moreby is very confident that whoever fights will lose, as that's what always happens.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The book ends with Conrad contemplating all the work he's going to have to do to restore Earth to a shadow of its former self, and concluding he'll probably have to cut himself back to a bare six months of vacation at a time.
  • Entitled Bastard: Everyone assumes Cort Myshtigo to be one. He's from an influential family, acts rudely, ignores whoever he wants, disregards Conrad's instructions and still expects the latter to save him and guard his life. It is later revealed that Myshtigo was a superb actor and considered this assignment his last great role, all while he was dying of some incurable disease.
  • Evilutionary Biologist: Downplayed. George Emmet is not the villain of the piece, but lives purely For Science! and exhibits a Lack of Empathy, which causes him to do whatever he thinks would improve a species without considering what the moral implications would be. When, at the end of the book, his wife Ellen is pregnant again, he wants to try embryosurgery to create a child capable of breathing underwater... Ellen isn't having any of that, though.
  • Fan of the Past: The Vegans turn out to be fascinated with human history, as they've become bored with themselves. Especially high caste Vegans delight in puzzling over how the great pyramids were built or who actually wrote Shakespeare's plays. Cort Myshtigo claims to be on Earth for this very reason — to write a travel book about Earth's historical sites.
  • Fauns and Satyrs: There are satyrs in inland Greece, although they are the result of genetic mutations caused by nuclear pollution and superstition, with people abandoning their mutant newborns in the forest and some of those babies growing up to become satyrs. Satyrs are said to be of subhuman, limited intelligence and to love dance and pipe playing, but to otherwise be very shy.
  • Fictional Colour: The Vegans perceive a different range of colours than humans do, starting deeper down in the ultraviolet range and stopping before red. This results in them seeing two colours where humans see white.
  • Freak Out: Conrad goes absolutely berserk when he hears his wife Cassandra has died in an earthquake.
  • Friendly Enemy: Conrad and Hasan are quite friendly with each other, chatting at the campfire and such, despite trying to protect and kill Myshtigo, respectively.
  • Giant Flyer: Spiderbats can grow large enough to catch and carry off a man.
  • Government in Exile: Although it's partly a self-imposed exile, the Earth government actually resides on Taler and is voted upon mostly by the resident human population while Earth is pretty much left to its own devices. Though Radpol had a hand in making it rather unappealing for Earthgov to be on site.
  • Guinea Pig Family: Absent-Minded Professor and borderline Evilutionary Biologist — he euthanized the last dog on earth — George Emmet wanted to experiment on his own children... but fortunately his wife put her foot down on that matter.
  • Happily Ever After:
    • Conrad and Cassandra, who are not only reunited but also build themselves a new home, complete with a dog and their own private beach on which they end the story, watching the sunset.
    • This is also implied with Dos Santos and Diane, whom Conrad suspects to be a couple from the very beginning, but who give up on Returnism and move together to Taler, never to be heard of again.
  • Happily Married:
    • Conrad and Cassandra, who are newly married at the beginning of the novel after having fallen in love at first sight.
    • Ellen and George, even though it may not seem like this, what with George having bouts of Guinea Pig Family and Evilutionary Biologist... But whenever danger strikes, they can be seen holding hands, and Ellen is pregnant again at the end of the book.
  • Hegemonic Empire: The Vegan Combine is a union of Vegan-lead planets that oversees trade and pretty much everything concerning its citizens, including Earth, although humans are not eligible for Vegan citizenship.
  • Home Sweet Home: Conrad is not happy to begin with when he's called in for a job, especially since he's just married. In the end, he and Cassandra build themselves a new home on Haiti since their former home base island, Kos, is destroyed by an earthquake during the story. They just continue where they left off.
  • Humanoid Aliens: The Vegans. They are blue-skinned, amber-eyed (or at least Cort Myshtigo is) and the vents for their lungs can be found of their torso. Additionally, their bodies are covered in patterns invisible to humans, enabling Vegans to identify each other's clan by pattern.
  • Humans Need Aliens: After the nuclear fallout known as the Three Days, humanity would have perished if not for the Vegans, who took those stranded in space in and allowed them to live on Taler and other Vegan-populated planets. As of the time of the story, most humans live outside Earth and work for the Vegans, as it's assumed that Earth couldn't possibly support such a big human population, and those still inhabiting Earth are largely dependent on Vegan funding.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Conrad's excuse for having founded Radpol as Konstantin Karaghiosis and engaged in prolongued guerrilla warfare, reducing the number of uncontaminated areas on Earth even further. When Hasan points out that none of what they did changed anything in the long run, Conrad counters that at least their actions prevented the situation from getting worse.
