Friday, June 6, 2014

A reply to Zach's comment in the new A Rose for Ecclesiastes review

I figured I might as well spin this reply off from the originating post, since I so seldom post about Zelazny's work any more, I might as well give it as much exposure as possible and try to get a conversation going.

Zach: However, I had a similar issue with LORD OF LIGHT: I'd read about how amazing it was before I ever read the book, so I couldn't figure out if that's why I liked it so much. But when I read it again a year or two later, I realized that, yes: the book is just phenomenal, and not because of any preconceived notions I had about it.

Josh:  It's funny. Your reply got me thinking about an old Zelazny group of which I'd been a member. (Well, technically, I'm still a member, but not even the spambots post there any more.)

The Forests of Arden Zelazny Group

Another member was Van Allen Plexico. I had no idea who he was at the time, but apparently he's a fairly renowned sf author whose work is heavily influenced by Zelazny.

I thought I remembered him saying that he found Lord of Light "turgid", but I couldn't find him saying that after I poked through the archives, so I must be mistakenly attributing someone else's quote to him. So, apparently, there is at least one person out there who doesn't like it. I don't agree with it, but I can understand why someone might hold that opinion, as it's not an easy read.

I did have fun poking through the archives, however. In 2007, everyone was really excited by the "Announcement of a multi-volume Zelazny collection" post, which was, of course, the Collected Stories.

Zach: The reverse of this is true for "The Doors of his Face, the Lamps of his Mouth," which might be my favorite sub-novel-length Zelazny story. I'd never heard of that one before I read it, and I though it was FANTASTIC. Then, when I did some research and found it was one of Zelazny's more popular stories, it seemed to reinforce my opinion on the matter.

Josh: I always loved that one, and fictional Venus never bothered me as much as fictional Mars. My favorite line from the story: And I dream about those eyes. I want to face them once more, even if their finding takes forever. I've got to know if there's something inside me that sets me apart from a rabbit, from notched plates of reflexes and instincts that always fall apart in exactly the same way whenever the proper combination is spun.

Zach: As far as *my* version of "popular Zelazny story that I never really got into" goes, I'd have to go with Dilvish. I'm not sure why, exactly, but his stories didn't much appeal to me.

Is Dilvish all that popular, though? I like the stories okay, and I appreciate the variety (I loved REH's Conan stories, but I bought a big collection of them for a long plane ride, and it seemed like he only had three stories to tell), but I don't think I could ever see anyone becoming a lifelong fan of his work after reading it in the same way they might after reading Amber or Lord of Light.

Zach: And, to close on a comment that's actually somewhat related to your post, I'll say this: it's okay not to like "Rose," Josh. Especially when you're willing to analyze your opinion in an interesting manner!

Josh: :) I don't think I'll ever "like" the story all that much, but I'll always "appreciate" it, if you can dig the distinction.

21 comments:

  1. Hey Josh: Why does Zelazny's fictional Mars bother you so much, but fictional Venus not-so-much? It's the same retro concept. What if Rose had been set on Fomelhaut 5 or some other sci-fictional alien planet?

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    1. Re: Venus. I guess it's the presence of a Martian *civilization* that elevates it to the level of a distraction for me.

      CD: What if Rose had been set on Fomelhaut 5 or some other sci-fictional alien planet?

      I think I would have enjoyed it a bit more (but the, it would have lost much of the uniqueness that made it such a compelling read for so many other fans). Essentially, my criticism comes down to not liking the things it does well. That's my big issue, and it's unquestionably a problem with *me* and not the story.

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    2. I'm having some difficulty understanding your stance on the Mars thing, Josh. Do you dislike it because we *know* there's no Martian civilization out there, thus making the story scientifically impossible? Because if that's the case, I'm reminded of something I once read about Ray Bradbury. (Fair warning, though: I can't remember where I read this, or even if the thought can be reliably attributed to him . . . so take this as you will.)

      Apparently Bradbury, despite being dubbed a master of science fiction, said that he only ever wrote one SF story: FAHRENHEIT 451. Everything else was pure fantasy--even the space-stuff that would typically be considered SF.

      That's how I look at "Rose" and "Doors/Lamps." (And, hell--just about any SF I read.) Yeah, we know those things aren't happening on Mars and Venus, but--who cares? It's fantasy!

      Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to change your mind or anything; I'm just trying to better understand your stance (and keep the discussion going!).

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    3. I suppose I'm unable to take it seriously. It's like naming a fearsome monster a smurf. There's a hunter-killer robot named Nimrod in the X-Men, and while it's named after the Biblical "Mighty Hunter", the more common connotation for the word is some variation of "Doofus" and that's always distracting when reading about him.

      It doesn't *ruin* the story, but I find it faintly ridiculous and it does hurt my immersion. To turn the question back at you, would you be able to accept the story if Gallinger were on a mission to the North Pole, and discovered a tribe of elves with the characteristics of the Martians from Rose?

