Monday, September 22, 2014

Review: in the world of ROGER ZELAZNY'S AMBER: Seven No-Trump

I used to lament that there wasn't that much out there other than books themselves for fans of Zelazny (Zelaznyphiles? Zelaznians?). Where was my Corwin t-shirt, my Flora legwarmers, my Merlin urinal cake?

However, if Seven No-Trump is any indication, I may have dodged a bullet. There is so much wrong with this book that I barely even know where to begin. ("Beginnings are always difficult. Wherever I begin, something preceded it.")

In the order that I encountered them, the problems with this book are:

The Rules

There are sixteen pages of them, with dice rolls, ability scores, items to track. You have an arbitrary limit of four items, which cheeses me off more than most of the problems with the book. The rules section was written by Bill Fawcett, and, though I haven't read the other Crossroads Adventures books, I assume this section is the same in all of them. I appreciate that Amber was adapted using an existing system that had to accommodate a large number of fictional worlds, but this set of rules seems like an especially poor fit.

The Stats

Each character has the same six stats as characters in Dungeons & Dragons,  Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom/Luck, Dexterity, Constitution and Charisma, and they're measured on the same 3-18 scale. Random, the Prince of Amber who lifted a Mercedes, is given an 11 strength, which corresponds to "An average 20-year-old man." Random, the Prince of Amber, of whom it has been written, "My brother Random looks and acts, on occasion, like an asthmatic, teen-age hood-but once we had fenced together for over twenty-six hours, to see who would call it quits." has a Constitution score of 14, slightly above average.

Also, some of the examples given are weird. The table for each score lists who might have the trait at this level. It's generally real world examples for lower levels, veering into fictional characters as the score gets higher. A "Five-year-old child" has a strength of 3, "Doc Savage, or Mr. Spock" have an Intelligence of 17, etc. However, Magnum, P.I. (that's topical) is an example of high Charisma, beaten only by...Henry Kissinger. Lee Iaccoca has the highest Wisdom of any real world person. I'm not disputing that he's a smart guy, but surely there are better examples?

Careless mistakes 

Of Neil Randall's other works relating to Roger Zelazny, I found Black Road War flawed in some ways, but still engaging, but I rather liked the Visual Guide to Castle Amber, and I'm one of the few people who will admit to holding that opinion.  I thought he was a fellow fan, man.

I've always thought it especially clever for Zelazny to introduce the Trumps early on, so that the the reader could reference them when the character in question was introduced later in the story. As a result, I have a vivid visual picture of the Amberites. I assumed that most other fans, particularly those who wrote books about the property, did too.

How then, do we explain Random's "blue-black hair" (rendered with "eerie accuracy" in his Trump, no less), Flora's black hair, Caine's green eyes and Brand's blue ones?

In one sense, these are minor details, because they don't affect the story, but in another, these are mistakes that Randall shouldn't have made. I'm sure he had an editor (though, maybe not. More on this below), but the editor probably wasn't looking for loyalty to the source material as much as the structure of the prose, so this is all on him.

Characterization all over the place

It's not like we don't have an idea of what Random would be as a narrator. We get a chapter from his point of view in Sign of the Unicorn, and that Random, and this Random sound nothing alike. 

Benedict gets it the worst. He's "angry"? There are several passages in 7-NT talking about how Benedict wanted to be king, and set himself up as king in Avalon. No, he didn't. He called himself the Protector. Fiona, of all people, placed him above suspicion:  "Benedict, in my opinion, is above suspicion. If he wanted the throne, he'd have it by now, by direct, military methods. With all the time he has had, he could have managed an attack that would have succeeded, even against Dad." (Benedict from the book:  "I've never had any use for fairness, if I want something badly enough, And I want you, brother. I want you dead!"

We have some possible scenes where Random outsmarts Brand and outfences Bleys and Benedict at the same time?  (And Brand is the tougher fight!)

Flora is "mischievous"?

Random had always liked Deidre? 

Corwin is "honest"? Which dovetails into...

Random's mancrush on Corwin

If I could choose one brother to be standing here beside me at this moment, I would choose Corwin. The man is truly one of a kind. As striking as he looks in his black and silver clothes, his cloak clasped by a broach in the form of a silver rose, his looks have nothing on his brains. 

We get more than a few passages like this, but this is the first and had nothing to do with the matter at hand, so I chose it to serve as an example. Yeah, Corwin is the main character of the chronicles, but Sheesh! 

Sloppy editing

Sections 14 and 22 are almost identical. I don't know if Randall was being lazy and thought that no one would read it more than once and never catch on, or what, but it sucks. There's also a section where Random's name is substituted for Brand's, making the conversation seem like one scene in Jack of Shadows.


The villains are...Dworkin and Llewella? The fuck?!

This book was irredeemably bad. I even have the occasional kind word for the Merlin books, but ugh. Having read the book, and reread Zelazny's blurb: "Neil Randall has shifted some shadows in an intriguing fashion. I am pleased with the results.", it strikes me as rather tepid praise, and now I know why.


  1. We Zelaznians owe you a debt of gratitude for scoping this out for us. You're like the castle's poison-tester or something.

    Also, the book's title is a bridge bid, but . . . is that of any significance to the story? Or did they just think it sounded cool?

    1. I thought Black Road War was workmanlike, and I did enjoy the Visual Guide, so I wasn't taking a bullet for the team as much as I was expecting to find something I might enjoy.

      The Title. Ostensibly, it's because Random observes that he may seven surviving brothers (he includes Brand on this list), and because the Trumps aren't working to contact any of them. I'm entirely certain that Randall just worked backwards to justify the title, however.