  • Immortality Begins at Twenty: Conrad stopped aging somewhere in his mid-20s. He is, however, not particularly good looking. On the contrary, one of his legs is shorter than the other, he has a scarred face and heterochromia (diffent-coloured eyes).
  • Immortal Procreation Clause: Of the variety where the immortal, in this case Conrad, can and does have offspring, but they only marginally benefit from that, living slightly longer than normal but not unusually so, thus causing him to watch them die. Conrad, however, does not seem particularly fazed by that as that's just how things are.
  • I'm Not a Hero, I'm...: Conrad's reaction when confronted with Diane's adoration towards Konstantin Karaghiosis is to reject it, although he later uses it to extend the amount of time that he has to think about Myshtigo's fate. It is also Played for Laughs when they check into a hotel in Athens only for Conrad to get the suite, a room famous for having been Konstantin Karaghiosis' headquarters during the Radpol Rebellion — pretty much everything in that room is adorned with a plaque commemorating the occasion:
    The stain on this wall was caused by a bottle of beverage, hurled across the room by Konstantin Karaghiosis, in celebration of the bombing of Madagascar.
    Believe that, if you want to.
    Konstantin Karaghiosis sat in this chair, insisted another.
    I was really afraid to go into the bathroom.
  • Klingons Love Shakespeare: Vegans love Coca Cola, especially the recently rediscovered original recipe.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: The reasoning behind Conrad's leaving his identity as Konstantin Karaghiosis and the Returnist movement behind was that there comes a point when one's achieved what one could achieve and it's time to move on. Dos Santos and especially Diane, who figures out Conrad's former identity, disagree.
  • Lack of Empathy: Evilutionary Biologist George exhibits a lack of sympathy both towards people and especially towards other living creatures, e.g., he dissects the last living dog on Earth just because he can and For Science!.
  • La Résistance: Radpol used to be this when it was founded and led by Konstantin Karaghiosis, Conrad's former identity. Their aim was to prevent the Earth government from selling Earth's entire habitable area to the Vegans for resort building, to regain Earth's autonomy and to incite the humans living on Taler to return and help rebuild Earth — something that came to be called the Returnist movement. They were, however, not above using heavy artillery and even nukes to achieve that goal.
  • Living Forever is No Big Deal: This seems to be Conrad's approach to life as he's never known any other, and he even seems to have no issue with his relatives and descendants dying before him.
  • Longevity Treatment: There is the so-called S-S treatment that's never specified but is said to be able to prolong a human's lifespan to 150 years and above.
  • Love at First Sight: Happened just before the beginning of the novel, with Conrad and Cassandra falling in love on their first chance meeting. Apparently, it took them only two months to get married.
  • Magical Flutist: At one point in the story, the group encounters a group of satyrs in the forest, prompting Conrad to produce shepherd's pipes out of nowhere and causing a dancing frenzy among the satyrs with his music. At the end of the book, Myshtigo theorises that Conrad may be the god Pan in disguise when recalling that incident.
  • Mark of the Supernatural: Conrad Nomikos has heterochromia, among other odd features. His unique appearance is an important plot point.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Conrad Nomikos and his newly wed wife Cassandra. The former is functionally immortal with an unspecified number of past identities while the latter is a twenty-year-old woman.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters:
    • Spiderbats, imported from offplanet, are an undescribed Vegan creature presumably resembling a bat-spider hybrid, able to fly and grow big enough to carry a grown man.
    • The boadile is a mix of boa and crocodile, although there's some debate over which taxonomic category they belong into or how many legs they have. (Twenty, neatly arranged on each side).
    • The megaplatydon is mentioned: a platypus the size of a car, although they are noted to be vanishingly rare in the wild and probably doomed to quick extinction.
  • Mutants: On post-apocalyptic Earth, genetic mutations caused by nuclear pollution abound, with babies being born deformed even in the civilized areas. Some mutant tribes in Greece resemble and are named after mythological creatures, including satyrs and centaurs. Conrad's god Bortan is as large as a horse and has plates on his sides, and Conrad himself likely owes his halted aging to a genetic mutation of his own.
  • Named After Their Planet: The Vegans are named after Vega, the star their home planet belongs to.
  • Never Be Hurt Again: Diane lets slip that she used to be a pleasure girl on Taler and it wasn't a pleasant experience, which caused her hatred of all Vegans and was her motivation to join Radpol's Returnist movement.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: A temporarily-Axe-Crazy Conrad is tricked into fighting Hasan's sparring robot after its fail-safes have been removed.
  • Nothing Personal: After Hasan tries to kill Conrad, he assures him that it's nothing personal — the latter is just in the way of Hasan completing his job of killing Cort Myshtigo.
  • Not in This for Your Revolution: Conrad, upon finding out who wants to kill Myshtigo and why they want to do it, makes it quite clear that he's not on this job for any kind of revolution or political statement, which is ironic as he's the retired founder of that very same revolutionary movement.
