Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Donnerjack, part two

Welcome back to the second part of my Donnerjack commentary. This one will have some smallish spoilers, so if you haven't read the book yet, please be warned.

I like George Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, but I've seen the criticism that the form he's chosen for the books, that of alternating the viewpoint character with each chapter, tends to break up the flow of the narrative. And while I'm not sure I agree with that, I could certainly see why someone might hold that opinion. Further into Donnerjack, we're introduced to more characters. They have a rather great supporting cast. There are a bunch of them, but the story never lingers on them long enough to lose momentum, and the various storylines gradually converge.

We have Virginia Tallant, a ranger in the Virtù Survey department. Her body in Verité is blind and paralyzed by an untreatable neurological disease, but she is hale and hearty in the virtual world. She enters into a relationship with Markon, the genius loci of a node in Virtù.

The concept of the genius loci is not a new one, but it's one I quite like. It's used in the more modern sense, of an entity possessed of great power, but only within a small area. Markon is pretty neat, and I'll be getting into him further in a later installment.

We meet Dack, the robotic major domo of Castle Donnerjack. His features are described as an art deco rendering of Clark Gable done in silver and bronze.

I liked that we got as much description of Gwen and Lydia's vacation in Virtù as we did before it started to go off the rails. It helps sell it as something that has an existence beyond the story, rather than just an excuse to get the characters where the authors want them.

We meet the gods of Meru, Seaga, Skyga and Earthma. (Someone mentions that the names are kind of silly later in the book, so the reader doesn't have to!). We also encounter a lesser god, Celerity, who will grow to be important.

The more I read them, the more I like Death's servants. Here's his creation of Mizar, and it's just...neat.

Death moved his hands to his left, cupped them, opened them as if releasing a wish or an order.

"Hound, hound, out of the ground,' he muttered, and a heap of bone and metal stirred below in the direction he faced. Mismatched bones reared up, along with springs, straps, and struts, to form them selves together into an ungainly skeletal construct, to which pieces of plastic, metal, flesh, glass, and wood flew or slid, turning like puzzle pieces after unlikely congruencies, fitting themselves into such places, to be drenched suddenly by a rain of green ink and superglue, assailed by a blizzard of furniture covering and shag rug samples, dried by bursts of flame which belched from the ground upon all sides. "There is something that needs to be found," Death finished.

The hound sought its master with its red right eye and its green left one, the right an inch higher than the left. It twitched its cable tails and moved forward.

When it reached the top of the hill it lowered itself to its belly and whined like a leaky air valve. Death extended his left hand and stroked its head lightly. Fearlessness, ruthlessness, relentlessness, the laws and ways of the hunt rose from the ground and rushed to wrap it, along with the aura of dread.

"Death's dog, I name you Mizar," he said. "Come with me now to take a scent."

Mizar showed up in my role-playing campaign. The players called him Scraps, which I liked. In fact, I liked all of Death's animal companions, and talking animals usually just annoy me intensely. I like Phecda the snake, slithering through Deep Fields and digesting bits of wisdom before they could decay.

Zelazny mentions Thomas Ray, which I thought was really cool. Who's going to know who he is? And yet there's the reference.

I mentioned Sayjak briefly in the first part, and in this section, he kills a bounty hunter named Big Betsy.

I don't know if the character is an homage to Big Barda or or not, but it's possible, as I am continuously impressed with the scope of Zelazny's knowledge.

Coincidence? I think not!
I like her. Her fight with Sayjak is as savage as any Zelazny has ever written and I really like the manner in which her likeness lives on after her death. Also, Sayjak eats her heart and her liver. Shout out to Strygalldwir! (Sayjak, of all people, gets in a dig at civil servants, observing that the bounty hunters were better at their jobs because "Not being civil servants and actually making or not making their money as a result of their actions had much to do with it." Man, you know you're reading a Zelazny book when even the savage arboreal humanoids are snarking about bureaucracy.)

I do have two exceedingly minor complaints.  I felt like all things Gaelic had been romanticized very heavily, and between the caoineag, Wolfer the Piper, Donnerjack as a Scottish laird with the "soul of a poet", it got noticeable enough to be somewhat distracting. Not always, and the authors manage to dial it back before it gets overwhelming, but I think those elements could have been somewhat more understated.

For as smart as Donnerjack is supposed to be, he's really appallingly slow on the uptake. Death brought you back to life and incarnated you in the flesh in Verité in contravention of every law of both worlds because you promised him your firstborn? And now you're suffering morning sickness, your belly is swollen and those home pregnancy tests you keep peeing on are all coming up positive? What could it mean?!

To their credit, the authors do try to come up with reasonable excuses, that Ayradyss is not a native of Verité and doesn't really understand how humans reproduce and Donnerjack is busy with his work, but I mean, damn, I think any guy who has ever had a girlfriend immediately flashes to "Are you pregnant?" if his partner is throwing up every morning, especially considering the whole firstborn thing.

Like I said, two minor complaints, but I still like the book a heck of a lot.

1 comment:

  1. I just finished DONNERJACK, and I ended up liking it more than I thought I would after Donnerjack's death. (More on that later, though--for now, I'm just gonna comment on each of your DONNERJACK entries as thoughts come to me.)

    As far as the story format goes, I'm definitely one of those people who disliked how A GAME OF THRONES was structured. It felt like anytime I was just getting into Character A's story, I was thrown int Character B's, and I wouldn't see Character A again for another five chapters. This was highly annoying.

    However, I LOVED this format in DONNERJACK. And I think it's mostly because the sections were so much shorter here than the ones in Martin's work. In AGoT, it seemed like every time I got into a character's newest chapter, I was starting over with that character--it was like I was forced to ease into the story again, which really made it hard to keep any momentum going with my reading.

    But with DONNERJACK, things changed so rapidly that I was always interested in what was going on. It's sort of like what Zelazny said about short stories vs. novels: in a short story, things have to be tight--you can't really have a throwaway scene. Well, in DONNERJACK, the sections are so short that everything *has* to be awesome--whereas, in AGoT, if you've got a 30-page chapter on Bran, it's apparently okay for 27 of those pages to be slow.

    And, just as a general comment for this stage of DONNERJACK, I have to agree that there's a lot going on (in a good way) and that the characters are all very interesting.

    Okay, onto Review: Part 3.