Aug 15 2013 3:00pm

The Chronicles of Amber Reread: Sign of the Unicorn

Roger Zelazny Chronicles of Amber Sign of the Unicorn

The third book in the Amber series, Sign of the Unicorn, is really when the series begins to heat up for me. It’s hard for me to pick favorites, but it’s either this one or the next, and really they continue one on from the other. The first book establishes Corwin and is largely his story, and Guns of Avalon establishes the overarching plotline of the first series, but Sign of the Unicorn accelerates full speed into the plot and ups the stakes considerably.

What Happens: Sign of the Unicorn picks up with Corwin in Amber a short time after the battle depicted at the end of the previous book. He carries one of the creatures that appeared in Nine Princes chasing Random through Shadow—Corwin is looking for answers as to who these people are, seeing as Random never explained and Corwin didn’t have the time to ask about them.

Random gets in a few questions first and Corwin tells him that he was sent a message purportedly from their brother Caine to meet in the Grove of the Unicorn. When Corwin arrived, he saw the creature slit Caine’s throat—Corwin killed the creature and discovered that Caine also received a false note asking him to the grove. The motive seems clear—someone wants to implicate Corwin in Caine’s murder.

Random proceeds to tell his story, going back to a time when Oberon seemed to want him out of Amber. While in Texorami, Random receives a distress call from Brand through a regular playing card, accomplished as if by Trump. Brand appeared to be in a tower in a shifting, chaotic Shadow, with floating rocks surrounding it and a guardian at its base.

Random went after him in his glider, working the stuff of Shadow like the Amberites do. He made it to the tower where he faced the guardian, but was unable to defeat it. Not wanting to die, he hightailed it out of there, using a flying rock to shift through Shadow. However, he noticed that creatures from inside the tower were pursuing him through Shadow, which only Amberites are supposed to be able to do. He fought off a few incursions, then made for our Shadow Earth and, remembering that Flora was there, called her for sanctuary. Instead, he got Corwin and the events of Nine Princes happened. Random didn’t bring up the creatures (the same creature that Corwin is now carrying) at first because he wondered if they were Corwin’s.

Corwin decides to attune himself to the Jewel of Judgment; following Dworkin’s notes, Corwin walks the Pattern with the Jewel and projects himself into the Jewel itself. Corwin sees some kind of three-dimensional representation of the Pattern while inside the Jewel. When he is finished he tests its power by summoning a storm.

Corwin has Random fetch Flora and he questions her some more about her part in his “sojourn” on Shadow Earth. She admits that Eric had her keep an eye on him there, but only after she ran into him at a party when he didn’t have his memory. Corwin shows her the body of the creature and she says she’s willing to support his version of events regarding Caine’s death—which she would probably do anyway to avoid his wrath. Flora also mentions that most of Corwin’s brothers sought him in Shadow, though some of them seemed to be doing it to hold something over on Eric.

Corwin lets the others know about Caine’s death and goes with Gerard to get the body. On the way there, Gerard, a skilled unarmed combatant, forces Corwin spar with him. Corwin is knocked out temporarily and comes to with Gerard holding him over the side of the mountain. Gerard tells Corwin that if he is found to be responsible for Caine’s death, he will kill him. And if Gerard dies, it will point to Corwin’s guilt. Corwin points out this this allows someone else to implicate him by killing Gerard. Gerard complains about Corwin always complicating things.

As they approach the Grove of the Unicorn, they see the actual unicorn. Apparently Oberon also saw the unicorn some time ago, which led him to adopt it as his royal symbol.

Corwin spends the night drinking in his tomb (built when he was presumed dead) with Ganelon. Ganelon brings up something interesting—could the Trumps be tapped like a phone? Corwin has to admit that he doesn’t know, as his knowledge of the Trumps is mostly restricted their normal use.

Corwin calls a meeting of all of the currently present brothers and sisters. They seem to split into two groups, one consisting of Julian, Benedict, and Gerard, the other Corwin, Random, Deirdre and Fiona. Random retells his story to the group, and Corwin suggests that they all try to contact Brand. Joining their efforts through Corwin’s Trump, they reach Brand, who is apparently still in the same cell. Gerard and Random go through to help free him, fighting off the same creatures that had attacked before. They get Brand free and bring him back, but not before someone (one of the Amberites) stabs Brand in the side with a dagger. Gerard takes Brand away to a room to protect him. Alone.

