Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Roger Zelazny Book Review: Today we Choose Faces
Today we choose Today We Choose Faces for our latest Roger Zelazny book review.
Today We Choose Faces is thoroughly middle of the road for a Zelazny book. I can snark about Lord Demon all day and night, but I find it hard to drum up any kind of enthusiasm for Faces one way or another. (Except for the title, which is just sheer poetry.)
I heard an old Writer's Voice interview Zelazny gave shortly after the book was published in the early 70s and he seems really enthusiastic about it. I don't know if he was trying to gin up a little publicity for his new book or just felt affectionate towards it or what. I feel the same sense of confusion when he talks about Eye of Cat being one of his favorites. I guess I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea that such a talented author has such affection for one of his most quotidian efforts. (Then again, he talked about writing a third Wizard World novel and that's one series that went on for two books too long already)
I remember when I saw it on the shelf of a friend who had discovered Roger Zelazny separately from me. He once told me that his mother was the schoolteacher for one of Zelazny's children when she lived out west. The cool part about the story is that she met him during a parent-teacher conference and she was the authority figure! I have no way of knowing if this story is true, but I'm inclined to believe it, because why tell such a trivial and specific lie?
His had the cool cover art. I like it better than the version I have now. Google Image Search is failing me, though. (Or perhaps my memory is failing me, because I am utterly unable to find a version of the cover I remember. It had a gangster in a trenchcoat.) My paperback copy has the image I'm using for the review.
It's better in concept than in execution. I was trying to decide which story to review next and I came across the article for the book on Wikipedia. "Hey! That's more exciting than I remember! I'll do that one next!"
The main character is Angelo di Negri, "Angie the Angel". It's Italian for Black Angel. Remember that, because it's important down the line. The book was published shortly after the release of the Godfather. I was never especially interested in romanticizing organized crime. Sure I'll click on the link to send you some forges to build your weapon depot in Mafia Wars on Facebook, but it's not something that has a lot of appeal for me like it does some folks.
In 1973, the concept of a hitman who only kills bad people was novel, but that's not the case anymore. (Thanks for ruining that for us, Grosse Point Blank! Also, it's bullshit that John Cusack could beat up Benny Urquidez )
I want to stress that it's not bad. It's a great concept. The narrative just never comes together like it does in almost every other Zelazny novel. Click over to the page I linked to on Wikipedia, because they do an excellent job of summarizing the plot. So much so that it's more interesting than the actual book. There is a fair amount of stuff I do like here (For instance, I really dig the fact that all the clones have names that somehow relate to Angelo di Negri, each of them being translations or anagrams of Angel or Black or references to fictional angels), and I'm aware that my complaints must seem picayune. It did have some neat concepts, and I really dug Styler, the man with the machine mind. (Not to be confused with Courtcour Bodgis, the man with the computer mind from Isle of the Dead.) He gets all the good lines. ("Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this." The quote from Pascal continues: "All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavor, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality.") But there are just a million tiny imperfections that weigh down an otherwise decent fable.
Originally, Part I, which deals with Angelo's awaking in the future and the subsequent raid on Styler and founding of the House was supposed to have been a flashback, but it was changed at the request of the editor to appear at the beginning. Zelazny says he lacked the confidence or the status to argue with his editor, but he preferred it the way he wrote it. I don't really have much of an opinion either way. I don't think it would have improved what I perceive as the shortcomings of the book.
Ultimately, it's an ambitious if somewhat imperfect endeavor, an interesting contemplation on the fundamental flaws of humanity. Perhaps I judge Zelazny's work more strictly than I would another author, because I know the heights of which he is capable. It's still a decent book, even if I feel it falls somewhat short of the goals it sets for itself.