American science fiction and fantasy writer, who often based his stories on myths and legends. Zelazny was one of the most important writers of the New Wave of science fiction along with Philip K. Dick, Samuel R. Delany, Thomas M. Disch, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Harlan Ellison. He published 50 novels, some 150 stories and three collections of poetry.
"- I do not have a soul. You do.
- A soul? she laughed. What's a soul? I've never seen one. How do I know it's there? Even so, what good has it done to me? I'd trade it in a twinkling to be like one of you. It's beyond my Art, though."
(from Jack of Shadows, 1971)
Roger Zelazny was born in Euclid, Ohio. He received his M.A. in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama from Columbia University in 1962. Zelazny briefly enlisted with the Ohio National Guard and then worked for the Social Security Administration in Cleveland, Ohio, and Baltimore, Maryland. Zelazny's first published story was 'Passion Play' which appeared in 1962. Before becoming a full-time writer in 1969, Zelazny concentrated on short stories and novellas. At the age of 38, he moved to Santa Fe, where he lived until his death.
In the 1960s Zelazny became highly visible in a group of science fiction writers known as the 'New Wave'. Up until that time the genre had been dominated by writers producing action-adventures set in space. The new generation felt that they had freedom to experiment; they focused on psychology and believed science fiction should be taken seriously as literature. Zelazny's novel This Immortal won the 1966 Hugo for Best Novel, and the self-mocking, immortal, jokester became Zelazny's favorite character type. The Dream Master won the 1966 Nebula for Best Novella. In the same year The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth won a Nebula for Best Novellette. The Immortal told of a post-apocalyptic Earth, which have become a wasteland and place of entertainment for aliens, the Vegans. Conrad Nomikos, the many-talented protagonist, is employed as a guide to an alien official. The Vegans want to turn Earth into a holiday resort, but Nomikos has his own ideas and he helps to preserve the remnants of humanity. The Dream Master was about a psychiatrists who is able to enter and affect his client's dreams - and thus cure the neuroses of their patients. Its shorter version, 'He Who Shapes' (1965) won a Nebula.
"- It is no shame to lose to me, mortal. Even among mythical creatures there are very few who can give a unicorn a good game.
- I am pleased that you were not wholly bored, Martin said. Now will you tell me what you were talking about concerning the destruction of my species?"
(from 'Unicorn Variations', the Hugo Award in 1981)
Zelazny's interest in magic, myths and dreams are already at present in these early stories which are considered among his best works. In 1970 he started the enormously popular Amber series, which have been adapted for comics and used as the basis for a computer game. Zelazny spent much of his later life in the writing of this series. The nine books, beginning with Nine Princes in Amber, evoked the betrayals of Jacobean drama. The narrator Corwin and rival princes and princesses double-cross one another, all seeking the crown. One of the siblings is responsible for Corwin losing his memory and one tries to kill him. Corwin's arch-rival is Eric, his brother. Amber is a higher, sophisticated plane, and the actions of its godlike inhabitants reflect in the human actions - humans being the apes of gods. Corwin and his many siblings are more real than mortals, or the Gods of any Shadow realm - our world among others. The concept of Shadow has much in common with Jungian psychology. Jung considered the 'shadow' the sum of those characteristics we wish to conceal - the most famous example found in literature is R.L. Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. However, when the story continues, it turns out that Amber itself is not an ultimate reality, but shares a Ying-Yang relationship with the forces of Chaos.
The Chronicles of Amber included Nine Princes in Amber, The Guns of Avalon (1972), Sign of the Unicorn (1975), The Hand of Oberon (1976) and The Courst of Chaos (1978). Triumps of Doom (1985) opened a follow-up starring Corwin's son Merlin. The series included Blood of Amber (1986), Sign of Chaos (1987), Knight of Shadows (1989) and Prince of Chaos (1991). The first five novels were collected together as The Chronicles of Amber (2000). Two further related works were A Rhapsody in Amber (1981) and Roger Zelazny's Visual Guide to Castle Amber (1988, with Neil Randall).
