Monday, December 20, 2010

Roger Zelazny Book Review: The Furies

I bet you thought my next Roger Zelazny book review after Coils was going to be The Black Throne, his second collaboration with Fred Saberhagen! But hypothetical you was wrong! Nobody cares about The Black Throne!

(Actually, I care about it, but only a little bit. I'll get around to covering it eventually)

The Furies is more of a straight SF story than we usually see from Zelazny. I seem to remember that he originally wanted to call it "Hunt the Happy Wallaby", which I happen to prefer. I've got about a million copies of the story too. It's a good read, which is probably why it seems to be included in every collection.

Sandor Sandor, Benedick Benedict and Lynx Links each have a silly name and a special talent.  Sandor Sandor is better than a computer when it comes to identifying locations, Benedick Benedict can get psychic impressions from people and objects and Lynx Links is really good at killing people.

I especially like the description of Links.

Lynx Links looked like a beachball with a beard, a fat patriarch with an eyepatch, a man who loved good food and drink, simple clothing, and the company of simple people; he was a man who smiled often and whose voice was soft and melodic.

This is the story of how Lynx Links, Sandor Sandor and Benedick Benedict hunt for Victor Corgo, the man without a heart.

Ahh...Victor Corgo! He was: "a terror to brigands and ugly aliens, a threat to Codebreakers, and a thorn in the sides of evildoers everywhere...the pride of the Guard, the best of the best, the cream that had been skimmed from all the rest."

Unfortunately, Corgo sold out.

He became a heel.

...A traitor.

A hero gone bad...

Corgo loses his entire crew in a raid on a pirate hideout, but he's nursed back to health by the aliens who live there. He trains them to crew the ship and then wipes out the pirate, and then, learning that aliens had been marked for death after they refused relocation to a Reservation planet, takes sides with the aliens against his own species.

Captain Corgo protested, was declared out of order.

Captain Corgo threatened, was threatened in return.

Captain Corgo fought, was beaten, died, was resurrected, escaped restraint, became an outlaw.  He took the Wallaby with him. The Happy Wallaby, It had been called in the proud days. Now, it was just the Wallaby.

Hmmm...did I really leave a quest for revenge out of the Roger Zelazny drinking game? That's a rather appalling oversight.

As the tractor beams had seized it, as the vibrations penetrated its ebony hull and tore at his flesh, Corgo had called his six Drillen to him, stroked the fur of Mala, his favorite, opened his mouth to speak, and died just as the words and the tears began.

"I am sorry . . ." he had said.

They gave him a new heart, though. His old one had fibrillated itself to pieces and could not be repaired. They put the old one in a jar and gave him a shiny, antiseptic egg of throbbing metal, which expanded and contracted at varying intervals, dependent upon what the seed-sized computers they had planted within him told of his breathing and his blood sugar and the output of his various glands. The seeds and the egg contained his life.

The story is written in a very strange meter that gives it a dreamlike quality. That makes it hard to review, because that odd cadence is what makes it so good, but you don't get the whole effect if I chop it up into quotable chunks.

Elements of the story remind me of The Keys to December, for Corgo, like Jarry, takes sides with aliens against his own species because we're oppressing the aliens. Also reminds me of Malacar Miles from To Die in Italbar, as he has an alien sidekick and his relationship with Emil mirrors that of Malacar's relationship with the empathesiac telekineticist John Morwin. I had forgotten about Sandor's nurse, who was great fun to read. Much like the rest of the story.

He should have known what he was up against, and turned himself in to the proper authorities. How can you  hope to beat a man who can pick the lock to your mind,  a man who dispatched forty-eight men and seventeen malicious alien life-forms, and a man who knows every damn street in the galaxy.

He should have known better than to go up against Sandor Sandor, Benedick Benedict and Lynx Links. He should have known.  For their real names, of course, are Tisiphone, Alecto and Maegaera. They are the Furies. They arise from chaos and deliver revenge; they convey confusion and disaster to those who abandon the law and forsake the  way, who offend against the light and violate the life, who take the power of flame, like a lightning-rod in their two too mortal hands.

I know they're the Furies. It's right there in the title. That's why you should have stayed with Hunt the Happy Wallaby!


  1. I've spent some time this evening reading one after another of your Zelazny reviews. I don't agree with them all, as should be expected, but I've enjoyed them immensely. I'm in the process of finishing a Web design article that uses the concept of the "madwand" as a metaphor for the self-taught designer, and in the process of looking up info on the book, I came across your blog. You do great work, and it's a damn shame you don't have any comments. Thanks for this, it's a real labor of love. I'll be back to keep reading. (And I liked "Italbar" too.)

  2. Thanks for you thoughtful compliments! I enjoy writing the commentaries and it's always nice when someone happens upon them.

    If your article will be online, can you post a link to it when it's done? I'm always interested in reading material that references Zelazny's work.

  3. I finally completed that Changeling review, though I suspect that we each came away with different impressions of the series.

  4. Thanks! I just submitted the article today, so it won't show up until January sometime.

    Just read your Changeling review. I can't disagree with you. I *wanted* to like it a lot more than I actually did. (And I agree 100% with you on the Merlin books. Was he just bored and fidgety about being under contract?) I did like Madwand enough to want him to finish the series, but that was mostly because I liked Belphanior, Moonbird, and especially Henry (combines several of the "evil" Amber princes into one smart-mouthed antagonist). Zelazny was so good, even his tossed-off books hook you into them.

