Sun
Nov 11 2012 11:00am

Something Else Like... Roger Zelazny

Reading recommendations for readers who like Roger Zelazny books.Roger Zelazny erupted onto the science fiction scene in the sixties as part of the New Wave. He wrote beautiful poetic science fiction, often in a wry first person voice. He used mythologies from all over the world in both fantasy and science fiction. He won six Hugos and three Nebulas, many of them for his astonishing short stories. Perhaps his best known work is the Amber books, where the fantasy world of Amber is the ultimate source of all reality and mythology. He died in 1995, so unfortunately there won’t be any more.

What do you read if you want something else like Zelazny?

You could try other New Wave SF. Delany’s Nova and his short stories were written at the same time and partly in response to Zelazny’s eruption into the field. Then there’s James Tiptree Jr. If you like The Dream Master, you might be interested to see what John Brunner did with a similar idea. Cordwainer Smith was definitely an influence on Zelazny. You might also look at early Ursula Le Guin.

Walter Jon Williams’s Knight Moves (post) is so much like Zelazny that the first time I read it I had to keep checking the name on the cover. It’s specifically like This Immortal (Call Me Conrad) (post). If you like This Immortal and Isle of the Dead and the way Zelazny has a first person character with a history and planets, run don’t walk to Knight Moves (link to Williams’s discussion of the book as e-book).

If you like Zelazny’s beautiful prose and the way you can move between worlds in the Amber books, then Yves Meynard’s Chrysanthe (post) might fit the bill. The descriptions of moving between worlds are more like Corwin’s hellrides through Shadow than anything else I’ve ever read.

If on the other hand you like the way Zelazny writes in the style I call “first person smartass” then you want to look at Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos books (post). These are fantasy... well, maybe. If you like the way Zelazny can be on an odd line between fantasy and SF in Lord of Light and elsewhere, then Brust can give you that too.

If you like the romantic science fictional Zelazny, then George R.R. Martin. Not his recent doorstops but his early work—Dying of the Light (post) and the other Thousand Worlds stories like “With Morning Comes Mistfall” and “A Song For Lya”. They have the kind of elegaic quality of Zelazny’s “A Rose For Ecclesiastes”. There’s a way Zelazny wrote about the future in a very Celtic way, about its passing away, and Martin does the same. “Bitterblooms” (which, incidentally, I’m absolutely sure is inspired by Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”) is my very favourite of these Zelaznian Martin stories, They’re collected in Dreamsongs.

Neil Gaiman is also clearly influenced by Zelazny throughout his career, both in the writing styles and the things he chooses to write about.

Elizabeth Willey’s The Well-Favored Man has been described as “Nice Princes in Amber” and that’s a very good summary. There are two sequels. What happened to her anyway?

If you like Zelazny’s inventiveness, worldbuilding and pacing, P.C. Hodgell’s Kencyrath books remind me of that. Start with Godstalk.

So, other reasons for liking him? Other people you think are like him?


Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two poetry collections and nine novels, most recently the Hugo and Nebula winning Among Others. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

48 comments
Richard Boye
1. sarcastro
I think that the Archonate books by Matthew Hughes are exactly in keeping with the "Zelaznian" style - Hespira, Majestrum, The Spiral Labyrinth all have this awesome blend of fantasy and sci-fi.
Katie Hynes
2. Katie Hynes
I would add Jane Linskold, particularly her early, stand alone books such as 'Brother To Dragons, Companion To Owls', 'Changer', and 'Legends Walking.' She completed Zelazny's Lord Demon, which is marvellous.

Great List though, I will share it with my son. And look forward to following comments.
Katie Hynes
4. PhoenixFalls
I would add Elizabeth Bear, if you like the way Zelazny mixes fantasy tropes/themes into his science fictional world-building, particularly her Jacob's Ladder trilogy (Dust, Chill, and Grail).
Allana Schneidmuller
5. blutnocheinmal
So I've only read Lord of Light and A Night in Lonesome October.

