Writing about Michael Moorcock recently made me think of the writing legends that had the most influence on me. These include people as far apart as Oscar Wilde and Fritz Leiber. But no one, perhaps, more so than Roger Zelazny.
I was in college when I discovered Roger Zelazny, reading “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” in a class. I really enjoyed it and thought about reading more from the author. But it wasn’t until a year or so later, when I discovered The Chronicles of Amber, that I really fell in love with his writing.
My girlfriend at the time had the old two-volume Science Fiction Book Club edition of Zelazny’s stories. One with a yellow cover, the other an almost avocado color, both with the same Boris Vallejo cover of a shirtless man in a ridiculous red cape facing off against two cat-like creatures in a dark forest.
I needed something to read, so I picked the first volume up and found the fantasy series that would change my life. That sounds like hyperbole, I know, but both as a reader and a writer, Zelazny’s Amber books had a huge effect on me.
To start with, they had many of the things I enjoy in stories. Witty, charming, and delightfully unreliable first person narrator? Check. Near-immortal beings? Check. Travel between worlds? Check. Dysfunctional families and the resulting politics of such? Check. And yet it was so much more than this laundry list of items.
To this day, the Amber books are some of the select novels that I will re-read on a regular basis, usually every few years. And I never seem to tire of them. The novels that can stand up to that kind of regular scrutiny are few and far between for me. My interest and excitement in these books hasn’t waned, not in the five or so times I’ve been through them.
Zelazny wrote ten Amber novels—five that are amazing, five that have their flaws—and a scattering of short stories. In the coming weeks, I plan to go through them and take a look at each, sharing my thoughts on them as I go. If you’ve read the books, please feel free to take a look back with me. If you never have, feel free to read along. The books are short. You could easily get through one in a week.
Let us walk through Shadows together, and make for Amber. We begin with Nine Princes in Amber.