Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Roger Zelazny Book Review: The Hand of Oberon, Part I

I like the Hand of Oberon almost as much as I enjoy the Guns of Avalon. It has so many of my favorite moments. It also features one of the most baffling scenes in the Chronicles. But more on that later.

It marks the point where I started liking Random, and that comes quite early in the book. "I was never anything to him but a whisper of life in the darkness. But they used my son for this," he said. "That has to be a picture of Martin."

Corwin's conversation with Vialle (Speaking of Vialle, surely I can't be the only one to hear "blind sculptress" and think Alicia Masters) helps cement this impression.

I've continuing my progress of working through the audiobooks while at work. I can't tell if Zelazny gave himself a nasally voice when reading as Roger. It sounded like he was, in places, but not so much in others, and the quality of the recording is so poor (The final chapter was so degraded that Zelazny's reading had to be scrapped and the reread by another performer) that I can't be sure.

"Good evening. Lord Corwin," said the lean, cadaverous figure who rested against a storage rack, smoking his pipe, grinning around it.

"Good evening, Roger. How are things in the nether world?"

"A rat, a bat, a spider. Nothing much else astir. Peaceful."

"You enjoy this duty?"

He nodded.

"I am writing a philosophical romance shot through with elements of horror and morbidity. I work on those parts down here."

"Fitting, fitting," I said.

"I'll be needing a lantern."

He took one from the rack, brought it to flame from his candle.

"Will it have a happy ending?" I inquired.

He shrugged.

"I'll be happy."

"I mean, does good triumph and hero bed heroine? Or do you kill everybody off?"

"That's hardly fair," he said.

"Never mind. Maybe I'll read it one day."

"Maybe," he said.

I wonder how much of that exchange was informed Zelazny's interactions with his fans as the series progressed.

I love the conversation with Dworkin. It's a good example of milking someone for information by pretending to know more than you do. Also, keep in mind, it only worked for a little while and also, Dworkin is nuttier than squirrel shit.

"How have you been feeling?"

He gave me an evil grin.

"Do you mean am I still mad?"

"You put it more bluntly than I care to."

"There is a fading, there is an intensifying," he said. "It comes to me and it departs again. For the moment I am almost myself-almost, I say. The shock of your visit, perhaps . . . Something is broken in my mind. You know that. It cannot be otherwise, though. You know that, too."

"I suppose that I do," I said. "Why don't you tell me all about it, all over again? Just the business of talking might make you feel better, might give me something I've missed. Tell me a story."

Another laugh.

"Anything you like. Have you any preferences? My flight from Chaos to this small sudden island in the sea of night? My meditations upon the abyss? The revelation of the Pattern in a jewel hung round the neck of a unicorn? My transcription of the design by lightning, blood, and lyre while our fathers raged baffled, too late come to call me back while the poem of fire ran that first route in my brain, infecting me with the will to form? Too late! Too late . . . Possessed of the abominations born of the disease, beyond their aid, their power, I planned and built, captive of my new self. Is that the tale you'd hear again? Or rather I tell you of its cure?"

My mind spun at the implications he had just scattered by the fistful. I could not tell whether he spoke literally or metaphorically or was simply sharing paranoid delusions, but the things that I wanted to hear, had to hear, were things closer to the moment. So, regarding the shadowy image of myself from which that ancient voice emerged, "Tell me of its cure," I said.

Fan of the series take it for granted now that Dworkin was Oberon's father. Like Vader in Star Wars, it's hard to remember a time when we didn't know this.

The whole book is chock full of wonderful lines.

"Fool! You have chosen the land of your doom!"
I want to work that into a conversation someday.

"Child of the man I had become..."
What a beautifully poetic turn of phrase.

When confronted in the Courts of Chaos.

"I give my name when I choose, not when I am ordered to," I said. "Who are you?"

He gave three short barks, which I took to be a laugh.

"I will hale you down and about, where you will cry it out forever."

I pointed Grayswandir at his eyes.

"Talk is cheap," I said. "Whisky costs money."

That's our straight-shooting Corwin.

Merlin identifies Corwin by the sight of his sword ("You," he called out. "Is that the blade Grayswandir?"), but Corwin feels obligated to identify it by name in GoA. Not a big oversight, and certainly not on the level of the one I'll look at the second post about this book, but one I thought worth mentioning.

Brand to Corwin:

"I got to worrying about all the things we had discussed," he said, "and some that we had not. I waited what seemed an appropriate time for you to have concluded your business in Tir-na Nog'th and returned. I then inquired after you and was told you had not yet come back. I waited longer. First I was impatient, and then I grew concerned that you might have been ambushed by our enemies. When I inquired again later, I learned that you had been back only long enough to speak with Random's wife-it must have been a conversation of great moment-and then to take a nap. You then departed once more. I was irritated that you had not seen fit to keep me posted as to events, but I resolved to wait a bit longer. Finally, I asked Gerard to get hold of you with your Trump. When he failed, I was quite concerned. I tried it myself then, and while it seemed that I touched you on several occasions I could not get through. I feared for you, and now I see that I had nothing to fear all along. Hence, I was abrupt."

He's awesome. He's one sarcastic bastard too, which is part of the awesome. But look how smart he is there. Doing something rude, giving himself an advantage, then apologizing in such a way to expand that advantage. (Random observes that he did something similar when gathering information on Martin)

It's a shame that we never got the Chronicles of Brand, because that would have been something to read. (As much as I dislike the Merlin books, his throwaway line about Brand's sword Werewindle. "It contained a similar feeling of power to that which Grayswandir bore, only somehow brighter, less tragedy, touched and brooding...It seemed an ideal blade for a hero" always makes me wonder about the form such a saga would have taken.)

There's also one exchange I really like

"Did you kill him?"


"Martin, Random's son. Did he die as a result of the wound you inflicted?"

Up until now Brand had been dancing circles around his muscle bound brother. Then Corwin asks him if Martin is still alive, and the way Zelazny reads "What?" totally nails it. For a moment you see that Brand is absolutely psychotic, that Martin was never even a human being to him, just something to be used and discarded. He called Martin to the center of the Primal Pattern, stabbed him and then never thought about him again until right now. He can barely even comprehend why Corwin is asking him about this. It just never even occurred to him that someone might care what might happen to Martin. The question totally blindsides him, and he stumbles. Everything is conveyed, all with that one word. A great reading.

Okay, more later, including what I always found as the weirdest disconnect in the series.

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