Roger Zelazny, by F. Brett Cox

Second paragraph of third chapter:

The novel-length version of Damnation Alley, which Zelazny expanded from the original novella at the suggestion of his agent, provides more explanation of how its protagonist Hell Tanner became the outlaw he is.2 On the whole, the additional material nonetheless slows the momentum of the original story, particularly when Zelazny allows himself lyrical interludes, typical of his earlier work and often quite striking in themselves, which are significantly different in tone from the rest of the narrative. There is little reason to disagree with Krulik’s conclusion that the additional material does not “really satisfy the simple requirements of an action-adventure tale” or with Zelazny’s stated preference for the novella version.3 The other three novels of the 1969–1970 period are significant achievements that, collectively, mark the conclusion of the first period of Zelazny’s career while also looking ahead to the work that would follow in the 1970s.
2 Zelazny, introduction to “Damnation Alley,” Last Defender of Camelot, 125; Lindskold, Roger Zelazny, 111.
3 Krulik, Roger Zelazny, 61; Zelazny, introduction to “Damnation Alley,” Last Defender of Camelot, 125. Compare “He Who Shapes,” which Zelazny also preferred to its novel version, The Dream Master.

It's great to see more academic attention to one of my favourite authors, with Cox strongly defending Zelazny against the allegation that after his meteoric rise in the mid-1960s, he started pumping out potboilers for money, and going through each of his novels and also his best known short stories. There are some pretty convincing biographical readings of some of Zelazny's earlier works, especially looking at the roots of "A Rose for Ecclesiastes" in his relationship with the singer Hedy West, and some good defences of the later novels (though I think it's a tough case to make for some of them).

But I'm sorry to say that I didn't get as much out of this as I did from the books on Zelazny by Carl Yoke and Jane Lindskold. There are some irritating lapses of detail. Zelazny's first wife's maiden name was Steberl, not Stebrel. The underwater version of Amber is Rebma not Remba. "All Men are Mortal" is by Simone de Beauvoir, not Jean-Paul Sartre (a particularly ironic mistake to make). A lot is made of the literary roots of Zelazny's novel Isle of the Dead, but the actual painting by Böcklin, which is explicitly referred to by the narrator, is not mentioned by Barr.

And the missing bit for me is Zelazny's own attitude to religion. His father was born in Poland; his mother was Irish-American. An only child, was he brought up with pre-Vatican II bells and smells every Sunday? Or did his fascination with mythology arise from high school and home education?

This is the latest in the University of illinois' series on Masters of Modern Science Fiction; I've read three others, of which I liked two and wasn't as impressed by the third. You can get this one here. (Amazon lists it as Volume 1, but it's at least the fifteenth in this series.)

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