Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Nine Starships Waiting

I've been a fan and admirer of the works of Roger Zelazny for almost twenty-five years now. (Though I'm a Johnny-come-lately compared to the Chrises who read this blog.) I assembled my library piecemeal in the pre-Internet days, visiting random bookstores and slowly accumulating new works.

By time The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny had been released, I had read almost every major story written by Zelazny. There were a few oddballs that had never been collected, but I eventually got my hands on most of copies of most of his stuff. I've raved about The Collected Stories before, but they really are a mammoth achievement. I like the annotations, but the real triumph of the collection was getting everything in one place.

I had read about "Nine Starships Waiting", but had been unable to find a copy of the story, but the Collected Stories remedied that. I think it's one of those pieces where it's more interesting to discuss the circumstances surrounding the story.

In its simplest form, Nine Starships is an update of Tourneur's Revenger's Tragedy. To take a more nuanced look at's pretty much the same thing. Zelazny said so himself. It's The Revenger's Tragedy in spaaaaaaaace! He took a bunch of elements from Jacobian drama (the Revenger's Tragedy was the subject of his thesis for his MA) and threw them all against the wall to see what would stick. This seems unusual for him, as he didn't seem to attempt to update the story for the era, but rather lifted the elements in toto and transplanted them in their entirety. The result is a mess, but a fun one.

It's the story of Vindici, the revenger. (Vindice, the revenger, is the main character in The Revenger's Tragedy.) If you're keeping count at home, this is another Zelazny story with a main character with green eyes. (But only sometimes.) He's an assassin buried in the psyche of another man, which reminded me a bit of Timyin Tin. At the opening of the story, Vindici is being awakened under the guidance of Doctor Karol Channing.

I'm not sure how to take that name. I kept expecting him to belt out some show tunes from Hello, Dolly. When I looked at the characters from Dune, I noted that Herbert could hardly been unaware of author Peter De Vries when he came up with the character Piter De Vries. Zelazny gets a pass here, because Carol Channing's most famous role didn't begin until 1964, one year after the story was published. Still, it's distracting.

It amuses me to believe that all of Zelazny's straight sci-fi stories (the Furies, the Keys to December, the Sandow stories), take place in the same continuity, but there is nothing to suggest that. Stat could have been a predecessor to Morgenguard (from Angel, Dark Angel), but I think a more likely explanation is that Zelazny simply lifted elements from a story he felt best forgotten.

It lacks the heft of most early Zelazny works, though I did enjoy the resolution to story and I particularly liked this line, "I am Vindici! The son of Death! Bred in the Senecan twilight of Jacobian demigods, and punctual as death!" If one had to come up with a a succinct phrase to sum up the Zelazny archetype, I really think "Jacobian Demigod" nails it.


  1. I wonder what Zelazny would have thought of Boardwalk Empire? The latest episode (aired last night) made it explicit that one of the main inspirations for the series is The Revenger's Tragedy. (Along with Oedipus, Chinatown, and who knows what else. The episode was insane. Brilliant, too.)

    --Chris DeVito

  2. You know, you got me thinking, and I was wondering what a Doc Savage novel written by Zelazny would read like. I think he could have done a bang up job. I actually became a fan of the Savage pulps because of his cameo in ROADMARKS.