The other siblings then discuss who it is who might have done it. Fiona is convinced it was Julian. Corwin isn’t convinced since Julian and Caine were close. Fiona also warns Corwin about the Jewel of Judgment. She studied with Dworkin more than the others (save Brand) and mentions that all their powers drain the user. In the matter of the Trumps, it is a small drain. But with the Jewel of Judgment, it’s far more serious. She’s convinced that it was the Jewel, not his wounds, that killed Eric. She mentions that when people seem like statues, that’s when things are near the end.

Corwin returns to his room to find an assassin who stabs him, but he is saved by the Jewel’s time-slowing effect. Corwin blacks out and when he comes to, he’s in his bed back on Shadow Earth. Weak and bleeding, he manages to make it outside, and hides the Jewel in a compost heap, realizing the effect it’s having on him. He makes it to the street where an old friend, Bill Roth, finds him and takes him to the hospital.

There, he is patched up and more questions are answered. He finds out that his car accident, that landed him in Greenwood, occurred while he was escaping from a mental asylum and that he had been placed there by a Dr. Hillary B. Rand and a brother, Brandon Corey. Since time passes more quickly in Shadow Earth, Corwin takes the time to heal while fewer hours pass in Amber. He is eventually contacted by Random, saying that Brand is awake and wishes to speak with him. He comes through on Random’s Trump and goes to visit their newly-returned brother, hiding the fact that he was stabbed.

Brand is circumspect, but eventually tells a story about how he joined in a cabal with Fiona, and Bleys to seize the throne, but were opposed by a triumvirate of Eric, Julian, and Caine. He explains that it was Bleys and Fiona’s idea to ally with the Courts of Chaos and that he balked and went to find Corwin for assistance. He tried to restore Corwin’s memories with shock therapy  at the asylum, but then was captured and imprisoned in the tower.

Corwin does what most Amberites would do in his situation. He travels to the city of Tir-na Nog’th, a ghostly reflection of Amber in the sky above Kolvir, a place of dreams and reflections. He takes his sword, Grayswandir, which has special properties in that place. He sees things that might have been, that never were: Lorraine, still alive, brought to Amber with him in some other universe; Deirdre with a man whom he recognizes (and we get a hint that Corwin’s feelings for her are not just brotherly); Dara, sitting on the throne of Amber with Benedict at her side. Benedict has a strange, metallic arm to replace the one he lost. He speaks to Dara who tells him that Corwin has been dead for ages. She explains that she is the great-granddaughter of Benedict and the hellmaid Lintra. Benedict then fights Corwin. Usually the images in the city are insubstantial, but Benedict’s arm is as real to Corwin as his sword is to the ghosts. They fight as the city begins to disappear around them (at sunrise). In the end, Corwin cuts the arm from Benedict and Random brings him back safely on his Trump before Corwin can fall into the ocean. The arm comes with him.

Random packs it up and they make to return to Amber, but it appears as if they’re moving through Shadow. Only that shouldn’t be possible in Amber. They again see the Unicorn and it leads them through strange deconstructions of reality. When they pass through them, they find themselves at the place where the Pattern should be, and there it is. Not their Pattern, but the true Pattern.

“That is the real Amber down there, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, it is.”


Filling in the Gaps: Zelazny uses this novel to fill in a lot of gaps in the overall story. From the creatures that show up pursuing Random to the timeline of events when Corwin was sent to the hospital and fleshing out some of Corwin’s time on Shadow Earth. It seems a bit horrible of Random to have forgotten about Brand for so long, but then these people live on a different scale and it seems like things in Shadow are, well, less in focus.

Amberites: This one introduces even more of our favorite family, particularly Fiona and Brand, the redheads, part of a cabal with Bleys—and both apparently more skilled in the use of Trumps, having spent more time studying with Dworkin than most of the others. Brand’s description of a plot by his cabal lays out a whole lot of drama and seems to justify the paranoia from the earlier part of the book.

We also hear about Martin, Random’s son by Queen Moire’s daughter (of Rebma), though not much information is given about him.

