Yes, should not judge Zelazny by the Amber series. So many other books and Stories that are fantastic.
I could never get past the first Chronicles book either. I’ve read a lot of Zelazny, and am surprised when his name is mentioned that that’s the work people recommend most. I thought Zelazny’s Jack of Shadows was a good fantasy story that used the same idea of Chronicles’ jumping between our reality and fantasy. WHOOPS! snowwhippet beat me to it!
Yeah, it’s tough to gauge because Zelazny could get pretty silly and weird when he wanted to.
Yes, “Lord of Light” - that’s his best book. He never finished the Amber series - the last book ended with the same “to be continued . . .” kind of stuff as the others. I enjoyed re-reading them all this year, after reading them as they originally came out. Even with all the holes in them.
“I traveled for perhaps half an hour then, leaving the place far behind me, before I halted and took my breakfast in a hot, bleak valley smelling faintly of sulfur.
As I was finishing, I heard a crashing noise. A horned and tusked purple thing went racing along the ridge to my right pursued by a hairless orange-skinned creature with long claws and a forked tail. Both were wailing in different keys.
I nodded. It was just one damned thing after another.”
The best ever covers for Zelazny books were this format, which all of his books were issued in for a while in the seventies. I don’t know why they were replace with the wildly trashier versions:
And yes, the Amber books (at least the first series) came out in those editions too (I remember pretty much all his books being issued in this form back in the late 70s/early 80s:
Hello, could anyone send me a couple hundred bucks? I will buy the downloads. Thank you.
Come on…what about “A Night in the Lonesome October”? That should be required October reading for everyone!
Same here. These were the books that, as a young adult, showed me that fantasy could be more than elves, dragons, halflings and magic. It was a revelation, particular the “voice” of Corwin, the narrator. The first five books are pretty solid, without as much of the Deus ex machina Corey mentioned, but the second five of the series (the Merlin thread) are rife with the aforementioned issues. I agree with everyone: read the first five, but you can skip the sequel series.
And how awesome that the thread starts with one of the designers of the old Amber computer game! Thanks! That, along with Zork, Hitchhiker’s Guide game, G.A.T.O. Submarine, and Starflight helped build my love of computer gaming. I’ve lost many, many YEARS of my life to games thanks to you folks.
For you and anyone else who cares, A Night in the Lonesome October audiobook, read by Zelazny, is available on Youtube right now.
Great post and replies!
Zelazny is absolutely a unique voice, an intermittent visionary and a true grand master. I believe he was a really good guy too. But there’s no doubt at all his output was very patchy.
Chronicles of Amber - perfectly summarised by @angusm as “downhill all the way” but starts SO WELL that you’re golden for at least the first few books (the second cycle is all will-this-do churn, though).
Lord of Light probably deserves its accolades, but my towering favourite is This Immortal (aka “… and call me Conrad”) which beautifully fuses near-future post-ecodisaster earth with Greek myth and interstellar diplomacy and is so damn poetic and readable and short and exciting - it’s still an adventure story. Also features the best dog in fiction, Bortan, in a minor supporting role. For me, this is the definitive “like a fine wine” book.
To my shame I haven’t read all the other recommendations above, but I did enjoy Eye of Cat and have major soft spots for Coils, an early cyberpunk collab with Fred Saberhagen, and Roadmarks, a short one-off surreal solo about gifted oddballs who can traverse time by finding a hidden backroad that spans the ages.
What hasn’t been mentioned much above is his unambiguous genius in the short story form. The collection The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth is indispensable, every story a winner. The language and ideas are out of this world. Home is the Hangman is also a fun short read (another in his semi-hardboiled style).
There are a few I think later works where he simply tries too hard. Zelazny and Sheckley are possibly my two all-time favourite SF writers but I didn’t even finish their joint work If at Faust You Don’t Succeed. And do not under any circumstances read Damnation Alley
Anyone here ever checked out his son Trent’s work?
OOOH! thank you!
i did not even know he was a writer, but now i do and this line from his wiki completes me:
“…He has a son from a previous marriage, Corwin Random Zelazny…”
Dude, don’t leave us hanging: What was the question and the answer?
oh! sorry – i meant to, but i got sidetracked:
If you remember in the books, there was a woodcut hanging in Corwin’s home on Shadow Earth that Eric steals for his own chambers in Amber, depicting two warriors (brothers?) in combat. it comes up a couple times. I asked him if it was a real work of art, and he said: “To answer your question – Yoshitoshi Mori did a series of woodcuts (“Face to Face”) involving confrontation.”
My googling in the decadessince then hasn’t turned up anything definitive, but it’s nice to know it is a real work. because the artist is (was) a contemporary artist, i have always wondered if Zelazny collected his work, and had the piece in his personal collection. “Write what you know,” and all that.
i think this is as close as i’ve found to one that more or less matches the description in the books:
all roads lead to amber!
cool! never seen the hard back version of the illustrated zelazny! i have two paper back versions, same size. one is for reading. they are also some of my most prized
how could I justify looking backwards, especially over the course of ten books?
Each volume of Amber is pretty slim by modern standards. The Great Book Of Amber, a large-format paperback containing all ten books, is about 1250 pages. That’s a lot less reading than ten modern fantasy doorstoppers that tend to run 6-800 pages.
If it came out today, it would probably be packaged as two ~600p books. And people who had read both would love the first and tell everyone to avoid the second. (Or they might not; it is a fabulous book by the standards of the seventies but it does suffer from the cultural changes of forty to fifty years since then.) Because yeah, there is a sharp drop in quality from the Corwin books to the Merlin books; I don’t know the details offhand but I suspect “cranking them out for money with no real plan” may be the cause. Some things just don’t need sequels.
I read Amber in my eighties teens and maybe it’s about time to hunt up a new copy and read the Corwin books, then decide if I’m going to consign the Merlin books to the same place I’ve consigned other sequels that should not have been such as the second Matrix film.
Also, I think my overall favorite Zelazny book is his scintillatingly experimental Creatures of Light and Darkness, which does a sci-fi riff on Egyptian mythology in much the same way as he did Hindu mythology in Lords of Light, except in about a third of the length and in a kaleidoscope of viewpoints, stage scripts, and poetry. It, too, has its share of gender politics that may have been beginning to go a little sour in the eighties and have certainly not aged any better, but holy crap the stylistic fireworks sure did make up for that the last time I re-read it.
I’ll start listening in…8 days.
I remember trying after seeing the movie, but luckily I was only 13 so I got over it pretty well. Barely remember it now.