Saturday, January 1, 2011

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Donnerjack, part three: Virtù

Part Three of my Donnerjack review. (Part One Part Two, and the link to the index.)

This one will have FOR REAL spoilers, so STOP READING NOW.

Donnerjack is a generational story and while Zelazny has written some stories that span great length of time (For a Breath I Tarry leaps immediately to mind, as does "The Game of Blood and Dust" or Roadmarks if you want to get cute), I can't think of anything quite like the structure of this one. Maybe the Amber books, if you take them as a single work and not as two series. Again, not so weird if you keep in mind that it wasn't intended as a single book, but as a trilogy. I like it.

To digress for a moment, I loved Stephen King's Dark Tower books. The first two were great, the next one was pretty good, the fourth one prompted my first ever sarcastic review on the internet and then it was all downhill after that.

Also, part of the problem is that the final books were released in rapid succession. The Drawing of the Three was released in 1987, The Waste Lands in 1991 and Wizard & Ass in 1997, followed by the final three one after the other in 2003 and 04.

I think the long delay worked for the earlier books, because it allowed King to introduce themes that percolated for years before they came to fruition in later books. When he tries to attach a similar significance to the number 99 in the later books, I'm like "Who are you trying to fool? That's just something you made up a couple months ago."

Allowing concepts to take on a life of their own is something that's much more difficult to do over the course of one book and I have to wonder how different it would have been as a series. I think it is a weighty enough work that those concepts planted early on come to blossom in the resolution.

And to return to the I thought Aradyss died much earlier in the story than she did, but she sticks around for a bit. (I thought that Donnerjack outlasted her by a goodly amount, but it's only a few chapters.) I enjoyed her interaction with the caoineag, who tells her "The dust of the black butterfly yet clings to your hair." I really liked that line. Donnerjack is a big book and there are passages that are not as strong as they could be, but there are memorable gems too. It made me think of The Last Defender of Camelot where Launcelot says "It is true that I have aged, yet whenever I am threatened all of my former strength returns to me."

Looking back, I like all of the foreshadowing. I was surprised to find all of the main characters already present by the end of Part One. Lydia Hazzard pregnancy was handled pretty well and I like the parallels to Jay's conception.

I neglected to mention this in the earlier review, but the genii loci remind me of Lords with their "Place of Power" from Jack of Shadows. Reece Jordan talks about differential time flows in Virtù and that made me think about shadows with different time flows. We also have a line "Donnerjack calculated an existence theorem that worked out the necessary coordinates for a hidden valley where strange attractors grew on trees..." which reminds me of the bit in Nine Princes where Corwin and Bleys find Avernus, a shadow full of custom made cannon fodder.)

 I'm not sure if the reference eating of the liver and the heart was also a deliberate nod to The Guns of Avalon or if I'm reading a lot of Zelazny and just imagining connections when there are only coincidences. Though allusions to real world books that may have shaped the story (Such as David Park's Image of Eternity, or the Future as History in Bridge of Ashes) seems to recur with enough frequency that I'm thinking about including it in the Roger Zelazny drinking game. (Another trope seems to be relatives resembling each other strongly enough to make a relationship clear at a glance. Corwin and Merlin, Selar and Dilvish, here we have Alice and Lydia, which is especially interesting, because the resemblance is strong enough that Jay knows that Lydia is "Link's" mother right away, but he can't figure out that Link is a girl?)

It's possible that these tropes seem exaggerated because the book was completed posthumously by Jane Lindskold and she may have been consciously or unconsciously pulling elements from his earlier stories in order to make it feel more like a Zelazny work. I'm uncomfortable speculating along those lines however, so I'm not going to go further along the path than that.

We return to Arthur Eden, the undercover anthropology professor who, in his identity as Emmanuel Davis has just displayed his virt powers to a higher ranking memeber in the church, Randall Kesley. I like both characters a lot and this has the nuanced exchange I've come to expect from Zelazny.

"Do you believe in the gods, Emmanuel Davis?"

"More than ever before."

"More than nothing can still be almost nothing."

"...If you are asking me do I believe specifically in Enil, Enki, Ishtar and all the rest I would have to say that there are divinities who find those names and their attendant forms as convenient as any other, but if I was asked to say whether I believed that those were identical to to the deities who were worshiped in the Fertile Crescent I would be forced to say no.

"I see. Heresy?"

"I would prefer to call it metaphysical conjecture. In any case, my teaching is not out of line with the teachings of the Church. Even in the earliest lessons, we are taught that form and name are metaphors for something more primal."

"True, but what about faith?"

