Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Roger Zelazny Book Review: Eye of Cat - Revised Review
Okay, I said I would return to Eye of Cat and here I am.
I still don't particularly care for the story, but I'm not at all happy with my first review, so as promised, I'm revising it. This site is supposed to be a celebration of Zelazny's work and it didn't deserve the snark.
Here's where I'm coming from with the story. I think it's an okay Zelazny story. Not Lord of Light, but not Lord Demon either. In any body of work, you'll have some stories that are better than others, and this one lands squarely in the middle.
For a couple of reasons, my opinion has been colored by some factors in place during the time when I first encountered the book, and because of those, I had a very different experience than I would have otherwise, and I think, these factors really diminished my enjoyment of the book.
A big part of it is that I saw the man behind the curtain before I even read it, by dint of having read Zelazny's essay (Constructing a Science Fiction Novel) about its construction. Seeing how the sausage was made shattered the illusion for me. That's not to say that the same deliberation didn't go into his other works. Of course it did. I'm reminded of a line I always liked from Creatures of Light and Darkness, where Horus is speculating on Wakim's identity "Such champions do not spring full-grown from the void." Zelazny, was one of the most accomplished writers of his generation, and doubtless leveraged all the tools available to an author to craft a compelling story in his other books.
The word artificial has a number of different definitions, but the one that comes closest to describing the word as it was originally used is "Created by humans". Forgive me if I belabor this point, but Eye of Cat strikes me as artificial in that sense, and lacks the verisimilitude of Zelazny's other worlds.
I wrote in my review of the Stainless Steel Leech, of all things, that I felt that "there is something in Zelazny's writing that lets me believe that his characters live in a real world, and things happened as they happened because his characters made the choices they did, and had they chosen differently, their stories would have unfolded in a complete different direction."
He also expressed the opinion that the author should know more than he states in the body of the text, and that's another thing that bothered me about Eye of Cat. There's no mystery to it.
And, I'm the first to admit, that this is an issue with me and not with the story. Yes, Zelazny was effusive in talking about the techniques employed in the book, but one presumes he was happy about how it came out and wanted to share them. It's silly to fault him for that. However, having read all that stuff before I read the book itself, I could see the seams and the solder that made it up, and consequently, it seemed artificial in a way his other books didn't.
All this adds up to a book I was unlikely to enjoy. I've returned to it several times, but, once you see the picture hidden in an optical illusion, you can't go back to not seeing it, and whenever I encounter the techniques employed in the book, such as the data dumps on the psychics, it takes me out of the narrative, because I'm acutely aware of why they are there.
This tells you a lot about me and next to nothing about the book. Briefly, William Blackhorse Singer is a Navajo shaman and tracker, who grew up in a neolithic environment, went to the stars and on his return, found there was no longer a place for him.
Those are interesting elements, though I like how they were handled in This Moment of the Storm a bit more.
Billy is called out of retirement to protect an alien ambassador from an assassin. To do so, he releases Cat, a shape-shifter which he initially thought of as merely a cunning animal, but which he later realizes possesses telepathy and true intelligence.
Cat only wants one thing, and his death, and Billy offers it in exchange for Cat's service. Cat comes through and protects the alien secretary-general and then comes to kill Billy, but pauses on seeing that Billy will not fight back.
If that is what it takes, yes. I see now that there would be small pleasure in slaying you like some brainless piece of meat that waits to be slaughtered. My full revenge requires the joy of the hunt. So I will make you an offer, and I will have you know that my promise will be as good as yours, Billy Singer - for I cannot let you beat me even in that thing.
Go. Flee. Cover your trail, tracker.I will give you what I judge to be an hour- and I am fairly good at estimating time - and then I will pursue you. You tracked me for nearly eight days. Let us call it a week. Keep alive for that long and I will renounce my claim upon your life. We will go our ways,
free of one another.
And what will be the rules? Billy asked.
Rules? If you can kill me before I kill you, by all means do so.In any manner.Go anywhere that you wish by any means that you choose. Anything is fair. There are no rules in the hunt. Live out the week and you will be rid of me. You will not make it, though.
Who can say?
What is your answer?
I do like that exchange. Perhaps another thing that threw me is how much it subverts the Zelaznian Revenger's Tragedy model.
Zelazny has described Jack as "a wrongfully punished man whose character was twisted by the act" which is a common enough theme in his works that it made it into my Roger Zelazny drinking game.
Cat is the wrongfully punished being, injured not through Billy's malice, but his ignorance. Cat hates what it has become through Billy's actions.
So the Navajo in the velveteen shirt fled across the desert, and the torglind metamorph followed. The psychics who had been gathered to help protect the alien ambassador stick around to help Billy.
Billy runs from Cat and struggles with his own death wish, reverting to a more primitive mindset as he does so. Cat pursues him, Billy overcomes it and may or may not be dead by the end of the book.
I'll never be a fan of the book, but hopefully I've articulated the reasons for that a little more clearlythis time. There are certainly elements in the book that I enjoy and, while it's never going to be one of my favorites, at least I can say I enjoyed it this time around.