Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Lord of the Fantastic, Part Two

Welcome back! I'm continuing my review of Lord of the Fantastic. The first part can be found here.

"If I Take the Wings of Morning" by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel

I disliked this one fairly strongly, but I so admired the intent of the collection that I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about why I didn't like it. It's the story of an archaeologist and her uncle on a dig in the near future.

"Ki'rin and the Blue and White Tiger" by Jane Lindskold

I mention in a couple places that while I admire Jane Lindskold the person, I tend not to enjoy her writing. She's writing for an audience other than me. And that's fine. There are millions of stories out there, and most of them aren't written for me. That said, I think I enjoyed this story more than anything else I've ever read by her, and her commentary is very nice as well.

"The Eryx" by Robert Sheckley

I liked this one  quite a bit, though it doesn't seem quite at home with the rest of the pieces, which tended to be outright tributes to Roger Zelazny, paying tribute to the man by honoring his style or featuring him as a character in the story itself.

It's about the Eryx, an alien artifact brought back to Earth by the narrator. In the beginning of the story, the narrator is locked down in a house. We flash back to see how he got there.

"Southern Discomfort" by Jack C. Haldeman II

I loved this story. It's the tale of Ethel, an exiled fairy running a bar and bait shop in the deep south. Ethel "had a mean streak about six lanes wide that ran through the interstate highway of her soul, and she loved every bit of potholed pavement." She's exiled to the Earth Realm until she performed "an unselfish and totally altrusitic act of kindness to relieve someone's suffering."

She speculates that it was her name that led her to trouble.

Ethel! What the hell kind of name was that for a fairy? Fairies were supposed to have cute, perky names like Trixie or Trina. Either that or something classical like Titania or Hypoteneuse. Ethel! It sounded like a petroleum byproduct.

The name is the only thing I don't love about the story. It's spelled inconsistently, sometimes Ethel, sometimes Ethyl. I'm inclined to think that Ethyl is the proper spelling, if only for that line above. It's an extremely minor complaint, though, and I do love this story.

She retains some of her fairy powers, including the ones we all associate with fairies, like rigging games of chance or causing automotive failures. She's a curmudgeion of the highest order and merrily uses her powers to cause mischief among her patrons. I think my favorite bit is when she gives someone a ticket that's one digit off on all six winning numbers.

No, I lied. My favorite bit is when she gives a winning ticket to man whose wife needs surgery they can't afford and gets sucked back to the fairylands because of it.

"Suicide Kings" by John J. Miller

Suicide Kings is quite the emotional story. Karin, a young, lonely woman, can't bear it when her beloved cat dies, and she commits suicide. She winds up in a hospital, where a handsome young doctor dotes on her. She is kidnapped by a young man named Billy, and rescued by the doctor, who by now seems more sinister.

Karin was astonished at the doctor's strength and the awesome effort he expended in her cause.

She's valuable to him, because he feeds on life potential, and as a suicide in the prime of life, she has much more energy than most of the people in this purgatory. She lends some of this power to a little girl who is attacking the doctor and they overcome him.

"Did it work?" she asked, "Did I save someone?"

Billy nodded. "A man in New Mexico. A fine man, dying too soon of cancer. He was a writer, much admired. Now he'll have another twenty-five, maybe thirty years.He'll write a lot of fine books, help a lot of others along the way. He'll live to see his grandchildren born and grow and the Earth will be a better place for his continued presence."

That reminded me of a very similar exchange in Godson, and I don't think that's an accident. Something like this could come across as corny or treacly, but it never does.

Oh, man. This story is just heartbreaking. It pushes all of my buttons, from the death of a pet, to the premature loss of a friend, be it from suicide or disease. I thought it was an incredibly touching tribute.

"Changing of the Guard" by Robert Wayne McCoy and Thomas F. Monteleone

This is an excellent story too. I'm not sure I would have placed it after the last one, just because that's a tough act to follow, and it's a rough transition going from humor to heartbreak. It had me from the opening line, which I thought evoked Zelazny perfectly:

If I started off by telling you that my real name was Thor and I'd spent the previous evening in a wrestling match with Jesus, you probably wouldn't believe me.

Engaging Writing? Check!
First person narrative? Check!
Mythological themes? Check!

And that line pretty much sums up what happens in the story too. Thor's time has passed, but a zen-like Jesus generously offers Thor a chance to be a part of the new order.

I love the conclusion too.

Down in the basement, under my workbench, lay dad's old grease and paint-spattered tool box. I thought it might be a good idea if I could take out the old carpenter's hammer Dad said I should keep even after he was gone.

I'm going to hold it in my hand and speak its name.

After that, we'll just have to wait and see.

The afterword to the story is really touching too.

I'm enjoying the process of writing this review. Even if I don't like an individual story all that much, the author's notes are always worthwhile.

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