But I tend to think of Tim Powers as a succesor to Zelazny. Maybe it's the male protagonists and sci-fi/fantasy/mythology mash they both like to make.
David Levinson
6. DemetriosX
While he's by no means Zelazny's equal as a writer, Fred Saberhagen frequently displayed some Zelaznyesque qualities. I would say his Empire of the East and Swords series come closest. They also walk that fine line between fantasy and something else, play around with mythic ideas, and often flirt with fairly poetic language. Caveat: the Berserker books are nothing like Zelazny.

Some of Lawrence Watt-Evans' fantasy (particularly the Ethshar books) are reminiscent of lesser Zelazny like Dilvish the Damned, playing with standard tropes and so.
Katie Hynes
7. CarlosSkullsplitter
Donald Barthelme, The King.
Katie Hynes
8. Akheloios
Seconded on the Elizabeth Bear 'Dust' triology. She even hat tips Zelazny with some of the character names, then outdoes Zelazny on the drama, especially the end of the first book.
Andrew Barton
9. MadLogician
I can't see why you describe the Taltos books as anything but fantasy. The early books are clearly rooted in the sort of universe found in fantasy RPGs, and then as the series progresses it transcends the stereotypes in increasingly inventive ways.
Rob Munnelly
10. RobMRobM
@9. Planet populated by longlived powerdul aliens, humans get there and live there as a minority species (called easterners). Sounds like scifi to me. Lol.
Sol Foster
11. colomon
Elizabeth Bear is indeed a Zelazny fan -- in addition to the obivous Jacob's Ladder, the Edda of Burdens is very much in the "odd line between fantasy and SF" Zelazny mold.

I think Brust's most Zelazny-like novel is his non-Taltos "To Reign in Hell".
Ross Smith
12. CaptainCrowbar
If you like the world-walking ideas in the Amber books, try Philip Jose Farmer's World of Tiers series (which I gather was part of the inspiration for Amber), Charles Stross's Merchant Princes series, and The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter.
Bruce Cohen
13. SpeakerToManagers
@MadLogician
Brust keeps hinting about where he's going with the backstory of the Vlad Taltos books, both in the books and in comments on various blogs. In particular, note how he describes the "magic" used by the Empire, very much as if it were technology.

@OP
Walter Jon Williams also wrote a sequel to Zelazney's marvelous novelette The Graveyard Heart, called Elegy for Angels and Dogs. Pays homage to the voice of the original, while taking a hard left turn into a very different sort of universe.

Second for To Reign in Hell, though you might want to take a pass if you're a literalist Christian, as it's a fantasy based on Christian mythology.

A story of John Brunner's that I think influenced Zelazny is When Gabriel ..., a fantasy about the Devil, written as a pastiche of Damon Runyon.

Samuel R. Delany wrote an homage to Zelazny, We, in Some Strange Power's Employ, Move on a Rigorous Line.
Katie Hynes
14. Petar Belic
Lord of Light.

Probably one of my favourite SF books from last century, by Zelazny.

Please read it if you haven't. It's about a guy called Sam. Short for Mahatmasamatman.
Ian Johnson
15. IanPJohnson
Neil Gaiman… yes. I can't really think of another writer who plays with myth and legend quite like him.

I read Lord of Light over the summer, and I was trying to think of other SFF novels that had gods– not just as mysterious forces in the background, but as main characters who take a critical part in the action.

American Gods falls into that category, and I think that the Percy Jackson series also does, in a way (although there's a huge world of difference between Lord of Light and the Percy Jackson books). If we go into pure fantasy, with gods that are completely "made up" and have no basis in real-world mythology, then Nora Jemisin's Inheritance Trilogy (important to distinguish that from Christopher Paolini's completely seperate Inheritance Cycle) and Brandon Sanderson's stand-alone novel Warbreaker both have gods as key players in the action. Then there's Nehwon and the Discworld, of course…

Strangely enough, I couldn't think of many fantasy worlds that have gods running around and doing god-type stuff in them. Especially in modern fantasy– most fantasy writers these days have gods acting outside the story, with no evidence whether they exist or not (as in ASoIaF) or occasionally intervening, but staying out the action for most of the book (as in the Chalion books). And I couldn't think of any other SF books that had gods as the main characters*.

