I wasn't familiar with the name Damon Runyon, but the language in Deadboy reminded me of Guys & Dolls, which makes sense, as it turns out that Guys & Dolls is based on two of Runyon's short stories. (Feel free to laugh at me, but as I've mentioned elsewhere, the embarrassing gaps in my education occasionally reveal themselves.)
The imagery I associate with the story is that of the Running Man, an animated short about a race driver who dies on the track, but continues on Flying Dutchman-like after his death.
(Here's a link if you want to watch it)
The fact that Zelazny deliberately emulated another author's characteristic style reminds me of Naked Matador, which was written after the fashion of Hemingway's prose and which I also happen to like. It also reminds me of Chris DeVito's Anise, because the word Deadboy makes me think of the artificially sustained humans.
And the fourth thing the story reminds me of is Ghost in the Shell, for reasons that should be obvious to those familiar with it.
I think I'd still like the story quite a bit even without all these pleasant associations. It tells an interesting story, but the real joy is how he puts the words together to tell it. Take the opening sentence.
I am standing in front of Vindy's and cannot read the racing stix because of the brownout which is the worst I can remember, when Crash Callahan comes by and the light is not so bad that I cannot see the bulge beneath his racing jacket, a thing I suspect to be malignant though not a tumor .
Nice. Punchy. Fun.
and "And I awaken," he tells me, "in this place which is like the inside of a videogame, leading me to believe that I have passed on and the next world is a kind of Cyberbia. There are all these algorithms putting the make on pixels, and programs champing at bits and sub routines moving about in simpleminded, reliable ways, as is their custom."
and "Then several days pass, and the race is nigh, and Donner will not give me the time of day if 6:47 will save my life,"
and "So I lay his bets and I lay my bets and I await the race with the honest pleasure of a man who knows that the fix is in."
You get the picture.
Deadboy Donner is a racing pilot in Upper Manhattan who suffered some damage to his immune system during a solar flare in a race two years ago. He doesn't have a lot of time left to him, so he became a deadboy, spending most of the year on ice, and thawing out only to participate in races.
Hey, come to think of it, now the story reminds me of the Graveyard Heart!
But Donner is up and about earlier than he should be, which intrigues our nameless narrator, because he's got a lot of money riding on Donner winning the Filstone Cup. Donner is acting very strange, and we soon learn it is because the AI that runs Upper Manhattan told Donner it would see to it that that he would win the cup if it could inhabit his body on alternate days. They would switch places and Donner would see to the business of running Upper Manhattan while the AI was in the flesh.
Donner turns out to have a knack for the duties of the AI, which is more than can be said for the AI, which gets his body into all sorts of trouble. When the AI refuses to return the body, Donner hijacks the body of his competitor Crash Callahan in order to track himself down in the physical world. "He finds them there, but the AI departs by a side exit and leads him on a chase, both of them careless of all bodies in the vicinity as they discharge with great noise and small accuracy the weapons they have with them."
I especially liked that turn of phrase.
There are one or two more twists, but it's all explained in the denouement. It's not one of Zelazny's all time great short stories like Divine Madness or Comes Now the Power, but it is a fun, clever little tale. Nevertheless, I'm glad it's the only one he wrote of its kind, because part of the appeal is the novelty.