Monday, January 20, 2020

Zelazny What If: Bleys as the villain in the Corwin Chronicles

Who: Bleys.

Then came a fiery bearded, flame-crowned man, dressed all in red and orange, mainly of silk stuff, and he held a sword in his right hand and a glass of wine in his left, and the devil himself danced behind his eyes, as blue as Flora's, or Eric's. His chin was slight, but the beard covered it. His sword was inlaid with an elaborate filigree of a golden color. He wore two huge rings on his right hand and one on his left: an emerald, a ruby, and a sapphire, respectively. This, I knew, was Bleys.

Why: Ambition and solidarity with his full siblings.

: What would we have to change to make Bleys the villain?

We’d have to implicate him in a conspiracy to overthrow Oberon. Let’s say he, along with Brand and Fiona, made a pact with dark forces from the Courts of Chaos to that end.


What’s that you say? That already happened?

Oh, in that case, how about a scenario where he manipulates Corwin shamelessly, with the intent of throwing him under the bus the moment he stops being useful?

"You are a fool," [Julian] finally said. "You were a tool from the very beginning. They used you to force our hand, and either way you lost. If that half-assed attack of Bleys's had somehow succeeded, you wouldn't have lasted long enough to draw a deep breath. If it failed, as it did, Bleys disappeared, as he did, leaving you with your life forfeit for attempted usurpation. You had served your purpose and you had to die…”
For such a smart guy, Corwin’s kind of a sucker where Bleys is concerned.

"Bleys," she repeated, and Bleys, I said to myself inside my head, Bleys. I like you. I forget why, and I know there are reasons why I shouldn't-but I like you. I know it.

The fact of the matter is that we would have to change almost nothing. Assume that Fiona’s contrition later in the series is nothing more than a matter of self-preservation. She and Bleys were in it just as deep as Brand. We could suppose that Brand’s claim that he was imprisoned because he was the one who tried to back out of the conspiracy is true, but

Bleys, you are still a figure clad in light to me—valiant, exuberant and rash. For the first, my respect, for the second, my smile. And the last seems to have at least been tempered in recent times. Good. Stay away from conspiracies in the future. They do not suit you well.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Zelazny What If: Random as the villain in the Corwin Chronicles

We’ll open with Who and Why and then drill down into details.

Who: Random

I began spreading them on the blotter before me. The one bore a wily-looking little man, with a sharp nose and a laughing mouth and a shock of straw-colored hair. He was dressed in something like a Renaissance costume of orange, red and brown. He wore long hose and a tight-fitting embroidered doublet. And I knew him. His name was Random.
Why: Resentment.

"Younger, smaller . . . he might have had it a bit rougher than the rest of us,"

"Nothing quite as useless as another prince when there is already a crowd of them about. I was as guilty as the rest. Bleys and I once stranded him for two days on an islet to the south of here..."

How: I think there are two distinct ways to use Random as a villain. The first is that he cultivated his image as the slacker younger brother. Don’t mind me. I’m off here slumming in shadows, drumming and hang gliding and playing cards.

“But Josh,” you say. “You handsome devil, isn’t Random already the king?” The argument could be made that this has already happened.  We’ll posit that Random manipulated everyone so cunningly that no one even suspects they were duped even years after kingship was reluctantly thrust upon him.

I guess it’s worth noting that I don’t give much weight to this theory. Random doesn’t seem to like being king very much. Sure, it’s nice bossing around your siblings, but as Corwin noted earlier on, the position entails a lot of dreary administration down through the centuries.  (Though, counterpoint, he could have desired it at the time, only to discover that it wasn’t what he expected at all.)

But still, deceiving your siblings, even the smart ones like Benedict, Brand and Fiona is different from pulling one over on the unicorn. Grammy Unicorn made the choice, and she saw deeper than anyone.  I don’t think Random could fool her.

The other possibility for Random as a baddie is that he’s not the brains at all. Vialle, as a kind of Lady Macbeth is the villain of the piece.  Moire is ambitious. We’re told that she attempted to have a number of her subjects walk the Rebman Pattern, and her encounter with Corwin had to be part of some breeding program. She’s the one who arranged the marriage and why would such a ruthless monarch care what happens to one blind girl with whom she has no obvious connection?

Vialle is rather unusual anyway. She doesn’t look like anyone else in Rebma, and that’s before we even get into the matter of her magical sculptures in the post-Merlin stories.  Who is she? She was cordial the few times we saw her, but we have no idea what lies beneath that. It could be anything.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Follow up to the Question about A Canticle for Leibowitz

From Chris Kovacs, who literally wrote the book on Roger Zelazny. The comments system wouldn't accept it, so I'm posting his reply here with his permission.

In all of my reading of Zelazny's papers and correspondence, I don't recall any mention of Miller or this book. But it was published in 1959, at a time when it was possible to read all SF published in a year, and this has always been a prominent book. And so I have no doubt that Zelazny will have known about it and likely read it. Whether he was alluding to it is impossible to say. I read Canticle over 30 years ago and can't recall it well enough to be able to comment any further.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Zelazny Hypotheticals

I began role-playing in the early 80s, just like those Stranger Things kids. I’m probably more familiar with the RPGs of the 90s, for the few years I spent working in a comic book store. The most popular game of that era was not Dungeons & Dragons, but White Wolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade and its associated spin-offs. Seen through the eyes of the adult, the entire setting is the very epitome of cringeworthy pretentiousness.

 And yet…I can’t bring myself to sneer at its horde of befanged arrested adolescent katana/trenchcoat murderhobos, because I really do think it came from a place of sincerity for its creators (at first, at least) and they built a unified mythology for the modern world.

 Each of the game lines came with a built-in expiration date, because each group of monster characters was fighting a losing battle against a greater evil, and one of the game designers came out and said something along the lines of, “You can’t say the world is ending for fifteen years and not deliver.”

And, yeah, on one level it was a way to sell more books, but there’s a certain satisfaction of ending a campaign in style. Werewolf: The Apocalypse did it best. I was never the biggest fan of the line. The veneer that the characters were anything other than meatgrinders with legs (the legs were also meatgrinders. With meatgrinders of their own. It was meatgrinders all the way down) seemed thinnest here, and the pretention at its zenith. You’re a bunch of genocidal furries, with more than a little bit of cultural appropriation thrown in for flavor. But there was something about the way its apocalypse scenario was written.

One chapter holds a particular wealth of possibilities, offering an explanation of why each of the game’s tribes of werewolves could be the baddies in the end. Something about that approach fascinated me, I think because the authors understood the nuances of how a characteristic that could be a virtue in moderation could become a vice in its extreme or if placed in a different context. Which brings me to the point of this post.

I do enjoy What If? speculation about works I enjoy. It’s part of the fun of being a fan! To that end I’m going to engage in a bit of speculation along these lines in a series of posts, asking in turn, “What if Benedict/Fiona/Corwin/Prince or Princess X had been the villain of the Corwin Chronicles?”

I’ll do my best to stick to a schedule, one post a week in the series on Monday evening, starting with “What if Random had been the villain of the Corwin Chronicles?”