"Faith is something that is given - it cannot be learned. At least so I have always felt. I offer instead my worship."

"Your experience with the development of a virt power did not change your mind about the divinity of those worshiped by the Church of Elish?"

"I never said I doubted their divinity, sir, only that I doubted the equivalency of the deities we worship here and those from ancient times."

"Yes, I see."

Later on, Aradyss gives birth and then dies. Donnerjack builds the Brass Baboon, his "Prince of Puppets", a living locomotive that "cannibalized realities, broke the bounds of virtual domains, and tore like a meteor through anything, spewing gleaming tracks before it as it, leaving a horde of irate genii loci behind it to adjust to its passage." Together they storm Deep Fields, and fight Death to a standstill, negotiating a settlement where Jay may have a normal childhood in Verité rather than growing up as Death's ward. (And by normal, I mean, of course, being raised in a haunted castle by robots and playing with reanimated animals sent to spy on him.)

Death gets Donnerjack shortly after that. I like how the siege is announced by the image of a skull on the monitor. Jay grows up some, meets Reece Jordan in Virtù. Reece is an old colleague of the senior Donnerjack. Together with Warren Bansa, they are the three folk of Verité worshiped by aions. Reece is also present for two of what appear to be inconsistencies in the narrative. Reece is very old and a patient at the Center for Iatropathic Disorders, the CID. Their aion is Sid. Heh.

On page 138 of the hardcover, Paracelsus refers to Bansa as the man who started the whole thing. Donnerjack responds that he wouldn't go that far, "but he came up with some novel theories as to what happened." Here's the thing, though. Bansa kicked off Virtù by crashing the Worldnet and precipitating the Genesis Scramble. He crossed over to Virtù bodily and died in the process. So A.) Of course he knows what happened, because he was there for it and more significantly. B.) Doing it made him dead and it's not like he's submitting papers for peer review at that point.

On page 207, Reece is trying to help John Jr. come up with the name he'll use, because he doesn't want to call him John, because as far as Reece is concerned, that was the elder Donnerjack's name. He says that Jack Donnerjack sounds like something from a fairy tale, which I found kind of amusing, but he also says his middle name "D'Arcy", is a little bit pompous. No denying that, but is it his middle name? Aradyss refers to herself as Aradyss D'Arcy Donnerjack, and some quick googling didn't turn up anything unusual about Scottish naming conventions. (I know Hispanic people in America occasionally have difficulty filling out forms, because the naming conventions include a given name and two surnames (mother and father) so I was thinking it might be something along those lines) I then thought that Donnerjack might be a title, a la Lord Tennyson, or perhaps Reece was confused. It doesn't matter. We wind up with Jay, as you may have surmised, since that's what I've been calling him.

We meet Link Crane, and she's so obviously Alice Hazzard that I'm not even going to maintain the polite fiction of pretending to believe that she's a boy. (I always imagine her as looking like Leo from Tekken 6)

Who do you think you're fooling, young lady?
She's rescued by Desmond Drum, who sighs and rolls his eyes and pretends to believe she's a girl too. Alice is enormously annoying and really the only thing I don't like about Donnerjack. She wants to be Veronica Mars but she's just Pol Detson.

Let's talk about cool things instead. Death contacts Jay a few years later.

"Who are you?" the boy repeated.

"You know me. Everybody knows me," he said. "Goodbye for now."

I think that's a good note to end this portion of the review. Goodbye for now.

1 comment:

  1. I don't have much to say on this section, other than it's somewhere around here that we lost Roger and Jane took over. (And yes, Chris K, I know that there are still Roger-parts later in the book--no one's contesting that. I'm just saying that a lot of Jane-isms start showing up sometime around/after Donnerjack's death, and I still think the majority of the book after that point was written by her.)

    Anyway, I've already talked about that stuff a bit in my comments on the first page of the DONNERJACK review, so we'll move on from there.

    RE: eating heart and liver: I'm not sure this is a reference to Strygalldwir (sp?). I think it's more that the heart and the liver are two of the organs that are more commonly eaten by people (and in this case, we'll consider Sayjak and his friends "people"). Like, you could go to a number of restaurants right now and probably order a plate of liver, but it's going to be a lot harder to find a place serving lung.

    I say this because I have a friend who's a chef (professionally), and when he was making rabbit stew for Easter a few years ago (yes, we ate it because it was funny), the rabbit's organs that he was considering cooking were the liver, heart and kidneys. Although, to be fair, I don't know if our bunny came with all the organs attached, so maybe those three were the only options my friend had to work with.

    So, in summary, I have nothing of value to add to this post.