  • Not Too Dead to Save the Day: Cassandra, believed to have died in an earthquake, arrives just in time in the end to shoot the Black Beast that attacks Conrad, Hasan, Ellen and George at Phil's impromptu funeral.
  • Our Centaurs Are Different: They are only mentioned in passing, but there are centaurs in the mountains of Greece, and they are the product of genetic mutation caused by nuclear pollution.
  • Pragmatic Hero: Conrad Nomikos. He is not above resorting to guerrilla warfare, standing aside and potentially seeing someone killed or insulting sensibilities by dismantling the pyramid of Cheops to prove his point and acieve the greater goal of an autonomous Earth with its inhabitants returned. He does, however, take the time to first make damn sure it's the best course of action towards that goal.
  • Professional Killer: Hasan the Assassin, reportedly the last mercenary on Earth and a Consummate Professional at his job. He takes pride in never leaving a job unfinished and being very subtle about it.
  • The Proud Elite: Myshtigo comes off as an cold and arrogant Entitled Bastard who flaunts his family's influence, as well as his own as a wealthy and influential galacto-journalist, but he shows surprising insight into the cultural differences between Vegans and humans as well as into the personalities of those around him. He also shows surprising depth by being able to play that role and see through Conrad's motivations while dying of an incurable desease. His humor in his last letter to Conrad help to endear him to Conrad even more.
  • Psychic Powers:
    • Conrad exhibits the occasional bout of clairvoyance where he is able to see, hear and feel something as if he were there about which he has enough information to make a good guess. He calls it pseudotelepathic wishfulfillment and claims he's occasionally guessed wrong, but it is proven to be real when he accidentally connects with Myshtigo who later identifies it.
    • The Vegans have developed several systems of mental discipline able to produce extrasensory abilities, and since every Vegan comes in contact with such a system at some point in their lives most are able to at least identify such occurences.
  • Punch-Clock Hero: Conrad Nomikos himself. Originally, he only agrees to be Myshtigo's guide because he's the Comissioner of Monuments, Arts and Archives and got called back from his long-time vacation to do so, and only ends up playing the hero because it's his job. It used to be different, though.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Tatram Yshtigo, Cort Myshtigo's grandfather, is — according to Phil — 'an altruistic administrator of services to the public' and very much aware of the problems with Earth's dependency on the Vegan Combine. He hatches the plan of sending Cort Myshtigo to Earth to survey whether it could possibly govern itself, then arranges things thus that Conrad Nomikos end up in charge — reasoning that with someone as long-lived and honourable as Conrad there's a good chance that Earth will become habitable again in the long run.
  • The Snark Knight: As par for the course with Zelazny heroes, Conrad can barely get through a conversation without being a smartass.
  • Spirited Competitor: Hasan enjoys competing and chellanges, and it has the added bonus of keeping him fit for his job. He lugs a Vegan-made wrestling robot with him on the trip and wrestles it daily, and when challenged to a duel by Conrad, he chooses slingshots because it's more of a competition than just gunning each other down.
  • That Man Is Dead: Conrad changes his names with his identities and proclaims his former personas dead. When confronted with the possibility of him being Konstantin Karaghiosis, he denies it, saying Karaghiosis is dead. But even after he admit to Diane that yes, he is — or used to be — Karaghiosis, he makes it clear that man is dead and he now is Conrad Nomikos.
  • Title Drop: of the original title, in any case. After Hasan keeps referring to him as Karagee, Conrad snarls, "And call me Conrad!"
  • Tribal Carry: This is done to Conrad and Hasan when the Kouretes capture them and transport them to the Valley of the Sleep, their nuclear version of a refrigerator.
  • Win Your Freedom: When captured by the Kouretes, the group is given the option that one of them fight the Dead Man to win all of their freedom. Moreby is very confident that whoever fights will lose, as that's what always happens.
  • A World Half Full: Most of Earth is a nuclear wasteland inhabited by half-human mutants and without a proper government, dependent on help from and trade with the Vegan Combine, with babies being born deformed even in the civilized areas. Yet Radpol and the Returnist movement work toward making it a better place to live again and towards inciting more humans to come back to Earth.
  • World's Strongest Man: Conrad is immensely strong; strong enough to break the neck of a spiderbat that had picked him up, and swim back to shore when it fell into the sea. Hasan, the best assassin on Earth, flat-out tells Conrad that he fears his strength and would absolutely not fight him hand to hand.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: The Returnist movement. One the one hand, their aim was to regain Earth's autonomy and rebuild the planet, on the other hand, to keep the Vegans from building vacation resorts on Earth, they were not above using nukes. It is why Madagascar became utterly uninhabitable.

Alternative Title(s): And Call Me Conrad