Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Go Starless in the Night

I could have sworn I had already written this review, but a search of the index page shows me I didn't.

And that's part of the problem with Go Starless in the Night.  I remember the plot and my general goodwill towards it, but when I sit down with the story to actually write something about it, I just come up blank.

But I'll give it a shot here.

Also, I try to avoid spoilers in a story, but I'm going to break that rule here, because I just can't say what I want to say about it without giving away some important plot points. So, if you haven't read the story, read this review only at your peril.

It's the story of an earnest (That's a joke. The character's name is Ernest Dawkins) scientist placed in suspended animation to await the cure to the disease that was killing him.

He is revived by, well, someone. Or maybe something. The nature of his visitors is left undefined, which is one of the things I like about the story. Initially they claim to be archeologists, but they later say that's not true.

There's not enough information in the story to conclude what's going on with any degree of certainty, and I like that kind of ambiguity in my storytelling. They could  be the post-apocalyptic descendents of humanity as easily as they could be Russian spies.

They claim to have happened upon him in the course of exploring the facility that housed him. They ask some general questions about the time, his life, if whales were still around. They oh so casually ask about his work, and when he happens to mention that he was a researcher in "toxic agents of a chemical and bacteriological nature", they're like "Oh, reallllllly? We'd hate for those to fall into the wrong hands. Why don't you tell us where are?"

And they passive-aggressively try to worm it out of him, and Dawkins, like any good scientist, questions their claims. They grow nastier, "accidentally"  disconnecting the speaker for a length and overtly threatening him, ("If something heavy falls upon you, you break like bottle.") and finally just laying it on the line and saying that they're just going to leave him there to go crazy unless he tells them what they want to know.

"We will disconnect your speaker and your hearer and go away. We will leave you thinking in the middle of nothing. Goodbye now."


"Then you will tell us?"

"No. I - can't . . ."

"You will go mad if we disconnect these things, will you not?"

"I suppose so. Eventually . . ."

"Must we do it, then?"

"Your threats have shown me what you are like. I cannot give you such weapons."

"Ernest Dawkins, you are not intelligent being."

"And you are not an archaeologist. Or you would do future generations the service of turning me off, to save the other things that I do know."

"You are right. We are not such. You will never know what we are."

"I know enough."

"Go to your madness."

Silence again.

I think the reason that I haven't written about this story is that I've been unable to put my hand on why I love the ending so much.

For a long while the panic held him. Until the images of his family recurred, and his home, and his town. These grew more and more substantial, and gradually he came to walk with them and among them. Then, after a time, he stopped reporting for work and spent his days at the beach. He wondered at first when his side would begin to hurt. Then he wondered why he had wondered this. Later, he forgot many things, but not the long days beneath the sun or the sound of the surf, the red rain, the blue, or the melting statue with the fiery eyes and the sword in its fist. When he heard voices under the sand he did not answer. He listened instead to whales singing to mermaids on migrating rocks, where they combed their long green hair with shards of bone, laughing at the lightning and the ice.

We so seldom get happy endings in real life, it's nice to have some in fiction now and again.


  1. Uhhhh... I don't know.
    I see it more as "man dreams of his past and then true insanity creeps in" then any kind of happy ending! He went mad, poor guy.
    And I always had an impression that these are aliens, or at least something more overworldly than any spies.

    1. Oh, I agree with you. Clearly those scenes aren't happening, and he's gone mad in the sense that he's disconnected with reality. But his pain is gone, and he's reliving his happy moments, which is more than a lot of people get.

    2. If his last scene was something with his family, like meeting lost love or sitting in a garden, I'd agree with you about tonality of the last moments. I am sure Zelazny could pull off this atmosphere of happiness and contentment very well. But bizarre sight of mermaids combing their hair with bits of broken bone (human bones?) while unsettling storm is lightening up an area is hardly a peaceful image to live us on, it feels like something apocalyptical (minor ragnarek of one's mind?), very clearly wrong. I find it one of the creepiest sci-fic stories I've read. The helplessnes is so complete here. So I was just very surprised it was an impression this left on you.