Anyone want to prove me wrong? I'd be interested to read an SF novel with divine main characters…

*Yes, I know that the gods in Lord of Light aren't actually gods. Tough. They have almost supernatural powers and millions of people pray to them. If it looks like a duck…
Clark Myers
16. ClarkEMyers
Trivially Eye of Cat to Tony Hillerman and so suggesting a couple of generalized themes - (1) active characters out of their time and place of origin and equally (2) separated from their preferred family especially but not uniquely family of origin. Similar themes abound in noirish detective cf Corwin's amnesia

I was quite hopeful Madwand would reverse the normal pattern and give the victory to technology over an as the mage wishes it form of magic as super power.
Clark Myers
17. ClarkEMyers
#15 - spoiler space (for folks who sight read rot13)








Punyxre'f Anguna Qrgebvg naq frr nyfb gur Jbeyq bs Gvref zragvbarq nobir sbe arne nf ab znggre.
Andrew Mason
18. AnotherAndrew
Gods as active characters - well, Brust certainly has them (one goddess in particular). There's also Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun, and to a lesser extent Book of the Short Sun. Va obgu pnfrf gur tbqf frrz gb or bs zbegny bevtva.
Clark Myers
19. ClarkEMyers
For some values of godhood there's Robert E. Howard's Conan and his opponents. Much of David Drake including the Northworld Trilogy and The Gods Return has "gods running around and doing god-type stuff in them"
Bob Blough
20. Bob
#15

I'd have to agree with the Gene Wolfe for SF but N.K. Jemison with her trilogy starting with THE KINGDOM OF THE GODS is very infused with Zelazny's Gods vs. men theme and extremely well written, too. I second the Bear trilogy as well. I think all those Zelazny touches (without being pastiche) are some of the main reasons I love all the above novels! You might also enjoy a lesser Zelazny novel called CREATURES OF LIGHT AND DARKNESS using Egyptian mythology.
Katie Hynes
21. Petar Belic
@IanPJohnson

- A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge has a 'War of the Gods' as an integral part of the story. One 'mere mortal' has to deal with the aftermath of possession by aforesaid God.
Katie Hynes
22. Juhan
In terms of the poetic, melancholy tone, I'd say Bob Silverberg. I think RZ even aknowledged RS as an influence.
Steven Halter
23. stevenhalter
I echo the Walter Jon Williams and Steven Brust recommendations as having stories that Zelazny fans would appreciate.
Katie Hynes
24. aland
I was so happy to see this here. Roger Zelazny was my favorite author for many years, and I mourned his passing. I just followed the Walter Jon Williams recommendation, and I agree with Jo. I also agree with the Philip Jose Farmer World of Tiers suggestion, similar in theme and tone and immensely entertaining.
@ Petar Belic He never claimed to be a god. But then, he never claimed not to be...
Katie Hynes
25. Matthew Lazorwitz
If you're looking for more "first person smartass" (love that description), then The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher might work too.

And if you're into comics, you should try to track down Grimjack by John Ostrander and various artistic collaborators. Goddesses, shifting dimensions, and an anti-hero's anti-hero. The titular Grimjack actually makes a cameo in one of the Amber books as Old John, and Zelazny wrote the introduction to the only Grimjack original graphic novel, "Demon Knight".

And if you can find them, Zelazny recorded a bunch of his own work as audio books. The Amber books are fun that way, but A Night in the Lonesome October is my favorite of those.
Paul Weimer
26. PrinceJvstin
Lots of good suggestions (and whatever DID happen to Willey, anyway).

A writer clearly influenced by Zelazny is Eric Nylund. He even has the ghost of a very Zelazny like writer in his novel Dry Water.
Katie Hynes
27. Dr. Thanatos
A trick question. There was, is, and will be no one who writes like Zelazny.