We get the idea that Corwin is sweet on his sister, Deirdre.

And sadly, Caine, who we only got a glimpse of before, is dead. RIP Caine.

Amber Cosmology: Zelazny gives us more details about the Jewel of Judgment—it’s more than just a weather control device. And it has a cost, drawingon the bearer’s life force. It also contains a three-dimensional version of the Pattern inside of it. It seems that everything that gives Amberites their power is based around the Pattern: the Trumps work based on the Pattern; the Jewel contains the Pattern; the Pattern allows them to walk through Shadow; the image of the Pattern destroyed the Black Road; Grayswandir, Corwin’s sword, contains the Pattern; and there’s the Pattern that they find at the end of the book...

The Courts of Chaos: We get a bit of a glimpse about the Courts of Chaos as well, in a very interesting way. Corwin talks about how Amberites previously could be thought to create the Shadows they travel through and to, that they didn’t exist separately unless formed from the psyches of a son or daughter of Amber.

“Now I know that it is not so, now as I stand, waiting, without the Courts of Chaos, telling you what it was like, I know that it is not so.”

Exactly what Corwin says here is telling. He mentions that he’s speaking to someone specific, at the Courts of Chaos. And that they exist independently of any of the Amberites. And the denizens of the Courts are attacking Amber by means of the Black Road.

Assorted: Tir-na Nog’th is introduced, a ghostly echo of Amber in the sky, as Rebma is Amber’s reflection in the sea. If Amber is the representation of the city on Earth, I always thought there should be a fiery version of Amber as well.

And Corwin retrieves a strange mechanical arm from that place, attached to another version of Benedict.

But who is he talking to? And why is he there? Come back next time for The Hand of Oberon. And please sound off in the comments with your thoughts.

Rajan Khanna is a writer, narrator and blogger who would sometimes like to walk through Shadow. Of course if Amber existed, he would also like to see it some day. You can follow him on his website, and he tweets @rajanyk.

Alicia Dodson
1. LynMars
I always liked Random's chapter, and his assessment of how his older, more martial brothers would have handled the monster. And then, like Corwin, he was in enforced house arrest for the years between going to Rebma and the battle at Kolvir where Eric died, so I give him a bit of a pass on "forgetting" Brand; he wasn't really in a position to do much himself.

This one flows so directly into the next book that it's really hard to see them as separate novels. There's a real sense of all one story split into smaller books by this point.
Bob Blough
2. Bob
I couldn't agree more with the impression that this one and the next are the best books of the series. In fact I think they are among the best work that Zelazny ever did.
Alan Brown
5. AlanBrown
This was a great book, and I remember at this point I was looking forward to each new Amber book with some excitement. Back in those days, before I knew about fanzines and publisher's schedules, and long before the internet, that meant browsing at the small SF section in the paperback book racks at the local drug or department stores, and Zelazny kept me scanning right to the end of the shelf.
Random was a very interesting character, a big part of why I liked this book, kind of a Loki/trickster/scoundrel type that you liked but never quite trusted. And when the 'true' pattern was revealed, and Zelazny pulled the rug out from under the world he had built, all I could say was 'woah!'
Paul Weimer
6. PrinceJvstin
This is the book where we get some of the backfill, as events become clearer. This is also one of the more "family as machiavellian" books of the series as the plots and counterplots start to be revealed.

Random's story as he relates it is one of my favorites.
jon meltzer
7. jmeltzer
The list of siblings at the Big Meeting has missed Flora (Corwin's side) and Llewella (Julian's). And then there's Bleys, still MIA.

(That's "side of the room", not "side of the alliances", of course. Corwin's still not getting it. If only there was someone around who'd give him a good kick every so often ...)
Tabby Alleman
9. Tabbyfl55
Why is there no link to the index of the re-read? How do I navigate to the other books in the re-read?
Doug M.
10. Doug M.
Going to raise a dissenting voice here. While there is indeed some lovely writing here -- "my silent regards to the rug" -- it's pretty clear that Zelazny has no idea where he's going. Random's backstory, for instance, is a retcon; it's such a well-done retcon that it's easy to just go with it, but it's clear that it's a subsequent invention long after the writing of 9PiA.