Unfaithful to genre boundaries, Zelazny relished the 'science fantasy' form. In Lord of Light (1967) he established a world ruled by gods, immortals equipped with technological wonders. Human colonists have settled a distant planet. They have developed a technology, which allows them to don godlike personas. With their exotic weapons they and their psionic ability they battle for power. The novel won a Hugo. From then on his work - with exceptions - was to call more on the stereotype of power fantasy than an genuinely envisaged characters and scenarios, wrote Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove in Trillion year spree (2001). Creatures of Light and Darkness (1969) was inspired by the gods of ancient Egypt. Zelazny collaborated with Philip K. Dick in Deus Irae (1976) - Dick could not finish the novel himself - and with Alfred Bester in Psychoshop (1998) - Bester had died before completing the work. Zelazny considered Dick a writer's writer, rich enough in fancy that he can afford to throw away in a paragraph ideas another writer might build a book upon.
Among Zelazny's other works are Jack of Shadows (1971), set on a non-rotating world whose dark side is run by magic, the 'Wizard World' sequence Changeling (1980) and Madwand (1981), the 'Dilvish' fantasies The Changing Land (1981) and Dilvish the Damned (1982), and comic A Night in the Lonesome October (1993), which recounts a gaslight romance with Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Jack The Ripper and others, but has also a talking animal, Snuff, in the central role. In the 1990s Zelazny published several books with Robert Sheckley. One of the author's last works was Wilderness (1994), written with Gerald Hausman. It recounted true stories of two mountain men as they surmount dangers with unyielding spirit in the Old West. The story, reminiscent of a Philip José Farmer's World of Tiers adventure, can be read as a testament of the author, before his untimely death on June 16, 1995, at the age of 58.
For further reading: Roger Zelazny: A Primary and Secondary Biography by Joseph L. Sanders (1980); The Dream Master; Roger Zelazny by Carl B. Yoke (1980); A Checklist of Roger Zelazny by Christopher P. Stephens (1990); Roger Zelazny by Jane Lindskold (1993) - Note: Richard Paul Russo's short story 'In the Season of the Rains', published in the anthology In the Field of Fire, ed. by Jeanne Van Buren Dann and Jack Dann (1987), took its title form the the opening lines of Zelazny's Lord of Light.
This Immortal, 1966
The Dream Master, (novella) 1966
Lord of Light, 1967
Four for Tomorrow, 1967
ed.: Nebula Award Stories 3, 1968
Isle of the Dead, 1969
Creatures of Light and Darkness, 1969
Damnation Alley, 1969 - film 1977, dir. by Jack Smight - four survivors from World War Three try to reach a colony of fellow-survivors in New York - not so good as Kevin Costner's film The Postman (1998)
The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth, and Other Stories, collection 1971
Nine Princes in Amber, 1970
Jack of Shadows, 1971
The Guns of Avalon, 1972
Today We Choose Faces, 1973
To Die In Italbar, 1973
Sign of the Unicorn, 1975
Doorways in the Sand, 1976
Bridge of Ashes, 1976
Deus Irae, 1976 (with Philip K. Dick)
Hand of Oberon, 1976
The Authorized Illustrated Book of Roger Zelasny, 1978
The Courts of Chaos, 1978
The Bells of Shoredan, 1979
The Last Defender of Camelot, 1980
When Pussywillows Lost in the Catyard Bloomed, 1980
A Rhapsody in Amber, 1981
The Changing Land, 1981
Coils, 1982 (with Fred Saberhagen)
Eye of Cat, 1982
Dilvish, the Damned, 1982
To Spin Is Miracle Cat, 1982
Dilvish, the Damned, 1982
Unicorn Variations, 1983
Trumps of Doom, 1985
Blood of Amber, 1986
A Dark Traveling, 1987
Sign of Chaos, 1987
Roger Zelazny's Visual Guide to Castle Amber, 1988
Knight of Shadows, 1989
Frost and Fire, 1989
The Black Throne, 1990 (with Fred Saberhagen)
The Mask of Loki, 1990
The Graveyard Heart, 1990
Home is the Hangman, 1990
Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming, 1991 (with Robert Sheckley)
Prince of Chaos, 1991
Flare, 1992 (with Thomas T. Thomas)
Here There Be Dragons, 1992
Gone to Earth, 1992
Way Up High, 1992
A Night in the Lonesome October, 1993
If at Faust You Don't Succeed, 1993 (with Robert Sheckley)
Wilderness, 1994 (with Gerald Hausman)
A Farce to be Reckoned With, 1995 (with Robert Sheckley)
Home is the Hangman, 1996
Donnerjack, 1997 (with Jane M. Lindskold)
Psychoshop, 1998 (with Alfred Bester)
The Chronicles of Amber, 2000