Regarding our Chief Cat: "We called her Mahasamcatman, and said she was a cat. She preferred to drop the maha- and -catman, and called herself Sam. She never said she was a cat. Then again, she never said she wasn't..."
Katie Hynes
28. Percy
Another of the 'first person smartass' books that reminded me alot of Zelazny was Simon Green's Nightside and Secret Histories series.
Alan Brown
29. AlanBrown
There was one time in my USCG career that I swore on my word as an officer that I would keep a promise. Our buoytender had pulled in to Homer, Alaska pick up some stores, and would be leaving the next day. I was in a library, and they were shutting down for the night. I had found the last book of the original Amber series, and had been reading it all afternoon, as the librarian wouldn't check it out to someone who wasn't a town resident. And I was still only 2/3 of the way through the book. It might have been that 'on my honor' pledge, or it might have been the gleam in my eye that told the librarian I was a fellow book lover. She took pity on me, and the next morning when we set sail, the book had been safely placed (with a thank you note) in the night deposit box.
I am having trouble thinking of anything else that comes close to that original Amber series.
Nancy Lebovitz
30. NancyLebovitz
As I recall, Jane Lindskold's Lord Demon and Donnerjack were very Zelaznyish.
Soon Lee
31. SoonLee
Nancy Lebovitz @30:
Well, they would be, seeing as they were incomplete Zelazny works that Lindskold finished after his death.
Soon Lee
32. SoonLee
"Lord Demon", "Donnerjack", along with "A Night in the Lonesome October" indicates to me that Zelazny was experiencing a good run creatively which makes his death all the more tragic.
Katie Hynes
33. Sam Penrose
Damnation Alley's post-apocalypse USA surely influenced various folks. Robert Parker's Spenser is perhaps a distant cousin to Corwin.
Katie Hynes
34. Straybooksoz
As far as gods as main characters, The Redemption of Althalus by David and Leigh Eddings comes to mind. Also the Elder Gods definitely had gods as the main protagonists. The Belgarion series' also had gods as fairly important, present characters.
Steven Halter
35. stevenhalter
Steven Brust recently did an interview over at
franwilde.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/the-killer-in-the-kitchen-cooking-the-books-with-steven-brust/
I though the following Q&A would be of interest here:
The recipe you sent me has an unusual unit of measurement at the end: the metric fuckton. Is this a standard measurement? After we finished The Incrementalists, I was going crazy. You know how long it takes after you finish things and before you hear back with a book, right? I was going crazy and I sent a copy of the book to my friend Marissa. She wrote me a really nice letter back and said “Well this book was obviously written by people who have read metric fucktons of Zelazny.”
I just love that term.
So, The Incrementalists (September of 2013, from Tor) sounds like it will be a good choice for Zelazny fans (and Brust fans of course).
Katie Hynes
36. Chuk
I second the Silverberg suggestion -- I just recently read Lord Valentine's Castle and it felt a lot like Zelazny. (The Martin stuff in Dreamsongs was a great suggestion too.)
Zelazny has some stuff in the Wild Cards books that I liked.
p l
37. p-l
@1: Actually, I think it's pretty clear that Matthew Hughes writes pastiches of Jack Vance.
Steve Taylor
38. teapot7
I used to love Zelazny when younger, but over the years my loathing of the "first person smartass" style which I loved so much as a teenager has driven me away from him.

Your post reminds me though that he had many other attributes. Maybe I should go back to him and see what I still like. I'll always have a soft spot for _Jack of Shadows_ and _Isle of the Dead_.

> Elizabeth Willey’s The Well-Favored Man has been described as “Nice Princes in Amber” and that’s a very good summary. There are two sequels. What happened to her anyway?

