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Considering the Amber series, Lord of Light , 6 Hugos, and 3 Nebulas, Zelazny has a name in the field. In fact, this novel won 1 of those Hugos. It is written with confidence and style--very professional--but is somehow flat and detached. I never got a sense of character; in fact, there are probably too many characters, as this is a story of a journey and its adventures. There are some well-worn plot devices, which, if you are of generous spirit, can be excused as age. Pace-wise, it is slow out of the gate, but has accelerated nicely by the finish line.

It is set after the Earth has been decimated by the Three Day nuclear war. Most of humanity has migrated off-world, inhabiting the systems of an alien, sapient species. Known as Vegans, this vaguely superior and aloof race has never seen a planet deliberately destroyed by its own people before. They want a real estate tour and are possibly interested in purchasing investment property. Naturally, earthlings are stereotypically resentful of the Outsider.

The immortal of This Immortal is Conrad, or Konstantin Karaghiosis, to use a more ancient name. He's century's old, due to borrowing a SF cliché in the form of radiation mutation. Zelazny intertwines his history with that of the Greek Gods, bringing some of them back to life in spirit, due to the above-mentioned borrowing. Conrad himself is on the level of Conan, but without The Barbarian. He has a wife named Cassandra who falls prey to an act of God when their island sinks into the sea, but manages a Lazarus at novel's close for a happy, however clichéd, ending. He also has a dog--the last dog on Earth, in fact--that weighs 500 pounds, with skin like an armadillo's, the disposition of a wolverine, and impeccable timing when his master's in trouble. Conrad holds the title of Commissioner of Arts, Monuments, and Archives which means he's the Earth's caretaker. He's given the job of showing a prominent Vegan who is supposedly writing a travelogue around the planet's better digs, including Egypt 's pyramids and Greece 's ancient ruins. Along for the ride are various dignitaries and politicians, including Earth's poet laureate, a couple of sex bunnies, and an assassin. Intrigue and heroic battles ensue, the standouts being “the golem-wrestler, Rolem, a creature which could be set for five times the strength of a human . . . [and] given the reflexes of an adrenalized cat” (Ace, SFBC edition, c.1966, p.66-7), and the Black Beast of Thessaly, “knock[ing] down trees as it came” (p.175).

Unfortunately, for my sensibilities, Zelazny seems interested in all the wrong things. He never expands an ecological theme or a sociological one. His people are all of the upper crust and there is no taste of common whitebread beyond the typical fodders. Also, inhabitants appear to be living in different time eras, with the Greeks herding goats, growing grapes, etc., while the visitors zip around in Skimmers and hang out in palaces, or office buildings, or techno-huts. I'm not really sure, since details of surroundings are lacking. In fact, throughout the novel, there's a sense of missing richness. The Hot Spot--that zone of radioactive mutants and abominations where most SF writers' glow their imaginations--is conspicuously barren of explanation and atmosphere. There are also all sorts of allusions to people and things and places you don't know, and, apparently Zelazny doesn't either. The battles and altercations, with their champions and monsters, however, are palatable and exciting. It is no wonder that he was able to sustain the Amber Chronicles through 10 novel-length installments, plus another 2 dozen or so other novels.

Roger Zelazny died in 1995 and surely his legacy will live on.

Fortunately, without my further nagging.

12/04/2005

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