Sunday, January 16, 2011

Short Story Sunday - Jan. 16, 2011

1. "Dismal Light" by Roger Zelazny
First Printing:  Worlds of IF, May 1968

When I was researching bibliographies for my Roger Zelazny Reading Project, I somehow missed this one. A later search listed this story as the first episode in his “Francis Sandow” series. The series consists of four stories.

1.  Dismal Light (1968) – short fiction
2.  Isle of the Dead (1969) – novel
3.  To Die in Italbar (1973) – novel
4.  Sandow’s Shadow (2009) – outline

I wonder if anyone will take the outline and develop it into a story?

Francis Sandow is in the background for most of this story. As is typical in much of his fiction, Zelazny mixes science fiction and mythological/magical elements.  He takes to heart the Arthur C. Clarke statement that sufficiently advanced science will appear as magic. I like his work because of the way he manages to keep the mystery in his tales of the future. Instead of straight science fiction, I consider much of his work to fall into the science fantasy category. This one contains a person with the power to remold worlds. Is this hard science? No. But this is the background for the story. It is not the main plot. The story is focused on the people and the effects this world creation has on others. The author’s strengths have always been in creating mythological type situations, exploring fantastic worlds, and the characters he has created. The other author who explores lonely characters, similar to Zelazny, is George R. R. Martin.  Martin and Zelazny are very similar in their short fiction writing.

Sandow has created a new world that is being used as a prison. When something appears that is not supposed to be there, humanity has to evacuate the planet. Our protagonist is someone who served their sentence, decided to stay on the planet, and now refuses to leave when the rest of the personnel are taken. He is staying to the end to finish an experiment he is working on. Of course, it turns out that this is not the real reason.

Zelazny does an excellent job of exploring the relationships between the various characters. I do not want to give away any of the surprises so I will not go into a detailed discussion of what the relationships are. Trust me that the author does his usual great job with the story.

Condensing it down to a bullet point list would show the following items.
• A habitable planet created from an inhabitable world
• A person with god-like powers
• The end of a world
• An unexplainable mystery
• The psychology of prisoners
• The politics of blame when things go wrong.
• What a person is willing to risk to meet the person they most need to talk

“Dismal Light” definitely has me interested in reading the rest of the “Francis
Sandow” series.

2.  "The Naked Matador" by Roger Zelazny
First Printing:  Amazing Stories, July 1981

The author explores his non-science fiction influence in this story. If you
changed the final revelation, this story would seem at home along side of the stories of Raymond Chandler. At first, I thought it was a mystery noir tale. The characters are straight from the standard pulp pages of stories like the Hard Case Crime books being published today. A woman helps out a down on his luck drifter who is being pursued by criminals. People die. The mystery is how they are dying. This would make a perfect Twilight Zone episode.

Highly recommended if you enjoy Zelazny’s use of mythology. If you want to read only Zelazny’s science fiction stories, skip this one. “The Naked Matador” is a nice blend of crime noir and mythology.


Carl V. said...

I like crime/noir blends with fantasy and with science fiction, so that one sounds interesting. And I don't believe I've read any of Zelazny's work.

"sufficiently advanced science will appear as magic"

That is one of the things I enjoyed in reading Dying Earth by Jack Vance, the magic/science blend and the idea that all of it would appear as magic given how ancient the science was in Vance's future history.

Jim Black said...

Have you read Zelazny's "Lord of Light"? It falls into this category with the science looking like magic.

Carl V. said...

I haven't, though I know it is a favorite Zelazny book of one of my good friends.