Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/09/22/golden-age-of-sf-is-12.html
Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/09/22/golden-age-of-sf-is-12.html
I co-created the computer game version of Amber in 1983/1984. It was one of the first graphic text adventures, and toward the end of the run of the line we did with Bradbury, Crichton, Clarke, etc.
I remember studying the first three books, and reading the first one perhaps five times in a row. I only got to speak to Roger once, though…
My recollection is that the opening conceit, that the narrator is recovering in the modern world from a brain injury–that was thrilling at the time. Juxtaposed with the D&D taken to a high level made it fairly perfect for a C64 computer game.
Thanks for the refresher, Cory.
PS Made the mistake of seeing if there are remnants online:
Not as sophisticated as I remembered, of course. But it was 37 years ago…
I couldn’t finish The Chronicles of Amber. It felt more and more like it was being churned out to sell books. In contrast, if you want to read Roger Zelazny at his best, I recommend Lord of Light, which is a borderline tour de force.
If you like hard-boiled fantasy, Stephen Brust is brilliant.
What’s more, Brust’s Taltos books are literally based on an RPG, with the same gods-and-mortals dynamic that Zelazny propels the action in Amber with.
And conversely, there was an RPG (not the computer game already mentioned, but a traditional pen & paper RPG) based on the Amber books.
Yeah, as mentioned, the series started strong but I get the feeling towards the end Zelazny was just writing them to satisfy his publisher, not because he was that into them. Speaking of other Zelazny works, his short stories were quite good – I particularly like his story Devil Car (1965), set in a universe where self-driving cars have become self-aware and have rebelled against humanity. Maybe this is the backstory of Pixar’s Cars movies!
I find the title of this entry in the series quite ominous
Also, I much prefer the style of cover design shown in this wikipedia article than those of the books shown in Cory’s collage.
Dilvish the Damned also has it’s moments.
Lord of Light. One of Zelazny’s (and mine) most favorite books of all time. I’ve read and reread that book hundreds of times. Zelazny was at his peak when he wrote this. The first book of the Amber series was marvelous. Yes, the later books suffered from plot issues, but I did read these when I was younger. Have them on my bookshelf still. Getting to hear him read them would be fantastic. I remember playing the text game. What a terrific thing back then. Thank you, Cory, for this, brings back so many good memories. I think these books (especially Lord of Light) influenced me to go on to become a writer. I miss the days when reading a Zelazny book was all that it took to make life magical.
I grew up reading just the first five Amber books - for folks new to Zelazny I recommend stopping there for a good long time.
There was a many year gap before Zelazny wrote the remaining books. I read the latter five much later in life, out of curiosity for where he took the story. I’m glad the first five stood alone for a long while and had time to gel as the “real story” before the continuations came along.
His Jack of Shadows is a quick fun read, and captures his magic+technology vibe better than Amber Books 6-10 did.
Which was amazingly and audaciously experimental when it came out! Loved it, loved playing it with a small group of my fellow gamers who were completely dedicated to giving it a go. Still have it somewhere…
The first five books were great, if slightly silly. Everyone should stop at that point, since the next five were awful and clearly done just to continue a story that had no direction.
I should probably get this - though not an audiobook fan - just to hear his voice. I was a huge Zelazny fan for a long time. This chunk of a former blog page, on my love of my home library, is devoted to my favourite book purchase of all time: “The Illustrated Roger Zelazny” - a graphic novel format 8 years before “Watchmen” came out. I have some photos of it:
Including an “Amber Tapestry” collage and a whole “Jack of Shadows” cartoon short story that I don’t think appears anywhere else.
I loved, loved, loved the first five, and Lord of Light, and… well, actually, my favorite for a long time was Doorways in the Sand. I discovered Zelazny when I was about ten, and for quite a few years I’d happily go back and re-read the older works, waiting for him to write something new.
When Trumps of Doom came out, I was excited. I would rather have read more books from Corwin’s perspective, but I was OK with seeing what Zelazny would do with Merlin. But Merlin turned out to be much less complex or interesting than Corwin, and.- as Cory points out - he ends up being so powerful, and with such amazing techno-wizardry at his command, that the only way to make life interesting for him is to keep raising the stakes until nothing matters.
In fourth, fifth, and sixth grades, my best friend and I tried our hand at a collaborative serial sci-fi novel, and we ran into the same problem of infinite stakes-raising. (For a while, we overcompensated by venturing into Game of Thrones territory - killing off every named character and recruiting from the ranks.) The fact that we recognized the problem, and actively tried to do something about it, has set one of my standards for accepting the writing of others ever since: if a published author can’t do better than a couple of grade schoolers, I see no reason to bother with their stuff.
That being said, Zelazny was great at snappy dialogue, wry observations, and occasional moments of genuine, earned emotion. His best is still very very good indeed, and even his worst isn’t horrible.