I wish I knew. I try to spread the word about these when I can. _The Well Favoured Man_ is a wonderful book.
Robert Thornton
39. rthornton777
My cat is named Sam. Or, at least, I just call him Sam.
Peter Stone
40. Peter1742
You may think his name is just Sam. But as T.S. Eliot says, "a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES".
Katie Hynes
41. chaosprime
I am utterly tickled that you use "first person smartass", being that I came up with it independently for precisely the purpose of describing the Amber and Vlad books' voice.

For something off in another direction, I would strongly recommend the video game Planescape: Torment to Zelazny fans who also like computer RPGs. I almost didn't pick it up except that reading the box copy made me go, "Man, that's some Amber influence going on right there", which there was. I also happen to consider it the best work of art yet produced in the medium.
Ben Engelsberg
42. booklegger451
Steeldriver, by Don H. DeBrandt, gives a very thoroughly Zelazny treatment to the John Henry fable, and is the one book I frequently mis-remember as actually being a Zelazny book when I think about the various mythologies he riffed on. DeBrandt also wrote a similar book, Timberjak, based on the Paul Bunyan fable.

Both books are worth a look by Zelazny fans.
David Levinson
43. DemetriosX
Another one that has recently occurred to me is Silverlock by John Myers Myers. First person smart-ass, lots of mythical characters. I don't know about any other of Myers' works, but this one certainly has a bit of a Zelazny feel.
scott hhhhhhhhh
44. wsp_scott
I just read Knight Moves over the weekend. Very fun/good book, highly recommended.
Alan Brown
45. AlanBrown
Since Silverlock was written in the 40's and Zelazny's first output came in the 60's, I think it is safe to say that Zelazny's work has a Myers feel to it.
(My son used to say that he liked my old Sergeant Fury comics because they were very much like GI Joe comics, and I always had to remind him that Fury's comic came first, before even the release of the first GI Joe toys in 1964, and decades before the GI Joe comic.)
Katie Hynes
46. cgw
I took some goods notes from the above. I don't have a lot to add as I have been searching for a Zelazny replacement for 20 years now.
Speaking of Saberhagen, we all know he cowroite Coils with Zelazny. Try his Pyramids for a semiobscure book that Zelazny fans would like.
Funny that someone above mentioned Robert Parker's Spenser - another of my favs.
Katie Hynes
47. Bernard Brandt
Dear Ms. Walton,

I happened upon your entry here because I googled 'other science fiction writers like Roger Zelazny', and this is where it led me.

I thank you, from the depths of my so-called heart, because your recommendations are leading me to other writers like Roger Zelazny, whom I miss bitterly. On one occasion, long ago, at Harlan Ellison's 'Ten Tuesdays Down A Rabbit Hole' at UCLA, I had the privilege of getting Zelazny's autograph for his 'For A Breath I Tarry', which is by far my favorite story by the late Mr. Z.

I shall be checking out the stories and authors who have been recommended here. And because you have recommended Zelazny, I shall of course have to read your works as well.

Finally, if you will forgive me, I would like to recommend my own first novel, 'Bad Trip'. It may be found here:

http://www.amazon.com/Bad-Trip-ebook/dp/B00AA3PDB8

Sorry for flogging my book, but Zelazny was one of my exemplars in my writing of it. And I'm afraid that I made use of his style of 'first person smartass' (which, by the way, is a beautifully apt description of Z's writing style for some books, particularly 'This Immortal'.)

Whether I have managed to achieve anything other than Z's 'first person smartass' is, of course, open to question.
Katie Hynes
48. Clarentine
What I would really love to have is a list of works similar to the voice Zelazny used with my favorite of his books, _Doorways in the Sand_. Not quite first person smartass; the narrator is more at sea, less confident in his abilities, though still very recognizably a Zelazny hero.
Katie Hynes
49. pjcamp
Dying of the Light was an amazing book. It has been probably thirty or more years since I read it but I remember it still. Some things stay with you, but, sadly, not that many. This one did. My favorite Zelazny was A Rose for Ecclesiastes. Also very much liked Doorways in the Sand and Jack of Shadows. Never could get going on Lord of Light.

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