Monday, March 18, 2013

Roger Zelazny Book Review: My Lady of the Diodes

I've mentioned from time to time that one of the many things I respected about Roger Zelazny is that he so seldom went back to the same well twice. (I'm just the opposite. I so rarely have a good idea that when I actually do have one, I flog it for whatever it's worth.)

Zelazny was a brilliant writer, and he apparently almost never cannibalized his unpublished work. He had so many ideas that he didn't need to. Look at the Dead Man's Brother. I didn't think it was his very best work, but it was a fully written manuscript that sat fallow for a quarter century, and it certainly had its share of characters and dialogue that could have been ripped out and recycled for a new story.

I think it's this tendency that makes "My Lady of the Diodes" even more of an oddity. Zelazny says in the introduction to the story that he forgot he wrote this story until a fan contacted him about it and provided a copy. That makes perfect sense. In fact, I think it might be the only way the existence of the story makes sense.

The gist is that Danny Bracken, a disgruntled computer engineer, had been screwed over by his former employers, so he built a female AI to help him plan some retributive robbery against them. He feeds all the data he can get into Max-10, "Maxine" and she walks him through the perfect crime.

They have a believable rapport and the banter during the introductory robbery is fun to read, though it seems at the end Danny speaks one of Maxine's lines and she speaks one of his. It reads the same way in both copies I have, and I have to assume that it was just an error that was never caught during proofreading.

Danny has already hit his old company a couple times and is in the process of doing it again when the story begins. It's when he rolls into the next town that his plan hits a snag. Seekfax, his old company has not failed to notice that they are being robbed with alarming regularity.

A reporter interviews him at a conference that he's planning to hit, but there is something familiar about her, and he realizes what it is when she absently corrects him on the model number of a particular machine. She is Sonia Krondstadt, girl genius, an engineer for Seekfax herself.

Danny falls for her and she for him and they consummate their relationship on the bed above Maxine. Maxine is not happy about this, but seems to get over this as they plan to steal the Seekfax 5000, the very machine that Sonia has constructed as a countermeasure against Danny and Maxine.
But Hell Hath no Fury like an artificial intelligence scorned. Just as Danny has fallen for Sonia, Maxine has fallen for the 5000 and betrays Danny in a fit of petulance.

"Better step on the gas."

I did, still looking back.

"I can't outrun that Mercedes with this truck."

"And you can't take this curve with it either, Danny boy, if you stepped on the gas when I told you to- and I'm sure you did. It's doubtless a reflex by now. Humans get conditioned that way."

I like that bit. They crash, Danny jumps free and he and Sonia picks him up and the pair of them live happily ever after, building computers together.

And it's a fine story. A trifle insubstantial maybe, but that's okay. Not every story has to be Divine Madness.  The thing that gets me about it is that it feels like Zelazny already told it. Flowers of Evil from Roadmarks seems like a better developed version of Maxine, and the tale of Jenny's progression from Devil Car to Last of the Wild Ones strikes me as the same story, but better. I don't like to speculate about an author's motivation, but taken in light of his introduction to the story, it really seems like he wrote the story, forgot about it completely and wrote those other two stories without specific recollection of this one.

Though I'll admit that it's certainly possible that the connections aren't as strong as I'm imagining, as Zelazny did include Last of the Wild Ones and My Lady of the Diodes together in the Unicorn Variations collection. In a body of work as large as his, of course some works are bound to be reminiscent of others.

Bottom Line? I liked it okay, but I liked those other two stories much more, which colors my opinion.


  1. Which lines of dialogue do you think are misappropriated?

    I quite like this story. I think I like it more than the two Jenny tales!

    1. The banter on pages 372 to 373 on TMM.

      Though now that you dispute it and I've reread it, it's probably not an error. I think Maxine just speaks twice in a row and answers her own question.

      "-...What's wrong with neckties?"

      (Instructions from Maxine)"Neckties are elegant."

      "Check - Neckties are stupid."

  2. Yes, she speaks twice in a row. There isn't a close quote at the end of – What's wrong with neckties? because she continues to speak in the next paragraph, giving instructions, and concluding by adding a comment to her question – Neckties are elegant!" And then Danny replies in the next paragraph "Check...neckties are stupid!"

    (In trying to post this, it looks like it's rejecting livejournal again and forcing me to post as anonymous.)

  3. Never mind. It did eventually post through livejournal.