Friday, April 26, 2013

Forgotten Books: A Dark Traveling -- Roger Zelazny

It's hard for me to believe that Roger Zelazny is in danger of becoming a forgotten writer, but I suppose he is.  When I came back to SF in the late '60s after having been away for a few years, Zelazny was one of the first writers that I hadn't known before whose work really hooked me.  I'd buy anything he wrote.  Somewhere along the way, he lost some of his magic (at least for me), but bits and pieces of it still showed up in just about any work of his.  He wrote one YA novel.  This is it.  It came along after the magic was gone, but it's still an entertaining book.

It's also pretty hard to describe because the plot is pretty complicated once you sit down and start thinking about it.  The story begins, as a lot of Zelazny's work does, in the middle of things.  The reader doesn't know what's going on, and it takes a while to catch up.  In the prologue, a girl named Becky, a witch, is having visions.  She doesn't know what they mean, and neither does the reader.  Some of them don't become clear until the very end of the book.  

Aside from the prologue, the book is narrated by James Wiley, who's fourteen and who's a werewolf, though he's never gone through a complete transformation yet.  Becky is his sister, except that she's really not, and his brother, Barry, isn't really his brother, either.  His father, who's really his father has disappeared.  There's blood on the floor, and the transcomp is damaged.  

Eventually we find out that a transcomp allows people to travel between the many alternate timelines, timelines created when a certain event causes one line to branch off from another.  There are three different kinds of timelines, and people who have a transcomp can visit all of them.  Naturally there are some you don't want to visit.

All of that is just the setup, but you can probably guess that there's going to be some timeline travel, that there are big events involved, and that James Wiley will go through a full transformation.  The best writing in the book, and the most like the Zelazny I enjoy, is the transformation scene. Great stuff.  Maybe the best werewolf transformation ever.  The rest of the book doesn't live up to it, but it's very short, it's a good adventure, and I got a little fun out of reading it again.


George said...

I remember the first time I read THE LORD OF LIGHT by Roger Zelazny. Blown away is too mild a description of what that book did to me. You're right that Zelazny's "magic" faded, but at the height of his powers in the Sixties, he may have been the best SF and fantasy writer alive.

Bill Crider said...

I felt the same way about LORD OF LIGHT. And if Zelazny wasn't the best, he was certainly my favorite.

Tom Johnson said...

The one I remember most was DAMNATION ALLEY.

Bill Crider said...

Good book, bad movie!

Donovan S. Brain said...

I met him once, fighting the cancer that killed him in the end. I heard him read from DONNERJACK and from another work in progress, and heard him explain that the third Madwand book wasn't written because the first two publishers couldn't agree. Argh! No, he won't be forgotten. LORD OF LIGHT seems very important in these days of religious fanaticism.

Anonymous said...

I love Roger Zelazny, but you were exactly right that some of the magic went out of his work. I have noticed this with other writers as well. I wonder if it at times indicates when an author stops doing it part time and becomes an author as his full time job. I feel much the same about Gene Wolfe's work as well. Still love it all but some of the magic has been lost.

Bob Blough