The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Vol 3: This Mortal Mountain

Second paragraph of third story (“Angel, Dark Angel”):

As he crossed toward the conveyor belt, a dozen heads turned in his direction because of the flash of light that occurred immediately before him.

Third of the definitive NESFA six-volume collection of Zelazny’s short fiction, poetry and prose. Most of the stories were ones I already knew from collections published in or shortly after Zelazny’s lifetime, the most striking exceptions being the texts of two children’s books, Here There Be Dragons and Way Up High, whose original publication was delayed for years because of a dispute with underground artist, Vaughn Bodē, whose illustrations were part of the story (sadly not reproduced here). There are several extracts from Creatures of Light and Darkness, originally published separately but not really comprehensible outside the framework of the novel. There is also the original short version of Damnation Alley, which as you’d expect is punchier than the novel-length version, and the deleted Corwin/Dara sex scene from The Guns of Avalon, which I’m sorry to say is less exciting than it sounds.

I have to confess that I was wrong in one of my very early blog entries here, where I queried Samuel R. Delany’s statement that much of Zelazny’s work was driven by a tension between immortality and suicide; looking at his novels, I could see plenty of central characters driven by the former, but very few for whom the latter was a consideration. However, the first few stories in this collection convinced me that Delany was right (and in fairness, Delany was only quoting Zelazny who ought to know about his own work). A recurring theme of Zelazny’s 1960s short fiction is either avoiding death altogether, or controlling the way in which one encounters it. One doesn’t have to look too far into his biography to see what was driving this (a near-fatal car accident in 1964, followed a few weeks later by the sudden death of his father), and one doesn’t have to look far into his earlier short fiction to see it either; in retrospect, I’m embarrassed that I missed it.

The short fiction is leavened by notes to the stories (helpful), poetry (not actually all that good, and much of it recycled from the novels) and book-ended by some essays by Zelazny himself and by a third installment of Christopher Kovacs’ literary biography. I was pleased to read an anecdote in this last from a panel which I attended at Boskone 2007; it made me feel personally integrated into the narrative.

Anyway, for those who don’t know Zelazny’s work at all, any of these volumes would be quite a decent introduction; for those of us who are fans, it’s nice to have everything between one set of covers.

This was the top book on my list of the remaining three that I acquired in 2009 and have not yet reviewed here. Next in order is Last Exit to Babylon, the fourth of this series.

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