Zelazny having new ideas and retconning them into the existing character histories and cosmologies would be a constant theme from here on out. (In fact, he really started in the previous volume. Oh, Corwin knows how to make gunpowder, but he didn't use it for his invasion with Bleys in the first book because handwave.)

Not everything is a retcon; you can see him setting up the big reveals for Ganelon and Brand here. But I'd bet a dollar that, when he wrote that opening scene, he had no idea who killed Caine.

Also, Zelazny's continuing problems with female characters are well on display here. Although you could argue that he does better here than in either of the subsequent books; at least Fiona is interesting, has agency, and gets some time in the spotlight. But it drops off fast after that: Flora is a dullard, Llewella is a cipher, and Dierdre is already wearing the red shirt. Because Corwin, as a brooding Byronic hero, must ultimately be left alone! with nobody to love him! In fact, arguably the entire last book can be subtitled How Corwin Ends Up Alone. But we'll get to that.

Doug M.
Derek Broughton
11. auspex
Well, repeated usage of the nelogism "retcon" simply screams, "I have nothing to add here, but I recently learned a word you probably don't know'".

If he didn't know exactly where Random was going when he wrote Nine Princes in Amber why would he have been introduced being chased by some characters whose origin is not explained? A dollar gets you ten that he absolutely knew who killed Caine — it simply makes no sense to kill off an important character without knowing. And Llewella is always meant to be a cipher. No excuses for the other female characters, but Llewella is as-intended.
Steven Halter
12. stevenhalter
I would in general agree with auspex here. There does seem to be some clear planning that went on. I'll also note that authors are free to explore new ideas and paths as they write. Such changes aren't the negatively connotated "retcon" but rather creative expression.
Doug M.
13. Doug M.
wasn't going to go into the whole "history of the writing of Amber" thing. But since you insist:

1) Zelazny was a "start writing and see what comes" kind of guy. That's not an assumption. It's known. He acknowledged it on more than one occasion, in interviews and in personal correspondence. You can find discussion of it in both his biographies, the Linskold and the Krulik, and in his own writings about the process of his work.

2) Sometimes he knew where a story would end and would write towards it. Other times, not -- he'd just start with a character or a scene, write from it, and see what happened. But in either case, he almost never knew what would happen in the middle* of the story. This was especially true with his longer works, novellas and novels.

3) To give a specific example, he's on record as saying that when he started Lord of Light, he knew that it would start with Sam's resurrection, end with his victory and disappearance, and that the middle and bulk of the book would be one long flashback. But when he started writing that flashback, he had only vague ideas what would be in it. Sam's backstory, and the book's, were pretty much made up as he went along.

4) Zelazny is on record as saying (a) he had the entire arc of the Amber series planned out in advance -- that is, he knew what it would be about, where and how it would end, and that Corwin would survive to the end to tell it. But (b) he originally thought it would be either one long book (like, Lord of Light length) or a book and a sequel.

5) The first Amber series had a complex publishing history. It's been 15 years since I read about it, so this is working from memory, but I believe it went like so: Zelazny wrote 9PiA way back in 1966-7. It was serialized in the now-long-defunct Kallikanzaros in 1967, but not published in book form until 1970, after Zelazny had grown famous enough that publishers felt comfortable with this rather odd fantasy.

Now, partway through writing 9PiA -- around the time Corwin met Bleys -- Zelazny realized this was at least two books. That would have been sometime in 1966. But once the book was written, he put Amber on the shelf for several years. He only got started on GoA after 9PiA was accepted for publication in book form. That would have been 1969 or 1970, three or four years after finishing 9PiA. That is, BTW, why you see a noticeable difference in style between the two books -- Zelazny matured a lot as a writer in those 3 or 4 years. If you look at his bibliography 1966-70, you'll see what I'm talking about.

Still with me? Okay, partway through GoA he realized no, it would have to be a trilogy. Sign of the Unicorn! But then SotU ran so damn long that it had to be cut in two. This is why those two books read like one: they are. You'll notice that unlike the other books, these two were published less than a year apart. This was so that the hardcover of HoO would come out simultaneously with the paperback edition of SotU.

