FORGOTTEN BOOK: COLLECTED STORIES OF ROGER ZELAZNY, VOL. 1: Threshold, 2009
This is the 94th in my series of Forgotten Books.
I first encountered the work of Roger Zelazny in the mid 1960’s, either through The Year’s Best SF or through the first collection of Nebula winners. My mind has grown old and rusty since then. I am not sure which stories I read first but I do know that by 1968 I had read many of his shot pieces and his first several novels.
So, it was a foregone conclusion when this series of his Collected Stories was announced, I was going to have all the volumes. By 1970 my favorite writers included Zelazny, Delany, Ellison, Sturgeon, Heinlein, Dick and Edgar Rice Burroughs. I was a mixed bag and I was loving all the flavors I was finding. Tastes changed over the years and I found that I did not necessarily like every piece by every writer but these remained high in my estimation the whole time. Other writers joined the list, remained a while, and either dropped a little or fell way off.
So, I was looking for a book to read this week. I do try to read or re-read each one before working on these little essays. Consequently, many of my choices remain shorted works. But, one night I grabbed this one before heading for bed. This is not a small book, over 570 pages of story, notes, reminisces, and poetry. It is somewhat chronological but not rigidly so. The introductory essay from Robert Silverberg shared some of his memories on first reading RZ and then of knowing him and finally hearing of his death in 1995. I had many of the same memories, particularly relating to his death. I had met him on a number of occasions and had provided some of the inspiration for the title of one of his collaborations with Robert Sheckley, IF AT FAUST YOU DON’T SUCCEED.
I opened the book and the first story was “A Rose For Ecclesiastes”, a short story I rank within the top five all time stories (don’t ask what the others are, I would have to think). I have read this many times over the years, but not in the last 20 years or so. It was nearly like reading it for the first time. The story of the romantic, linguistic poet reviewing the history of a dying Mars was as clear and delightful and full of magic as it ever was. When I first met RZ, the first thing I got him to sign was the issue of F&SF with the story in it and he astounding odd and wonderful Hannes Bok cover. (According to the notes, RZ loved the work of Bok and Bok came out of retirement to do this cover. Wow!)
Then I started meeting some of the older pieces again for the first time in decades. “The Graveyard Heart” with its immortal jet setters and “The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth”. I had read these before in FOUR FOR TOMORROW and A ROSE FOR ECCLESIATES AND OTHER STORIES. But many, many books and stories had passed my eyes since I read them. The passion for RZ works built back up in me this week. Other nice rediscoveries included “Nine Starships Waiting” and “The Great Slow Kings”, read so long ago. There were stories new to me and some poems I had not seen since reading TO SPIN IS MIRACLE CAT, a poetry collection published forever ago.
And “He Who Shapes”! I read this in the Nebula Award Winners Vol. 1 back in the day and then read the expanded version THE DREAM MASTER, which I enjoyed immensely. How rereading this original version over 40 years later, I am still in awe of his mastery of the short fiction form from the very beginning.
There is a brief section of autobiography entitled “And Call Me Roger” (a play on his Hugo winning novel AND CALL ME CONRAD, aka THIS IMMORTAL, which tied with Frank Herbert’s DUNE!). But I did not get to that just yet. It is nice to have little surprises to look forward to.
This is another of the fine books published by NESFA Press, all of which are worth ordering for covers form a long painting. Also the spines line up quite nicely on your shelves.
A word of warning here for those who have not read RZ before. Several folks over at Amazon found the stories dull as they are not action filled blow ‘em ups. These are finely crafted tales told with poetic language and imagery, there are poetic verses in many of the pieces, and you have now been warned. RZ was a poet and a writer. If you want the action pieces, try Amber or go elsewhere.
Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.