Sunday, March 29, 2009

... And Call Me Conrad [aka This Immortal] (1966)

Subgenre: Superman scifi fantasy?

Roger Zelazny's novels have some fairly consistent characteristics - superpowered protagonists, playful language, and dribblings of mythology that don't quite fit together - and they're all on display in his first novel, serialized under the name ...And Call Me Conrad, and later republished as This Immortal. The novel tells the story of an immortal, unsurprisingly now known as Conrad, acting as an alien's guide to a partially-uninhabitable, radioactive Earth. Zelazny has written a couple of my favorite books and short stories, and considering that this novel tied with Dune for the best novel Hugo in 1966, my expectations were high. What I failed to take into account was that this was a first novel: the energy of the later books is there, but not the relative sophistication, and the result is somewhat of a mess.

Zelazny writes pulpy adventure stories; take out the fantastic elements, and you have a Dumas novel, or put the characters in capes and you have Golden Age comic books. Of course, they're more than that - but where Asimov has the puzzle at his novel's core and Cherryh has the politics, Zelazny has adrenaline. Just try to read Nine Princes in Amber in more than one sitting. What lifts Zelazny's novels over, say, The DaVinci Code, is the creativity of the setting. Here, This Immortal doesn't disappoint, with its pleasantly post-apocalyptic planet and overseeing aliens (I can't call them Vegans without snickering, sorry). Nevertheless, the characters are not well-developed, and the story occasionally seems a little disjointed and filled with deus ex machina - possibly because of its origin as a serial.

My largest problem with this novel is that Zelazy has done all of it better, elsewhere. Supermen stride through the Amber series, the aliens of Doorways in the Sand put these to shame, and even Lord of Light, which I remember as being a little bit muddled, did the mythology bit better, with a better narrative flow. Maybe if I had read this when it came out, I would have been stunned - Zelazny's casual, almost lyrical style is like very little else - but I find it difficult to consider this novel as anything but a good rough draft.


  • Seriously, read Nine Princes in Amber and Doorways in the Sand. Doorways actually exploits Zelazny's occasionally-disconnected prose style to put together really interesting cliffhangers.
  • To be fair, I liked seeing a part of Greek mythology beyond the gods
  • There's a certain pattern with the covers:

    Also, how did Panther come up with that? I'm pretty sure the description was "disfigured Greek man," not "blond mop-topped hipster."

Hugo-worthy? Not compared with Dune, no. I'd give Conrad a B.

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