Now, it wasn't immediately clear that there'd be a 5th volume. If you look at the publication dates, the middle three books came out in less than three years, bang ban bang, but then there's about a three year gap before CoC. That's because there was some worry whether people would buy volumes 3 and 4 -- since they were, after all, a single book cut in two. So CoC did not get greenlighted until Zelazny had seen sales numbers on HoO.

(As I said, I'm working from 15 year old memory here and I'm a long way from the Linskold. If anyone has fresher information, or an interview or other cite, please bring it.)

6) So given (A) Zelazny's known proclivities, and (B) the way he actually wrote the series, yeah, it does look like he wrote Random's pursuers without having any idea who they were or where they came from. He did stuff like that when he was writing *one* book, never mind a five-book series written in fits and starts over more than a decade.

7) Finally, Zelazny is on record as saying that chunks of Amber would appear to him full-blown -- sometimes static images, sometimes cutscenes -- and that he would then have to figure out some way to write them into the narrative. I think that's cool, and there are places where it undoubtedly adds to the force and vividness of the narrative. But it probably didn't help in terms of consistency, continuity, or wrapping up loose ends neatly.

Doug M.
Steven Halter
14. stevenhalter
Doug M@17:I guess I just don't see anything wrong with Zelazny being "start writing and see what comes". I rather like what came of it.
Derek Broughton
15. auspex
I like what came of it, too — but I just can't stretch "start writing and see what comes" to mean the same thing as "write specific things into the plot without any idea how I'm going to use them later".

Random was being pursued for a reason, and we deserved to know the reason at some point.

Why would he write Caine's murder without knowing who did it? The final reveal adds nothing unless it was always intended.
Christopher Kovacs
16. Christopher Kovacs
There are many factually incorrect assertions in post #13 above.

By way of stating credentials first, I researched and wrote Zelazny's biography, published in 2009 as "...And Call Me Roger": The Literary Life of Roger Zelazny. It appeared in six parts, one per volume of The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny (NESFA Press). It's also been updated in the second editions of each of those six volumes.

Some corrections:

Nine Princes in Amber (9PiA) was completed in Feb 1967 and The Guns of Avalon was started immediately after. Zelazny stopped at the end of chapter 3 in September 1968, and didn't start up again until two years later, around the time that 9PiA was published. That accounts for what some readers have recognized as an obvious change in tone and style in the chapter that succeeds Lorraine's death. Zelazny admitted that in the time elapsed, he'd forgotten where he'd been headed in the storyline, and so he went somewhere else.

Zelazny is actually on record as saying he did NOT know how the storyline would end when he started writing. He was uncertain as to whether or not Corwin would end up as king. He did not know who Corwin was when he began with him waking up in hospital. He had no idea who Corwin was telling the story to or what the Courts of Chaos were when Corwin made this remark in 9PiA: “...and even now, as I stand contemplating the Courts of Chaos, telling this story to the only one present to hear, that perhaps he may repeat it..." It wasn't until Zelazny was writing the fifth book that he realized it was Merlin who was hearing the tale. And so on.

9PiA was not serialized. Two short excerpts, one of which was a transcription of a reading Zelazny gave at a convention, and the other a true excerpt of the manuscript, were published in the fanzine Kallikanzaros.

9PiA was planned as a trilogy and Zelazny declared that in letters to his editor in 1968 when the book was accepted. It was later that he realized he needed five books to tell the tale.

9PiA did not get ignored until Zelazny was popular in 1970. Zelazny chose to shelve the manuscript in Feb 1967 rather than showing it to anyone. But he mentioned it to Chip Delany, who mentioned it to the Doubleday editor March Haefele, and that caused Haefele to request to see it. The manuscript was accepted in July 1968. This is before the Hugo for Lord of Light and the paperback appearance of that book in 1969. It took until spring 1970 for the 9PiA to appear in hardcover. (Delany earlier did the same service to Zelazny regarding Creatures of Light and Darkness, another manuscript that Zelazny had chosen not to submit. This is all documented in correspondence which I cited in the biography.)