Very much enjoyed the first 5 and like many, didn’t warm to the remainder. About the same time (?) I started Farmers ‘World of the Tiers’ series. The similarities were obvious. Almost made me wonder if they were competing!
A clip from the Wikipedia article on "The World of the Tiers’.
‘The overall setting: a family of feuding dimension hopping immortal lords, as well as the specific plot of the first book: wherein an amnesiac immortal lord must travel from Earth to another dimension to regain his powers, bears striking similarities to Roger Zelazny’s Amber series. Indeed, Zelazny himself has acknowledged that in writing Nine Princes in Amber he drew inspiration from the World of Tiers.’
Having shown all that “library porn” of my cool shelves and many hardbacks, I should hasten to say that Corey has not been ignored. The way to tell the publishing industry that your favourite author is a favourite author is to buy in hardback.
Interesting! You can actually see my World of Tiers books beside Corey’s radicalized in the picture link attached to my post.
I have to say, though, that while I loved World of Tiers - I remember most of the Amber plot to this day, and the World of Tiers plot, not so much. Amber may have kind of gone off the rails in the later books, but one was engaged by a sense of some higher story to it all, whereas Farmer was “merely” the greatest pulp-adventure-story guy ever. He loved all those pulp heroes to death and beyond death, adding in new stories for a number of them decades after they’d fallen out of fashion.
Mind you, his “Riverworld” series had all that, AND the Amber-like larger story that the fate of the whole universe depended on the successful solving of the great mystery. How I wish the multiple attempts to turn it into a movie had worked. Or it could have been an ultimate TV series with a different historical character every week.
For that matter, it’s almost shocking that nobody took a shot at turning Amber into a visual form, after all those LoTR movies.
I agree with the general feeling that “Amber” was downhill all the way, from a very strong beginning to a ‘meh’ conclusion in book 5 (let’s not speak of the second cycle), although I wouldn’t judge them quite as harshly as Cory does. I would still love to see a TV miniseries put together by someone gifted enough to be able to judiciously trim the fat and patch up the more flagrant weaknesses of the books.
If I had to pick one other Zelazny book, though, it wouldn’t be “Lord of Light” – which is fine, it’s just not my first choice – but “Creatures of Light and Darkness”. It’s poetic, witty, and a total mindfuck, yet somehow all hangs together. And it contains the Possibly Proper Death Litany.
Insofar as I may be heard by anything, which may or may not care what I say, I ask, if it matters, that you be forgiven for anything you may have done or failed to do which requires forgiveness. Conversely, if not forgiveness but something else may be required to ensure any possible benefit for which you may be eligible after the destruction of your body, I ask that this, whatever it may be, be granted or withheld, as the case may be, in such a manner as to insure your receiving said benefit. I ask this in my capacity as your elected intermediary between yourself and that which may not be yourself, but which may have an interest in the matter of your receiving as much as it is possible for you to receive of this thing, and which may in some way be influenced by this ceremony. Amen.
Zelazny is one of my favorites, and his “Amber” series (the first 5 books for sure) was my first favorite sci-fi/fantasy series, probably first encountered when i was 10-12, so that theory checks out. i adore it to this day, and while i agree that once he was pressured by his publisher (and his fans like me, honestly) to continue it and he started with Merlin, it’s really not as good. but he still has some fun ideas and just i enjoyed being back in the world so much i didn’t care, and i stuck with him until the unsatisfactory end.
When i was in college (late 80s/early 90s) i wrote him an embarrassing, gushy letter telling him how his Amber series was my favorite series, and on and on, and months later i was blown away to get a hand-written postcard from him thanking me and wishing me well, and even answering one of my lingering questions from the series. i still have that postcard – i keep it in my Amber books – i was really stunned when he died a short time later. I really think he doesn’t get nearly as much credit as he should these days.
I also agree that his Lord of Light book is probably his best… i re-read it periodically, and in fact just did this past summer. I wish like hell that someone would take Lord of Light or his Amber books and turn them into a one-off miniseries. He has so many books that are great – To Die in Italbar, Doorways In The Sand, Eye of Cat… OH! this is a good place to remind everyone that October is coming, and so it’s almost time to re-read his last book, A Night In The Lonesome October. it’s a fun one.
I absolutely agree, Zelazny has been one of my favourite writers for many years now, I have paperbacks of his from the 70’s that I’ve read over and over again, he has such a great way with words, an almost lyrical way of writing. I even like all of the Amber books, I have the original five in as paperback, and then I managed to find the entire series as ebooks, which may or may not have been entirely legit, but hardly any of his books were available as ebooks, and he’d passed on by that point, so probably wasn’t going to give a shit!
I think I’ll check out these audiobooks, just to hear his voice, I’ve never been really interested in listening to books, I have hundreds to read.
The Amber series was not my favorite of his either. Add me to the Lord of Light fans though. Jack of Shadows also tickled my fancy. My least liked was probably Deus Irae but I don’t know how much to blame Phillip K Dick for that.