Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Roger Zelazy Book Review: Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming

Stop me if you've heard this one.

In the early 90s, two renowned genre authors collaborated to write a farcical take on the conflict between Heaven and Hell.

And who didn't love Good Omens?

That's the problem. Judged on its own, Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming is a fine book. Entertaining, even. However, Gaiman and Pratchett got there first and did it better. I could end the review here.

But I won't, because I think it's a good enough book to stand on its own. Good Omens saw print in May of 1990, and Charming came out in December of 1991. That's close enough together that I'm inclined to think that the similarities are just coincidences. The plots are similar in some ways, though hardly identical and BMtHoPC is a broader, less subtle work.

It moves briskly and there is a lot of story in there. I'm not that familiar with Scheckley's works, but this economy of story reminds of Zelazny's earlier novel, Doorways in the Sand, which was also packed to the brim with all the story the pages would hold.

I liked the cover art. Too often in genre works, you wind up with cover art where the artist was clearly never provided with appropriate reference materials, but Azzie has a distinctive imagined look and he appears much as he's described in the book.

It's a cute little premise. Every thousand years, there comes the time when the forces of Light and the forces of Darkness hold their great contest to see who shall dictate the essence of human destiny for the next thousand years, and whether it shall be for good or for evil. Our protagonist is Azzie Elbub, and comes up with the plan to create a prince and princess who will act out the Sleeping Beauty story, and "Their conclusion to the tale, arrived at by their own free will, with only a minimum of behind-the-scenes tampering on my part, will show conclusively, to the enjoyment of our friends and the confusion of our enemies, that given a free hand, evil must inevitably win in the contests of the human spirit."

It has some some fun random exchanges:
"Felixite!" Rognir gave a small, unconvincing laugh. "What makes you think there's any around here?"

"A little mouse told me," Azzie said, making a clever allusion to Hermes' former occupation as Mouse god, before he was abolished or transformed along with the rest of the Olympians. This was completely lost on Rognir.

I enjoyed the interaction between Babriel the Angel and Azzie.

"What a nice place this is! I especially like the symbols on your wall." He indicated the right, or west, wall, where, set in niches, were a series of demons' heads done in black onyx. The demons had various aspects, including ape, falcon, asp, and from the New World, a wolverine.

"Those aren't symbols, stupid," Azzie said. "Those are busts of my ancestors."

"What about this one?" the angel asked, indicating the wolverine head.

"That's my uncle Zanzibar. He emigrated to Greenland, arriving with Erik the Red, and stayed on to become a graven image."

I like the abundant absurdity. I like that a village has grown up around Glass Mountain with bookstores filled with books about climbing glass mountains. I like that Azzie went to be college and had the chance to take a class on Human Tergiversation, but didn't because it was an elective and False Dialectic had seemed more interesting at the time.

I'll go into greater detail with the later books, but I think this is fine, lightweight entertainment. Not the best of Zelazny's works, but hardly the worst.

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