Saturday, September 18, 2010

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Lord Demon

Welcome to the latest in my ongoing Roger Zelazny book reviews, where I will eventually hope to review every major work by my favorite author. As always, these aren't reviews in the traditional sense, but rather commentary that assumes a thorough knowledge of the material being discussed.

Today I'll be looking at Lord Demon, which was, to put it kindly, kind of crappy.

Lord Demon is the tale by Roger Zelazny of a shapeshifting sorcerer manipulated by his mother figure. He overcomes her magical compulsions and then defeats her in a sorcerous duel at the end of the book. The setup seemed vaguely familiar, but I could never quite put my finger on it.

Oh. Right.

The sad part is that the Merlin books were the better take on this.

And I hated Merlin, but I just don't care about Kai Wren. He's just so...generic.

The book was completed by Jane Lindskold, but it still feels unfinished. Now mind you, I don't mean to knock Doctor Lindskold. Her style doesn't really appeal to me, but hey, she's published like 15 books to, so she must be doing something right. Also, just about anyone is going to come up short when compared to Roger Zelazny, so I won't judge her too harshly.

The book itself: I've got it in hardcover. I probably grabbed it in about 2000 or so, back when we were still living up in New Hamster. We were with our friends Steve and Jen at the Holyoke Mall. I remember buying the book and then trying to hide it from Jen because she's strongly religious and I didn't want to give a long explanation about a book called Lord Demon. She actually wound up being pretty cool with it, though. That's what I like about her. She has her faith but she doesn't try to force it on her friends.

I still have that hardcover with the $4.99 budget table sticker. And sadly, I find that boring little vignette about how I found the book to be more interesting than the story contained in it.

It's not all bad, and even in Zelany's worst books, he offers up something novel. Take this passage. It's vintage Zelazny, a brief explanation of an internally consistent magical system fully realized.

"It is not the material of the device, but the intention that matters. Do you follow me?"
"Perhaps," he said. "Continue."
"When you have established this resonance and your intent is made known, then you receive your information."
"Why," Li Piao queried, "then, do things like the dragon bowl work so much better for the task?"
"Because the maker of the tool"--I bowed slightly-- "has created a partial circuit for that intent. If you were to use a soup bowl and a bit of water from a puddle, you could still scry, but the chi inherent in the device would be unfocused, thus you would need to use more of your will to force it to do the required task.
"With the dragon bowl," I continued, warming to my subject, "any marginally talented individual could scry. A master like yourself not only sees images but the dragon also 'talks' to him--clarifying the message,"
Plum was nodding as if she followed this--which, given her profession and her grandfather's opinion of her skills, I had every reason to believe she did.
"This door of yours, then," she asked, "is set to be opened by someone who is in resonance with the particular wavelength of its chi?"
"Precisely," I said. "Since I believed it would be needed only by me, I am the only one who knows the pattern."

It has more than a few memorable lines:

"Is your granddaughter, Plum, a serious practitioner of feng shui, or is she just an interior decorator with an Oriental twist?"

Also, I'd be remiss if I failed to mention this one:

Something like this had happened to a fellow in a novel I read once. His enemies stashed him in a private sanitorium and authorized its staff to dope him to the gills. He, however, turned out to have superhuman strength and recuperative powers, and had busted his way out. I wasn't so well equipped.

Sure it's kind of obvious, but I still LOL'd. However, a good rule of thumb is that if you're half-assing your novel, you probably don't want to include a shout out to a much better earlier work.

That's it for the good parts. As for the bad...well...

It's got some neat concepts, but they're a mess. It's lazy. The principle conflict is resolved through use of a wishing bottle. As in, you rub it and it grants you whatever you wish for. Good thing he had that thing just lying around! I mean there is deus ex machina and then there are dei ex machina and this wishing bottle is about a pantheon's worth.

Kai Wren buys his pizza from Pizza Heaven, which is a placeholder name if I've ever heard one. Ditto Oliver O'Keefe for the name of his sidekick. Really? Was Angus McHaggis taken?

It also hasn't aged well. At the time it was written, "oriental" in reference to a person had not yet fallen out of mainstream use, but now it just sounds anachronistic and offensive. It's not easy writing in the voice of an actual cultural group from outside that group, and unfortunately, I don't think the authors were up to the task.

"A wise old fellow--Sun-Tzu--was fond of saying that when the last trick fails, the fox goes to earth, grants concessions to the enemy, and lives to return another day," said Po Shiang.
"I'm not certain that Sun-Tzu put it quite that way," Viss said pleasantly.

And a little bit later...

"I allied myself with Fu Xian," he said smoothly. "My association with Po Shiang was incidental. As Confucius said: 'The oak does not choose to harbor the mistletoe.' "
Tuvoon snorted. "I don't think Confucius ever said such a thing."
"So sue me," Ken Zhao shot back.

I have a couple Asian friends and sometimes we manage to hold entire conversations without mentioning Sun-Tzu or Confucius at all!

And the hangers. Jesus, the fucking hangers.

"The legend," repeated the Walker, glancing at me. "The legend that missing socks turn into wire clothes hangers--this is the reason why you always have too many hangers and too few socks. For that to be true, there had to be some continuity between the planes. Everyone knows that drawers and cabinets often have access to other dimensions."

I mean, What. The. Fuck? Was there no editor at all involved on this project?

Kai Wren is trying to understand the hu-mans and this "love" we feel.

Will he chose the Spilling Moonbeams, the demoness of good breeding over Plum, the plucky human geomancer? Will Josh manage to give even the tiniest of shits over this trite and boring subplot? By staggering coincidence, both questions have the same answer.

Overall, really pretty weak. The one thing for which I am grateful is that it lowered my expectations for Donnerjack, also coauthored by Jane Lindskold, which was absolutely spectacular and vies for Lord of Light as my favorite work.

But that's a story for another post.


  1. I actually really liked this book . . . for the first six chapters or so. My big complaint is that you can pinpoint the exact *moment* Lindskold took over for Zelazny. I haven't read any of her stuff other than this, but . . . yikes, it's going to be hard to seek her out, now. It was a brutal change to go from Zelazny (my favorite author, by far) to Lindskold like that, especially since I was diggin' the early ideas of the book. =/

  2. Yeah, the concepts are not that bad, but they really fell apart in execution.