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    4. Okay, I get it. Or at least I did, for a moment. You had me when you explained Nimrod and your immersion, but lost me again when you turned the question around on me.

      It seems as though you're saying a setting that you know can't be real (e.g., Martian civilization, Santa's North Pole), keeps you from taking a story too seriously. But if that's the case, doesn't that ruin your immersion for *every* Christmas story ever? (Aren't you a fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas? And does it hurt your immersion knowing that Santa is not, in fact, real?)

      And if your answer to that would be, "The difference is that Nightmare is clearly a *fantasy*," my response would be that that's how I look at most of the SF I read anyway: as fantasy.

      So I guess that's where we differ. I don't read SF to envision worlds or scenarios that *could* theoretically be real (as a lot of people do), probably because I was never much into science as a kid. But for someone more scientifically minded like yourself, I can see how you might want your SF to be a little more plausible, which totally explains your immersion problems with "Rose."

      Okay. I think I get it now, unless I got something wrong there--in which case, please, correct me!

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    5. That's more or less it. Most of the SF I enjoy offers at the least some kind of hand waving explanation, "We thought life on Mars was impossible, but we failed to account for the Zach variable!"

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  2. Unlike Josh, I've always enjoyed ROSE. It is one of my all-time favorite Zelazny stories.

    And then when I researched the biography, I gained another but unexpected appreciation for it. I've described how the story was written after Zelazny's engagement to singer Hedy West ended. He was quite broken up about it. There are a few details about Zelazny and West's relationship that I chose to leave out of the biography but which are echoed or mirrored in that story. These were significant events for him in the same way that the automobile accident that injured his second fiancée and the early death of his father informed so much of his later writing. Zelazny hinted about this publicly, and also stated that Michael Gallinger was really him: "You ask me why I hated Gallinger so in ‘A Rose For Ecclesiastes.’ The answer is that I hated him because he was me. Once in my life I let a beautiful thing die, and now it can never be."

    These personal aspects makes it all the more poignant a story for me to reread now.

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    1. It was that passage that brought me as close to appreciating the story as I'm likely to come. It changes the whole timbre of the piece. Gallinger isn't pining for a one-night stand; he's mourning the life he'll never have with the woman he loves.

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    2. I might write an essay about the part I left out.

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    3. I would very much like to read such an essay.

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    4. That's really interesting, Chris. And ditto what Josh said--I'd like to read the essay!

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    5. Just an update to say that I did write the essay and I submitted it to The New York Review of Science Fiction a week ago. I titled it "The raw emotion behind 'A Rose for Ecclesiastes.' "

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    6. Excellent! Please let us know when it sees print.

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    7. The essay was published today. I'll be very interested to know what you think of it. Could be an eye-opener, could be controversial.

      It looks like you have to buy the entire issue for $2.99 at this link:
      https://weightlessbooks.com/format/new-york-review-of-science-fiction-313/

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  3. Regarding Dilvish, I guess I'm not really sure if he's a big fan favorite. But I read the second and third stories over the weekend, and I'm finding I'm enjoying them a lot more than previously. I'm not sure if it's because I *want* to like them more, or if it's because I'm really taking my time in reading through them. (For some reason, the Dilvish stories have never felt like fast reads for me, so now I'm embracing that quality and am happier because of it.)

    In any case, I'm having more fun with Mr. Elfboots than previously!

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    1. Were you reading them in the COLLECTED STORIES? Also, what's your opinion on Dilvish now?

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    2. Yes, reading them in COLLECTED STORIES. Unfortunately, I can't update you on my opinion on Dilvish, as I haven't read any of the stories since making this comment. (I've been distracted with other things, like Daredevil comics and things about necromancers that are both single and white.)

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    3. Single White Necromancers, you say?! That sounds like the greatest story anyone has ever written, and everyone should buy a million copies!!

      So, Daredevil. The current run, or are you catching up on older stuff?

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    4. Older stuff, for sure--I didn't discover I liked Daredevil until about a year ago, so I've been slowly making my way through as many TPBs as I can (starting with Frank Miller's run).

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  4. I read this story in one of my Science Fiction Hall of Fame anthologies (which, if one can find them, are wonderful). I think I have read every story in both volumes more than once... except for A Rose for Ecclesiastes. I think I may give it another shot, though, since I last read it as a teenager.

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    1. While the story is not to my taste, I will admit that it's very well crafted. And the other Roger Zelazny superfans in the thread love it.

      Also, even though you already have the story elsewhere, if you can find a copy of volume 1 of THE COLLECTED STORIES OF ROGER ZELAZNY, I would urge you to pick it up. I've found that the accompanying essays and editors' note significantly enrich the stories they accompany.

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