Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Come to me not in Winter's White

This is another story that grew on me. I first encountered it in the Manna from Heaven collection and, while I never disliked it, it didn't grab me at first in the same way that Godson or Kalifriki did. I think that's probably just a function of my personal preferences; I tend not to like Zelazny's science fiction as much as his fantasy, even sf containing the strong mythic elements characteristic of his style.

It opens with the same dreamlike cadence of The Furies, the

She was dying and he was the richest man in the world, but he couldn't buy her life. So he did the next best thing. He built the house, different from any other house that had ever been. She was transported to it by ambulance, and their goods and furnishings followed in many vans.

Which reminds me of:

Captain Corgo protested, was declared out of order.

Captain Corgo threatened, was threatened in return.

Captain Corgo fought, was beaten, died, was resurrected, escaped restraint, became an outlaw.  He took the Wallaby with him. The Happy Wallaby, It had been called in the proud days. Now, it was just the Wallaby.

Both stories set the scene with very little dialogue at first and that helped cement the relationship in my mind.

Our hero is Carl Manos, of whom it is written, "It might be said that Carl Manos was Chronos/Ops/Saturn/Father Time himself, for he fitted even the description with his long dark beard and his slashing, scythe-like walking-stick. He knew Time as no other man had ever known it, and he had the power and the will and the love to exploit it." (That line reminds me of "Great was his grief and his hate and his love" from Divine Madness and also Sam's accusation to Yama that "You have broken upon the dark stone of your will that which is beyond all comprehension and mortal splendor." in Lord of Light.)

I can't see anyone else by Christophe Lee in the role.

(My only complaint is that the name of the character reminds me of Manos: The Hands of Fate, renowned as one of the worst movies ever made. Some quick research shows that the movie came out shortly before the story and now I'm haunted by the horrifying thought that it inspired the character's name in some way.)

Manos's wife is dying of a monstrously degenerative disease of her central nervous system so he builds her a slow time room so the specialists working on her cure have time enough to perfect it. This Mortal Mountain, Volume 3 of the Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny has some commentary from both authors, talking a little about the story, and of course it includes the editor's notes that I so love about the collection. Zelazny and Harlan Ellison took turns writing the story.The thing that impressed me the most was how well the very different style of each author meshed.

The other thing that surprised me was learning of the slight revisions made by Ellison between when the story was printed in Manna and when it saw print in Mountain. I'm just kind of surprised that creators not named George Lucas are still tweaking their work after so long, but I do admire his dedication to his craft, though I think I prefer some of the lines as they were in the earlier story. (However, in his author's note, Ellison tells a critic of the story to "go hump a toadstool", so he's probably unconcerned about what I think one way or another.)

Within the room, Laura is lonely, so Manos has his Foundation scour for the world for a suitable companion for her.  "The first was a handsome young man named Thomas Grindell, a bright and witty man who spoke seven languages fluently, had written a perceptive history of mankind, had traveled widely, was outspoken and in every other possible way was the perfect companion.

The second was an unattractive woman named Yolande Loeb. She was equally as qualified as Grindell, had been married and divorced, wrote excellent poetry, and had dedicated her life to various social reforms."

You can probably imagine which candidate a person in Manos's position would pick. He selects Yolande to serve Laura's companion and the rest of the story unfurls based on that decision.

I think that's all I'm going to say, because I don't like to spoil the ending of shorter works like this and I think the ending is a big part of what gives the piece its power.

I will mention that it did have one last surprise for me though. The text refers to the machine as a Tachytron at one point, and I didn't think that tachyons had entered popular consciousness at the time of the writing, but a little research showed me they had. Somehow I'm not surprised that Zelazny and Ellison knew about it back then.