Monday, June 22, 2015

"Roger Zelazny" Book Review: Chronomaster

I was reading this book when my eight-year-old daughter walked up to me.

Lily: What are you reading?
Me: A terrible, boring book.
Lily: Why are you reading it?
Me: So I can tell people how bad it is. (Flips over book so she can see the cover)
Lily: But Roger Zelany (sic) is a good author.
Me: Ah, but he didn’t write it, though you can be excused for thinking so, seeing as how his name is in twelve point font and the name of the person who actually wrote is in ten point.
Lily: They stole his name!
Me: Well, I certainly wouldn’t go that far, but they’re certainly overplaying his contribution in order to market the book-
Lily: (Wanders off) They stole his name!

I’m surprised my daughter has an opinion on Roger Zelazny at all, though it’s doubtless due to the fact that she sees me reading them all the time, and it’s something of a transitive property. She likes me, I like Roger Zelazny, she likes Roger Zelazny. I haven’t read her anything yet, though she’s probably old enough to appreciate A Dark Traveling.

Also, his name is spelled with two Zs. It’s not that hard, people.

This exchange really happened. You could be excused for not believing it did, because it dovetails so neatly with the points I want to make about the book. It’s hard to overstate just how bad Chronomaster is. In my opinion, it’s the worst of the third party books related to Zelazny’s work, rivaled only by the equally execrable Complete Amber Sourcebook.

As Zelazny fans know, the story that eventually became Chronomaster was originally a story about Francis Sandow, of the Isle of the Dead, To Die in Italbar and Dismal Light. The Outline to Sandow’s Shadow was published in volume six of the Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, and you should really read that instead of Chronomaster, because it’s three hundred pages shorter, and about three billion times more interesting.

But it is not to be. We get Rene Korda in place of Francis Sandow, and Jester in the place of the Model T.

It was also a video game, and most of the reviews praise the story, but pan the mechanics and the interface. Looks like it’s going cheap on Amazon, but as it’s from the early 90s, it’s probably requires Dosbox. Boo. I ordered myself a copy. I’ll review it once I have the chance to play it.

Wikipedia lists Zelazny as a co-author of the novel, but I don’t think that’s right. I believe he provided the outline and the plot, but that Lindskold otherwise wrote the book in its entirety. (She’s credited as sole author in the book itself) I don’t understand why this book is so bad.

I’m hardly the biggest fan of Jane Lindskold’s writing,  (as I’ve said before, her style doesn’t hold a lot of appeal for me, but I do respect her work as custodian of Zelazny’s legacy, so I generally say that her writings are outside the scope of this blog, and leave it at that) but she is a professional writer, and she’s certainly more than technically competent, and she’s shown that she’s capable of so much better than this.

The entire book reads like a very, very rough draft. (“Joe! Have you thought about your orders?” “I know my duty, Frank,” Joe responded.;“Oh boy! What have I gotten myself into!”) I do derive a certain level of amusement from lines like “You will ever have my gratitude if you help me find my beloved Tico and save me from the lusts of Dwister!” (Lusts of Dwister! Sounds terrible!), but I doubt that’s how the author intended them to be appreciated. She never misses a chance to tell instead of show, and there are interesting concepts like Cybersoul, a holiday celebrated by AIs, but this is glossed over and forgotten almost immediately.

If I didn’t know better, I would literally believe that Lindskold was given the Prima strategy guide as her sole reference, and asked to write the novelization using only that. It would certainly account for the emphasis on puzzles that doubtless appear in the game. (“As an afterthought, he took the medals and officer’s insignia from one of the guard’s tunics. If Urbs was as bound by military hierarchy as he was coming to believe, they could come in handy.” Several pages later, they come in handy. If that’s not taken directly from the video game, I’ll eat my hat.)  However, the book credits her as co-creator, and she seems to have been closely involved with the production of the game.

Jester is the name of Korda’s ship, as well as its AI.  The book would have been bad in a more quotidian way without her, but her presence just scuttles it without any hope of recovery. She usually manifests as a zany holographic projection, and seems to have been written based on notes copied down from the back cover of an advance reader copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Spec Scripts for Three’s Company, first edition.  Her catch phrase is Sugar pop.

She’s "comically" possessive of Korda, and at one point, he trips and falls into the arms of a very pretty lady, at the exact moment Jester chooses to call. Hilarity ensues! When Jester dresses her avatar in a harem costume for a trip to Aurens, the Lawrence of Arabia desert world, Korda laughs so hard that he can’t breathe. At one point, he throws a scone at her in comical frustration. Lindskold has vastly overestimated how amusing readers would find Jester. They have such an anti-chemistry that they make Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman look like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
I mentioned in my review of Lord Demon that the portrayal of other cultures made me somewhat uneasy at points, because it seemed so stereotypical as to be borderline racist.

 I’m sure it wasn’t intentional there, just as it’s not intentional here, but ignorance as a defense only goes so far. Tico, the collection of clich├ęs, has three components in every sentence, a noun, and praise to Allah.

We’re introduced to Milo Minderbinder, the vastly more interesting secondary protagonist, on page 315 of a 348 page book. He’s a survivor of the Pasqual Wipeout, which is a distractingly bad name and sounds like a sequel to the Surfaris’ most famous song.

I thought this was another case of Lindskold substituting lighting bug in the place of  lightning, but this one is apparently all Zelazny, as that name appears in the outline.

The story ends as abruptly as Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings. Our heroes have visited three of the pocket universes, the bad guys are tracking them, and…roll credits. It’s not like I was invested in these characters, but that much of a non-ending is a real cheat.

1 comment:

  1. I still own the game. I bought it at the latest in 1997. And yah, you need to run Dosbox to play it now.

    The actual game is somehow good. The puzzles are literally impossible without a walkthrough (or having read the book I guess?) I never read the book.

    The music and the strange worlds, atmospheres, landscapes, etc. all come together to give you a pretty cool experience for the whole game.

    The mood/atmosphere of the different worlds, the art, and music, and the recorded dialogue between the various characters, actually makes this one of my favorite games.

    I had no idea Zelazny barely wrote any of the book (and I guess the game too?) until I read this article now, nearly 20 years later. X)