Sign of the Unicorn did not run on too long and have to be cut in two. It ended where he'd intended, and the book was in production by July 1974. (Zelazny was very economical in his use of words and also in the length of his manuscripts, not writing beyond what the contract stated.) Zelazny finished writing Deus Irae before turning to The Hand of Oberon. He did most of the writing of The Hand of Oberon after he'd moved to Santa Fe in February 1975, and was only partway into it in April 1975 before finishing it in the fall of 1975. Sign of the Unicorn had a printing date of February 1975 while The Hand of Oberon had a printing date of April 1976, which is not "less than a year apart" for those two books. And the paperback of Sign of the Unicorn appeared in November 1976, which was not simultaneous with the hardcover of The Hand of Oberon but seven months after it.

The Guns of Avalon came out in August 1972. The middle three books came out in 1972, 1975, 1976. That is not "less than three years" for the middle three books to appear.

The Courts of Chaos came out in August 1978, which is just over two years after the fourth book and not that remarkable a gap in time given that the entire sequence appeared in 1970, 1972, 1975, 1976, 1978.

The statement about awaiting sales of The Hand of Oberon before The Courts of Chaos would be green-lighted for Zelazny to go ahead and write is nonsense. It was the reverse situation. The books were selling extremely well especially in paperback, but the multi-book contract with Doubleday (who sold the paperback rights to Avon, and made their money that way rather than in the hardcover sales) was such that Zelazny wasn't getting the money he and his agent felt he should get for this popular series. Attempts to re-negotiate didn't succeed. In the end, this soured him on the Amber series, and he wrote The Courts of Chaos somewhat in protest to fulfill the obligations of the Doubleday contract. That's also why The Courts of Chaos is the shortest of the original five books. The Corwin tale might have lasted more than five books if it hadn't been for this. Zelazny stopped publishing with Doubleday after that.

Also, Zelazny was midway through writing The Courts of Chaos in mid-1977 and the paperback of The Hand of Oberon didn't even appear until June 1977, with news of its sales not coming until well after...and so greenlighting based on sales was not possible in that time line. The bulk of sales of the original five Amber books were in paperback, not hardcover.

My apologies for going on so long. I normally resist the futile effort of correcting the endless Internet, but in this matter of Zelazny's biography and writing, I had to make an exception.

The "...And Call Me Roger" biography has citations to over 500 separate documents from Zelazny's correspondence and interviews to back up all facts. It's over 100,000 words long. At present the only way to read it is through the six-volume The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny from NESFA Press.
Doug M.
17. Doug M.

Thank you very much for this long and erudite correction. As I said, I was working from 15 year old memories, and it appears my memories were not very accurate. I actually do appreciate you taking the time to set the record straight.

I will raise just one question. There's a 1994 interview where Zelazny says the following:

You said that the whole first Amber series was planned out in your head in rough. Were you surprised at how big the project turned out?

"Yes! I thought it was going to be one book, maybe a book and sequel later on. I had no idea how much the story would embellish itself and just keep growing longer."

That seems slightly inconsistent with him knowing it would always be a trilogy. Although, of course, this is an interview almost 30 years after the fact... Is there anything more to be said about this?

Meanwhile, I have to say it looks like I was wrong in detail -- many details, blush -- but right on the general principle: Zelazny was, by and large, making it up as he went along. Yes?

Doug M.
Christopher Kovacs
18. Christopher Kovacs
Doug M:

On looking back at the relevant sections in the biography that I wrote, I realize I forgot something. When Zelazny finished Nine Princes in Amber in February 1967, he wrote to his editor Larry Ashmead on February 13, 1967 to tell him about the novel, and he described that it was a trilogy with book titles Nine Princes in Amber, The Guns of Avalon, and The Courts of Chaos. He'd just finished the first book, was partway into the second, and he called it a trilogy. Ashmead wanted to see the manuscript then, but Zelazny got side-tracked, forgot, had second thoughts about the manuscript, and shelved it. It was over a year later that Chip Delany intervened and the assistant editor, Marc Haefele, became involved, not knowing that his boss had requested the manuscript a year earlier.

With that in mind, I trust Zelazny's February 1967 statements about a novel he'd just finished writing a day or two earlier, and the trilogy that he was in the midst of writing, as opposed to recollections from his 1994 interview.

But having said that, it is also true that when Zelazny began writing Nine Princes in Amber, he didn't know where it was headed or whether it might be more than one book in length. In that sense, his 1994 interview is correct on the uncertainty about length. But he knew before it was finished that it was going to be a trilogy, as stated in that February 1967 letter to Larry Ashmead.

