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||Roger (Joseph) Zelazny (1937-1995) - wrote also as Harrison Denmark|
American science fiction and fantasy writer, who often based his stories on myths and legends. Roger Zelazny was one of the most important writers of the New Wave of science fiction along with Philip K. Dick, Samuel R. Delany, Thomas M. Disch, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Harlan Ellison. He published 50 novels, some 150 stories and three collections of poetry.
"I do not have a soul. You do."
Roger Zelazny was born in Euclid, Ohio, the son of Joseph Frank Zelazny, a Polish immigrant, and Josephine Flora Sweet. While attending Euclid Senior High School, he published stories in the school's litetary magazine, Eucuyo. Carl B. Yoke, who was Zelazny's close friend since the first grade, recalled in his 1979 reader's guide, that Zelazny was "a bright but undisciplined student." In 1955, Zelazny enrolled at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, graduating with a B.A. in English in 1959. He won the University's Finley Foster Poetry Prize in 1957 and in 1959 he won his second Finley Foster Prize and the Holden Essay Award for an expanded term paper on Chaucer. Zelazny's early interest in judo led him to study other martial arts, too, and he eventually gained a black belt in Akido.
In 1962, Zelazny received his M.A. in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama from Columbia University. During this period, he was briefly enlisted with the Ohio National Guard. After graduating Zelazny worked for the Social Security Administration in Cleveland, Ohio, and in Baltimore, Maryland, where he moved in 1965 after being promoted to Claims Policy Specialist. In 1964 he married Sharon Steberl; they separated within a year and divorced in 1966. Zelazny married then Judith Alene Callahan, whom he had met in Baltimore. They had three children, two sons and a daughter. From the mid-1990s, Zelazny lived with Jane Lindskold, a writer and Ph.D. in English. Her biography on Zelazny came out in 1993 in Twayne's American Author's series.
Zelazny's first published science fiction stories were 'Passion Play' and 'Horseman!' which appeared in Amazing Stories and Fantastic Stories of Imagination, respectively, in 1962. His father, who died in the early 1960s, never witnessed Zelazny's breakthrough and success as a novelist. Before becoming a full-time writer in 1969, Zelazny concentrated on short stories and novellas. At the age of 38, Zelazny moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he lived until his death.
the 1960s Zelazny became highly visible in a group of
fiction writers known as the "New Wave," in homage to the directors
associated with the Nouvelle Vague. Up until that time the genre
had been dominated by writers producing action-adventures set in space.
The new generation felt that they had freedom to experiment; they
focused on psychology and believed science fiction should be taken
seriously as literature. Zelazny'sinterest in magic, myths and dreams are already
at present in these early stories which are considered among his best
works. There are common features with Tolkien's fantasy, but distilled
through the American pulp tradition, Robert E. Howard, and the hard-boiled
fiction by Raymond Chandler.
Originally Zelazny's This Immortal was published in an abridged form under the title … And Call Me Conrad in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It won the 1966 Hugo for Best Novel, and the self-mocking, immortal, jokester became Zelazny's favorite character type. The Dream Master won the 1966 Nebula for Best Novella. In the same year The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth won a Nebula for Best Novellette. 'A Rose for Ecclesiastes,' published in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (1963), was selected as one of the most outstanding novelettes of the early sixties and included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: Volume One, 1929–1964 (1970, edited by Robert Silverberg). The story of a poet and translator, who saves the Martian civilization, but is betrayed in love, took one of its central symbols, the rose, from Rilke who used the image throughout his poetry.
The Immortal told of a post-apocalyptic Earth, which have become a wasteland and place of entertainment for aliens, the Vegans. Conrad Nomikos or "Konstantuin Kallikanzaros", the many-talented Commissioner of Arts, Monuments and Archives for the planer Earth, is employed as a guide to an alien official. The Vegans want to turn Earth into a holiday resort, but Nomikos has his own ideas and he helps to preserve the remnants of humanity. Reading the novel in 2009, Sam Jordison wrote in the Guardian, that "Zelazny has enough skill to keep things on just the right side of bewildering, but the rocky ride is rarely entirely pleasurable, thanks to the other major dating factor on the novel: Conrad's no-longer-achingly-hip narrative voice." The Dream Master was about a psychiatrists who is able to enter and affect his client's dreams – and thus cure the neuroses of their patients. Its shorter version, 'He Who Shapes' (1965) won a Nebula.
"It is no shame to lose to me, mortal. Even among mythical creatures there are very few who can give a unicorn a good game."
Zelazny's heroes, like Corwin, and villains, are larger-than-life characters,
immortal or near-immortal, who are going through a process of growth
and self-discovery, or as Francis Sandow, the hero of Isle of the
says, "I have been a coward, a god and a son of a bitch in my time,
among other things. That is one of the things about living for a very
long time. You go through phases." Creatures of Light and Darkness
(1969) was inspired by the gods of ancient Egypt, and in Lord of Light (1967)
the gods come from Hindu mythology. Referring to the latter work, Richard Bleiler wrote in The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, that ".
. . while it is not the first fantastic work to make use of
non-Christian beliefs . . . it is one of the first to make a sustained
use of Buddhist lore as its narrative device . . . " (Vol. 3, edited by Gary Westfahl, 2005, p. 1148)
With regard to science, a line from the Hindu scripture, the
Bhagavad-Gita ("Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.") found
its way into modern physics in the U.S., when J. Robert Oppenheimer
allegedly whispered the words as he watched the detonation of the first
atomic bomb in New Mexico on 16 July 1945.
