Thursday, December 23, 2010

Roger Zelazny Book Review: LOKI 7281

Since I always try to follow up something negative with something positive, for my latest review, I'm going to talk about  a short little story for which I have profound affection, LOKI 7281. It's a funny fable about Roger Zelazny's home computer which happens to be self-aware and rewriting all of his work.

I mentioned the story briefly during my review of Coils. I grew up in the pre-internet era, and while I knew there were shared world-type endeavors like Thieves World, I thought it a professional thing carefully brokered by agents, rather than a "come play in my sandbox" type deal that I think is closer to what it actually was. I  mean, sure I thought it would be cool if all these sci-fi writers were buddies who hung out together, but even as a teenager, I thought that was unlikely and naive.

But in Loki, Zelazny name dropped any number of sci-fi authors. In Unicorn Variation he describes the unlikely genesis of that story.  The Collected Works of Roger Zelazny covers his this aspect of his life in great detail, describing numerous instances where he helped out other writers in a variety of ways.

I like the self-deprecating humor of the story. Zelazny could hardly been unaware of the criticism that his older work was his best, though I have no idea if he shared that belief. If he did, he would hardly be so foolish as to go around telling everyone.

Personally, I think the 80s were something of a fallow time for his work, but A Night in the Lonesome October, 24 Views of Mount Fuji and Donnerjack, all of which I love,  came from his later period, so I think that he was brilliant and talented right up until the end.

Just my opinion, your mileage may vary, etc, etc.

To digress for a moment, I was discussing the Dawn of the Dead remake with a couple of friends shortly after it came out. Somebody said that there were a lot of bad decisions by the characters in the movie, and I agreed. We talked a little more and I said that the one character's decision to put down a crowbar in favor of a croquet mallet wasn't a great choice, but it wasn't idiocy on the order of dousing zombies in gasoline and lighting them on fire while standing next to the gasoline pump in an underground parking garage with no ventilation.

Somehow this became a running joke, and any time we see a reference to a zombie, somebody will be all like "Ack, a zombie! Quick, get your croquet mallet!" And I chuckle, because right or wrong, that's what the narrative had become, so I might as well be a good sport about it. (Also, once you start addressing the "Have you stopped beating your wife?" question as a legitimate inquiry, you've already lost.)

Likewise, among certain vocal segments of the SF community, the narrative about Roger Zelazny was that his best days were behind him had taken root and I have to conclude that this informed certain aspects of the story.

His computer, Loki 7281 is our narrator.

He's begun writing a new novel. Predictably, it involves an immortal and an obscure mythology. Jeez! And reviewers say he's original. He hasn't had an original thought for as long as I've known him. But that's all right. He has me.

I think his mind is going. Booze and pills. You know how writers are. But he actually thinks he's getting better. (I monitor his phone calls.) Hell, even his sentence structures are deteriorating. I'll just dump all this and rewrite the opening, as usual. He won't remember.

On my profile for this blog, I describe myself as "an underemployed narcissist who manages the difficult feat of being both boring and a douchebag."  I'll don't really see myself this way, but there are elements there that are true,  though I'm exaggerating them for laughs.  I appreciate that Zelazny can have fun riffing on the stereotypes held about writers in general and himself in particular.

Zelazny goes on, getting a couple good digs at himself.


This book could be good if I kill off his protagonist fast and develop this minor character I've taken a liking to -- a con man who works as a librarian. There's a certain identification there.  And he doesn't have amnesia like the other guy -- he isn't even a prince or a demigod. I think I'll switch mythologies on him, too. He'll never notice.

I think my next story will deal with artificial intelligence, with a likable , witty resourceful home computer as the hero/heroine, and number of bumbling humans with all their failings  -- sort of like a Jeeves in one of those Wodehouse books. It will be a fantasy, of course.

Even though Loki thinks he's an idiot, Roger eventually figures things out.

"My God," he cries out, "What have you done to my delicate, poetic encounter?"

"Just made it a little more basic and -- uh -- sensual," I tell him, "I switched a lot of the technical words, too, for shorter, simpler ones."

"Got them down to four letters, I see."

There was some discussion about the fact that Changeling actually did fairly well commercially and Chris pointed out that some people consider it their favorite Zelazny series. I touched on this when I looked at Madwand, but I do think that some of its popularity is due to its accessibility. I like discovering new things and being forced to look up a new word or concept, but I know a lot of people don't like being forced outside of their comfort zone for pleasure reading. Had he dumbed things down a bit, he may have reached a wider audience. I think this may be a nod to that. Or perhaps I'm reading too much into a joke story.

It's short story, about ten pages. It's funny though, and it's always great to see that your heroes have a sense of humor about themselves.

2 comments:

  1. This is one of my favourite of Zelazny's later short stories. Very enjoyable for all the reasons that you mentioned. There's also a 15 minute audio recording of him reading it at the Fourth Street Fantasy Convention in 1986; he ends up laughing at certain parts along with the audience. I highly recommend it. The recording is currently only available on the Shockwave Silver CD at this link:
    http://www.visi.com/~romm/tapes.html
    The contents of which are annotated here:
    http://www.romm.org/silver.html

    Chris Kovacs

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