Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Roger Zelazny Book Review: The Stainless Steel Leech

So the comment in my last post about Jen using a metal tent stake to kill a robot vampire made me think of this story. It's about a robot vampire. (Or a vampire robot, if you prefer)

"Ayiee! Daylight Savings Time already?!"

The most interesting thing to me about this story is the introduction Zelazny wrote:

There came a point when I was turning out lots of short stories, so many that Cele suggested running two per issue to use up my backlog, with a pen name on the second tale. She suggested Harrison Denmark as the nom de typewriter. I agreed and this, my first effort at something slightly humorous, appeared under that by-line. It never occurred to me that Harry Harrison, livingat the time in Snekkerson, Denmark and author of The Stainless Steel Rat might somehow be assumed to be the author. It occurred to Harry, however, and he published a letter disclaiming authorship. I was not certain he was convinced when I later told him that it had never occurred to me. But it had never occurred to me.

Zelazny has written elsewhere that he believes that a writer should know more about a story than is explicitly stated in the body of the text, and I could not agree more. That last line in that introduction is what sticks with me. Among fans of the Lord of the Rings, the meme has sprung up on the internet "Why didn't they have the Eagles fly the Ring into Mordor?" And the fans kick it over and go back and forth looking to explain it, but I've always been content with the explanation that it just never occurred to anybody to do it that way. Other genre authors tend to have characters that infallibly calculate the optimal course of action, but there is something in Zelazny's writing that lets me believe that his characters live in a real world, and things happened as they happened because his characters made the choices they did, and had they chosen differently, their stories would have unfolded in a complete different direction.

Every time I read the story, I think of Futurama. It's vintage Zelazny, a neat concept and some beautiful passages.

The neat concept:

I, the unjunked, am legend. Once out of a million assemblies a defective such as I might appear and go undetected, until too late.

At will, I could cut the circuit that connected me with Central Control, and be a free 'bot, and master of my own movements. I liked to visit the cemeteries, because they were quiet and different from the maddening stamp- stamp of the presses and the clanking of the crowds; I liked to look at the green and red and yellow and blue things that grew about the graves. And I did not fear these places, for that circuit, too, was defective. So when I was discovered they removed my vite-box and threw me on the junk heap.

But the next day I was gone, and their fear was great.

I no longer possess a self-contained power unit, but the freak coils within my chest act as storage batteries. They require frequent recharging, however, and there is only one way to do that.

The werebot is the most frightful legend whispered among the gleaming steel towers, when the night wind sighs with its burden of fears out of the past, from days when non-metal beings walked the earth. The half-lifes, the preyers upon order, still cry darkness within the vite-box of every 'bot.

That would have made it a good story. What makes it a great story is that the robot vampire is friends with the last human vampire.

The beautiful passages:

"... But only a stainless steel leech can get blood out of a stone—or a robot," he said last night. "It is a proud and lonely thing to be a stainless steel leech—you are possibly the only one of your kind in existence. Live up to your reputation! Hound them! Drain them! Leave your mark on a thousand steel throats! "


"I remember his frantic questing after the last few sprays of garlic and wolfsbane on earth, the crucifix assembly lines he kept in operation around the clock—irreligious soul that he was! I was genuinely sorry when he died, in peace. Not so much because I hadn't gotten to drain him properly, but because he was a worthy op- ponent and a suitable antagonist. What a game we played!"

His husky voice weakened.

"He sleeps a scant three hundred paces from here, bleaching and dry. His is the great marble tomb by the gate... Please gather roses tomorrow and place them upon it."


The roses live on the wall across the road. From great twisting tubes of vine, with heads brighter than any rust, they bum like danger lights on a control panel, but moistly.


In the final light of the sun I see them drive a stake through the Over's vite-box and bury him at the crossroads.

Then they hurry back toward their towers of steel, of plastic. I gather up what remains of Fritz and carry him down to his box. The bones are brittle and silent.

It's short even for a short story, and has no pretensions for being anything more than a really fun short story, but it's such a joy to read that I find myself returning to it again and again.

No comments:

Post a Comment