In 1970 Zelazny started the enormously popular Amber series, which have been adapted for comics and used as the basis for a computer game. Zelazny spent much of his later life in the writing of this series, which gave him financial independence. The nine books, beginning with Nine Princes in Amber, evoked the betrayals of Jacobean drama. Five of them feature Corwin; he and rival princes and princesses double-cross one another, all seeking the crown. Corwin's arch-rival is Eric, his brother. One of the siblings is responsible for Corwin losing his memory in an automobile accident. Noteworthy, Zelazny himself was involved in a serious car accident in 1964, outside of Mansfield, Ohio. His fiancée was a passenger, but both survived without permanent physical injuries. Zelazny's face got cut up from the broken mirrior pieces.
The first Chronicles of Amber included Nine Princes in
Amber, The Guns of Avalon (1972), Sign of the Unicorn
(1975), The Hand of Oberon (1976) and The Courst of Chaos
(1978). Triumps of Doom (1985) opened a follow-up featuring
Corwin's son Merlin. This series continued in Blood of Amber
(1986), Sign of Chaos (1987), Knight of Shadows (1989),
and Prince of Chaos (1991). The first five novels were
collected together as The Chronicles of Amber (2000). Two
further related works were A Rhapsody in Amber (1981) and Roger
Zelazny's Visual Guide to Castle Amber (1988, with Neil Randall).
Zelasny's work was a forerunner to George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones, hugely popular
and highly acclaimed epic fantasy series.
Amber is a higher, sophisticated plane, and the actions of its godlike inhabitants reflect in the human actions – humans being marionettes of gods. Corwin and his many siblings are more real than mortals, or the Gods of any Shadow realm – our world. The concept of Shadow has much in common with Plato's famous cave analogy and Jungian psychology. Jung considered the "shadow" the sum of those characteristics we wish to conceal – the most famous example found in literature is R.L. Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. However, when the story continues, it turns out that Amber itself is not an ultimate reality, but shares a Ying-Yang relationship with the forces of Chaos. Zelazny's principal characters are sometimes mirror-images of one another, or symbols for the opposite forces of form and chaos, good and evil, life and death.
Unfaithful to genre boundaries, Zelazny relished the "science fantasy" form. In Lord of Light he established a world ruled by gods, immortals equipped with technological wonders. Human colonists have settled a distant planet. They have developed a technology, which allows them to don godlike personas. With their exotic weapons they and their psionic ability they battle for power. The novel won a Hugo. "From then on his work – with exceptions – was to call more on the stereotype of power fantasy than an genuinely envisaged characters and scenarios," wrote Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove in Trillion year spree (2001). However, in 1974 Zelazny was Guest of Honor at the World Science Fiction Convention, Washington, D.C.
Zelazny collaborated with Philip K. Dick in Deus Irae (1976)
– Dick could not finish the novel himself – and with Alfred Bester in Psychoshop
(1998) – Bester had died before completing the text. Zelazny considered
Dick a writer's writer, "rich enough in fancy that he can afford to
throw away in a paragraph ideas another writer might build a book
upon." However, in the mid-1970s Dick wasn't able work on his own any
more. His first collaborator on Deus
had been Ted White, who lost his enthusiasm. Dick and Zelazny worked
primarily through the mail. The collaboration turned out to be pleasant
and productive. When Zelazny learned of Dick's financial straits, he
voluntarily reduced his royalty from one-half to one third.
The movie version of Zelazny's novel, Damnation Alley
(1969), was released in 1977. This post-Apocalypse adventure bore
little resemblance Zelazny's original work, which was inspired by
Hunter S. Thompson's book on the Hell's Angels, replacing the mean,
violent biker, the last of the breed, with decent Air Force officers.
Jack Smight, the director, was a veteran of television, known as a
craftsman of slick Hollywood entertainment.
Among Zelazny's other works are Jack of Shadows (1971), set on a non-rotating world whose dark side is run by magic, the "Wizard World" sequence Changeling (1980) and Madwand (1981), the "Dilvish" fantasies The Changing Land (1981) and Dilvish the Damned (1982). The comic A Night in the Lonesome October (1993) recounts a gaslight romance with Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Jack The Ripper and others, but has also a talking animal, Snuff, in the central role. In the 1990s Zelazny published several books with Robert Sheckley. One of the author's last works was Wilderness (1994), written with Gerald Hausman. It tell true stories of two mountain men in the Old West.
Zelazny died of cancer on June 16, 1995, in Santa Fe, at the age of 58. He had completed a novel just three days before he died. Zelazny's unpublished thriller about smuggling and missing church funds, The Dead Man's Brother, was published by Hard Case Crime in 2009, with an afterword by the author’s son, Trent Zelazny. The manuscript had been lost among Zelazny's papers for more than 30 years.
For further reading: Roger Zelazny by Carl B. Yoke (1979); Roger Zelazny: A Primary and Secondary Biography by Joseph L. Sanders (1980); The Dream Master; Roger Zelazny by Carl B. Yoke (1980); A Checklist of Roger Zelazny by Christopher P. Stephens (1990); Roger Zelazny by Jane Lindskold (1993); The Complete Amber Sourcebook by Theodore Krulik (1996); 'Roger Zelazny 1937-1995,' in Supernatural Fiction Writers: Contemporary Fantasy and Horror, Vol. 2, A.E. Coppard to Roger Zelazny, edited by Richard Bleiler (2003) - Note: Richard Paul Russo's short story 'In the Season of the Rains', published in the anthology In the Field of Fire, ed. by Jeanne Van Buren Dann and Jack Dann (1987), took its title form the the opening lines of Zelazny's Lord of Light.