Also in his 1967-68 letters, he admitted not knowing how things would be resolved, and that contradicts his 1994 interview. For example, in 1968, while partway through writing The Guns of Avalon, he wrote “Oberon is not dead, and I am still not certain as to whether Corwin will ever reign in Amber – though I suspect he might wind up in that position. If so, he will discover it to be a very rough job.”

And by September 1968, Zelazny wrote to his editor that it might take six novels to tell the tale.

Zelazny's own confidence in the novel's merits fluctuated. He was initially quite positive and wrote to Ashmead, “the fans seem already enthusiastic, subsequent to a few readings I’ve given” and “it ends with a sort of cliff-hanger, but so did A Princess of Mars and look what happened there.” And yet he shelved it and had to be prodded to let the editors see it a year later.

Yes, in general Zelazny said that he made things up as he went along. That's one of the things I find so remarkable about the Amber series, that he managed to tie so many things together. Details mentioned early on became relevant later. But the opposite view is also true, that this process led to inconsistencies and unresolved plot threads because he made it up as he went along. I think that became more problematic in the Merlin books, and Zelazny acknowledged this as the rationale for writing the short stories (i.e., to resolve certain inconsistencies and dangling plot threads).

How much he might have really planned out in advance was something only he knew.
Steven Halter
19. stevenhalter
Thanks, Christopher for the excellent detail. I'm going to have to get those NESFA books.
Doug M.
20. Doug M.
Yes, this is all great stuff. Thank you, once again.

Did Zelazny talk about particular characters or aspects of the plot otherwise? For instance, I've always suspected that "Brand as the main villain" was an idea that came to him somewhere after the end of the second book. Is there any evidence for this sort of thing one way or the other?

@stevenhalter, NESFA produces high-quality products. I admit to being biased -- I wrote the introduction to their edition of Lois McMaster Bujold's _The Warrior's Apprentice_. But, really, most of their stuff ranges from good to wonderful.

Doug M.
Christopher Kovacs
21. Christopher Kovacs
Zelazny did describe how some things just came to him as he was writing, such as what the Trumps must be when Corwin discovered the tarot cards in the desk. Or how it suddenly occurred to him while writing The Courts of Chaos that it must be Merlin to whom Corwin had been telling the story all along, beginning in the first book. But I don't recall him saying any specifics about when or why he chose to do something with a particular character.

I have suspected that he forgot about Random's entrance stage left pursued by strange creatures in Nine Princes in Amber, and that queries from fans (in letters, and at conventions) caused him to revisit that in the third book. I'm also suspicious that he forgot about Dara for a while after her dramatic declaration at the end of The Guns of Avalon, or that he changed his mind about where he might have gone with that plot point or the character. But I have no proof, just my suspicions.
Steven Halter
22. stevenhalter
Christopher:A bit off topic, but do you have any insight into why Zelazny's works are sorely lacking in eBook versions?
Christopher Kovacs
23. Christopher Kovacs
Steven: Yes. A couple of years ago, NESFA Press approached the Estate about doing e-book versions of The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, and the reply was that the Estate was not interested in e-books at the time. No explanation, just that statement. They reaffirmed that position in August 2012.

But this year, Damnation Alley was released on Kindle. And The Dead Man's Brother was released for the Nook. So too the co-authored Wilderness and Deus Irae are now available in digital versions. And so it looks like the Estate is testing the waters of digital media. When I discovered these releases, I asked NESFA Press to check on getting permission to do digital versions of The Collected Stories, but so far no response. I will ask again. In the meantime I do have pdfs of those six volumes for my own use on Kindle.

With repect to digital audio, Zelazny's unabridged readings of Amber 1-9 are available on CD and mp3 from Speaking-Volumes (he never did a reading of book 10), and there are also unabridged readings of all ten Amber books available at (first five read by Alessandro Juliani, the second five read by Wil Wheaton). A Night in the Lonesome October, read by Zelazny, is also available at Speaking-Volumes, as is Wilderness, read by Trent Zelazny and Gerald Hausman.
Steven Halter
24. stevenhalter
Thanks Christopher. Good to hear that there may be some thawing.

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