    I'm editing a friend's Web design book, and I used the first three lines from "This Immortal" to illustrate the idea of how effortlessly Zelazny made an unfamiliar concept ("kallikanzaros") easy enough to grasp that the reader could just keep going without stumbling. He's just so damn good at it. :)

  5. Indeed. I was never a huge Heinlein fan, but I remember how he described a character in the Puppet Masters as having the capability of taking new facts and reasoning with them as if he had possessed them all along, and it always seemed to me that Zelazny could do that with his storytelling. He was able to posit something new in the world and follow it to its logical conclusion.

    Also, Chris Kovacs, one of the editors of the Collected Works of Roger Zelazny, just commented on the Changeling post, and added some really interesting information of which I was unaware.

  6. Josh, I grew up absolutely stark staring mad for Heinlein. It took me decades to get sick of his condescending misogyny and his cornpone dialogue. (Given that, there are things about his writing that I still find extravagently good.)

    I'll be interested to see your Damnation Alley review. :)

  7. I'll get to Damnation Alley sooner or later. Who doesn't love Jan-Michael Vincent?!

  8. Gaah, Jan-Michael Vincent. :) For some reason, I always mix up the (truly awful IMO) film version of "DA" with the somewhat better "Vanishing Point." The film is definitely MST3K material. Roger deserved better. But Hawkwind made a decent song out of it....

  9. I'm rather amazed that I'm talking to another person who has seen Vanishing Point. Quirky movie, but I think it told the story it set out to tell very well.


    Weird mixture of metal (lite), power pop, progressive, and I don't know what, but see what you think of the lyrics.

    Do you prefer the novella or the novel?

  11. The novella, I think. Not that the novel seems padded, but it lacks the sleek economy of form that the novella has.

  12. To actually comment on "The Furies" here, this is another favorite of mine. For reasons I can't seem to fully defend or articulate, this is the story that cements the connection between Zelazny and Cordwainer Smith (another on my small list of sci-fi favorites) in my mind. My only discomfort is with the ending -- I think Zelazny should have burnt the Furies to hell. The motherfuckers have had it coming for a long time.


  13. I was not familiar with Cordwainer Smith but a little research shows that he seems to have very interesting concepts to match his wonderful name. Can you add anything personal to supplement the basics I got off wikipedia?

  14. Hm, gosh, personal, I don't know. I'd recommend reading "The Game of Rat and Dragon" before I'd get too personal:

    Check it out. I think it's awesome. Haunting. But if you don't like it, I wouldn't want to get too personal about it.


  15. Most of Cordwainer Smith's stories have a feeling of myth or fable about them -- I guess that's why I associate him with Zelazny. NESFA Press has a complete volume of his short fiction -- I recommend it.


  16. I suppose I am already destined to give NESFA Press already... I'll check it out!

  17. Here are a few Cordwainer Smith excerpts, chosen more or less at random, that strike me as being a bit Zelazny-esque:

    “They started tough and they got tougher. People get pretty mean if you rob them and hurt them for almost three thousand years. They get obstinate. They avoid strangers, except for sending out spies and a very occasional tourist. They don’t mess with other people, and they’re death, death inside out and turned over twice, if you mess with them.” (From NORSTRILIA)

    “Consider the horse. He climbed up through the crevasses of a cliff of gems; the force which drove him was the love of man.

    “Consider Mizzer, the resort planet, where the dictator Colonel Wedder reformed the culture so violently that whatever had been slovenly now became atrocious.

    “Consider Genevieve, so rich that she was the prisoner of her own wealth, so beautiful that she was the victim of her own beauty, so intelligent that she knew there was nothing, nothing to be done about her fate.

    “Consider Casher O’Neill, a wanderer among the planets, thirsting for justice and yet hoping in his innermost thoughts that ‘justice’ was not just another word for revenge.” (From “On the Gem Planet”)

    “Four months had passed and we had made very little progress with the colonel.

    “It was not much trouble keeping him alive since we fed him by massive rectal and intravenous administrations of the requisites of medical survival. He did not oppose us. He did not fight except when we put clothes on him or tried to keep him too long out of the horizontal plane.

    “When kept upright too long he would awaken just enough to go into a mad, silent, gloating rage, fighting the attendants, the straitjacket, and anything else that got in his way.” (From “The Colonel Came Back from the Nothing-At-All”)

    “The Martian was sitting at the top of a granite cliff. In order to enjoy the breeze better he had taken on the shape of a small fir tree. The wind always felt very pleasant through non-deciduous needles.

    “At the bottom of the cliff stood an American, the first the Martian had ever seen.

    “The American extracted from his pocket a fantastically ingenious device. It was a small metal box with a nozzle which lifted up and produced an immediate flame. From this miraculous device the American readily lit a tube of bliss-giving herbs. The Martian understood that these were called cigarettes by the Americans. As the American finished lighting his cigarette, the Martian changed his shape to that of a fifteen-foot, red-faced, black-whiskered Chinese demagogue, and shouted to the American in English, ‘Hello, friend!’

    “The American looked up and almost dropped his teeth.” (From “Western Science Is So Wonderful”)


  18. One of my two favourite short stories of all time. The other one is also SF : Samuel Delaney's The Star Pit.

  19. Love this story. It is rather interesting in that author is probably more on the side of "antagonist", but the story is told from the position of his enemies, so to speak. Then again, he was a terrorist, so nothing's simple here.

  20. The thing I love about the way the excerpt you quote at the end is written is how matter-of-fact it is. "He should have known what he was up against... He should have known better..." It sounds so very arrogant, to think that your powers are known throughout all of space and that everyone you hunt knows you're going to hunt them! Very, very Greek.