I like The Game of Blood and Dust, but I can never remember if it's "Blood and Dust" or "Dust and Blood". It's got a novel enough concept, nameless players take on the roles of "Blood" and "Dust" and introduce three changes apiece to the time stream as part of their game, and I think he could have just introduced the clever concept and coasted on that, but he didn't.
For such a prolific science fiction author, Zelazny never wrote a huge amount of
time travel stories. I think Roadmarks is the only one that deals with
it as a central concept, though If At Faust you Don't Succeed, Creatures of Light and Darkness and The Changing Land each touch on it
peripherally. (In the introduction to Go Starless in the Night, Zelazny
says that story was written as a non-traditional time travel story,
though I don't personally don't consider it one. It's about a man who
journeys into the future through suspended animation and if we include
Starless, we might as well include This Moment of the Storm and Isle of the Dead, both of which deal with a very similar concept.) Maybe I'm
overlooking one or two others, but it was never a huge theme in his
work, which is a shame, because when he wrote it, he wrote it well. (Oh, I can't believe I almost forgot Divine Madness, possibly the best of his short stories!)
the story, the players Blood and Dust alter history, saving certain
personages, eliminating others, until we get to the end and wind up with
a world pretty similar to our own. (Though not identical, as the the
past was altered so that the assassination of Lincoln in Chevvy's
Theater was a success.) This is something that Zelazny touched on with
Roadmarks, where Red was trying to change the timeline so that the
Greeks won at Marathon, as they did in the real world.
do think that Zelazny was one the best science fiction short story
authors of the 20th century, and this one has everything I like about
his craftsmanship. We get the concept, he doesn't over explain it, but
instead tells enough to explore it, and then quits before we're bored
with it. His pacing is simply magnificent. As Brand says in Sign of the Unicorn: "Sequence and order, time and stress! Accent, emphasis."
raved before about the notes in the Collected Stories, and this is
another story they enrich. During one round of the game, Julius
Ambrosius and Abou Iskafar are killed by the contestants, and I never
knew if they were historical figures of whom I was unaware or if they
were entirely fictional creations made up for the story. (If you're
playing at home, they're the latter.)
In the introduction to the
story, Zelazny says that story had its genesis in a solicitation by
Playboy, where they would run one science fiction story a year and
they'd all be illustrated by Philippe Druillet.
Playboy never went through with the project, and the illustrations were
never made, but Zelazny said he occasionally wondered what form they
would have taken. I do too.