Friday, October 22, 2010

Roger Zelazny Book Review: A Farce to Be Reckoned With

Welcome back to my Roger Zelazny book reviews

A Farce to be Reckoned with is the third and final book in The Millennial Contest series. The first one was was entertaining, the second one was outstanding and the third is actually magical.

However, it's not the good kind of magic. It's Fairy Ring-Christine O'Donnell-Voodoo Doll-Black Magic. How else can you explain the fact that I am completely unable to remember the contents of the book moments after reading it? Was the ink infused with waters from the River Lethe?

Even with the most banal book, I can usually remember the gist of the plot. This is even more true for Zelazny books, from which I can often recall long passages more or less as written. I had reviewed the first two, but in thinking about this one, I couldn't remember how it played out.

Now I know I bought my current copy on May 23 of 2006 from Amazon. I still have the confirmation email. The book itself was right there on my shelf. Logic would suggest that I had read it at some point. But as I progressed through it, things weren't becoming any more familiar. It was as if the book had been described to me, rather than I having read it at some point in the past. But I knew that couldn't be the case either, because it's impossible to describe the plot of this book out loud without be overcome by a sudden attack of narcolepsy. So armed only with a thermos full of coffee and a stout heart, I embark upon this review.

The thing I liked about the first two books was the crazy pace. It never let up and Faust and company were careening from one adventure to the next. The third book is paced like a fight scene in a Zack Snyder movie. We start in SLLOOWWWWWWWMOTION- thenitgoesreallyfast -THEN...WE...SLLOOWWWWWWW...DOWN...AGAIN.

The main plot doesn't get underway until halfway through the book. And padding your work isn't great craftsmanship, but it's certainly not the worst sin a writer can commit. However, coupled with the extremely uneven pacing, it really brings down an already weak book.

Reading a little more, I had a vague memory of drinking heavily to scrub my memory of the book from my mind after I finished it the first time. Reading further, I'm convinced the authors did the same thing after finishing each chapter.

Before I bleach my brain entirely, I'll give the general outline. Azzie embarks upon a convoluted scheme to write an "immorality play", which will be performed away from mainline reality, but when it is reinserted, it will take on a life of its own. Or some such shit. I really can't be bothered to pay more attention to the plot that the authors did. Everyone thought that Azzie's plan was terrible idea. It almost destroys the universe, so looking at it objectively, I think it's safe to say it was a pretty bad idea.

Far too often, the book tells instead of showing. In Faust, Mephistopheles materialized in the Court of Kublai Khan "employing an entire panoply of fireworks and causing various prodigies of vision to appear in the air.."  and Azzie "rose into the air,spinning like a fiery whirligig, and then streaked off like a rocket, casting brilliant red and white spots."

In Farce, we are told "He made a striking exit." Wow. It's like I was RIGHT THERE watching it!

It manages to be absurd without being entertaining or amusing. I'm trying to think of something good to say, because I really enjoyed the second book, but I'm drawing a blank.

I think the critical mistake was casting Azzie as the hero of the piece, rather than as simply the protagonist.

When he's recruiting for his play, he spins his pitch to a bunch of pilgrims, culminating with:

"But will a person not be punished for having anything to do with Bad? My friends, that is mere propaganda on the part of Good, and not a true statement of the position at all. If it is all right for Bad to exist, then it must be all right to serve it."

Azzie took a sip of wine and looked at his audience. Yes, he had their attention.

I originally assumed that that this was supposed to illustrate his sophistry here, gulling a bunch of rubes with a specious argument, but I think that after reading the book to its conclusion, that the authors had some sympathy for this viewpoint.

They were going for some sort of moral at the end, but damned if I know what it was. I guess "Don't let anyone tell you what you can't do" or "reach for your dreams" are decent if trite morals, but they're rather at odds with the tone of the rest of the series. However, Ylith does seem to be be speaking as the voice of the author in the passage below, and the impression I get that is that they want us to think Azzie has done something noble.

"We should all be grateful to you, though I'm afraid that you're going to find a lot of people angry. The Council of Evil is considering issuing you a reprimand for staring the whole thing in the first place. But I still care for you. Always will, I'm afraid."

Yeah, he cleaned up the mess of his own making, but only because it was his ass on the line too. And by "cleaned up the mess" I mean "was present when the demiurge he invoked self-destructed". Is that where they're setting the bar for heroism these days?

It's a shame, because I really enjoyed the first book and loved the second. I've read that the relationship between Sheckley and Zelazny was not that good at the end, and it looks like they just gave up for this installment.

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