returning to a familiar world

Julia over at Pages of Julia wrote this blog post about reading a favorite author after a long break.

This made me think of Roger Zelazny. He was one of my favorite writers when I was growing up, and now his books are (gradually) coming out as ebooks. I wrote about the experience of revisiting This Immortal here.

Well, I just bought the short story collection The Doors of his Face, the Lamps of his Mouth, and I realized again that what I always remember is the plots and characters, but what I always forget is the words. The story starts with a lyrical description of what it’s like to land on Venus in a commercial spacecraft, and then (he literally says “shaking off the metaphors”) what it’s like to go through three days of quarantine on the ground.

After the three days of quarantine generally comes a binge (the effects of alcohol in variant atmosphere are mentioned but not described) — because Zelazny always wrote about the future where everybody smokes and drinks. So, more Alien than Star Trek.

It was probably a particular situation to be a science fiction author in the 1960s, during the height of the space program. It was one thing for Edgar Rice Burroughs to write about civilizations on Mars in 1917, but in 1965 it looked like humans might be visiting Mars and Venus in a very few years, and after that it would he pretty silly to be writing about Dejah Thoris, the city of Helium, and the Tharks.

So, realizing that Mars and Venus might be closed off to science fiction in the near future, Zelazny decided to write the best Mars story he could write, and the best Venus story.

They are “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” and the title story in this volume, and they are excellent. They are different stories in many ways (one has a lot of action, for example, and the other has almost no action at all), but I see now a similarity that I missed before. They are both, in different ways, about how small human beings are in the universe, our bodies, our dreams, our minds, our short history, and so on.

The collection as a whole is, from my perspective now, somewhat in uneven, but those two (and some of the others as well) are first rate.

It was really good to revisit them.

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