Friday, 13 March 2009

Roadmarks by Roger Zelazny

Roadmarks was published in 1979, but I hadn't previously read it and in fact wasn't even aware of its existence until it was selected as the book of the month by the Classic Science Fiction forum. It is an intriguing read and makes quite a contrast with the more conventional and commercial Amber fantasy series for which Zelazny is now best known.

The early part of the book is confusing. Various apparently unconnected plot threads are set running, characters are introduced without explanation, and it is not at all obvious what is going on. It gradually becomes clear that the threads fall into two basic story lines, both concerned with travellers along the Road. This is no ordinary road, but a road through time; travelling along it moves you forwards or backwards in time, and there are occasional exits to enable the users of the Road to join or leave from particular points in history.

The main story line follows a man called Red, or Reyd, Dorakeen. He is a long-term traveller on the Road, on a permanent search for something even he is uncertain of. The other follows Randy Dorakeen, whose relationship to Red is at first unclear. The story keeps chopping between the two and the true situation gradually emerges, reaching a climax when the threads all come together at the end. I have to say that the instant I finished the book I immediately returned to the start and read the first fifty pages again so I could understand what they had been about!

Generally speaking I dislike books which leave the reader groping for understanding for much of their length, and was initially in some doubt as to whether I would even finish the story. However, Zelazny's writing was good enough to keep me engaged and there was plenty of entertainment en route, with exotic assassins, a planet-destroying robot, intelligent talking books, and even intelligent dragons (again!). Not one of Zelazny's best efforts, but it's interesting for its construction as well as its story, and at fewer than 200 pages is worth the brief reading time.

7 comments:

Fred said...

It's been several decades since I last read _Roadmarks_. I just checked and was surprised to find I still had a pb copy of it, a bit battered, though--cost $2.25.

I have an ongoing SF reading project now. My plan is to read the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy award winning novels. Right now, Zelazny'a _Lord of Light_ is next.

I read several of the Amber novels, but I ended up feeling the same about them as I did the Pern novels.

Two of my favorite short works are his "A Rose for Ecclesiastes" and "The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth." If pressed, I might put "Rose" in my top ten short story list. Fortunately, no body has asked me to do that.

Anthony G Williams said...

I remember being highly impressed by "A Rose for Ecclesiastes" and "The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth", although it's so many decades since I last read them that I don't recall the plots.

The first "Amber" novel was brilliant and the next four OK. The second batch of five, which feature a different main character, are not in the same league IMO.

Fred said...

I may be wrong about this, but I have a vague recollection of getting a two volume omnibus edition from SFBC, which included the first five "Amber" novels. I guess I overdosed on that and never went on to the last set.

Jonathan said...

Roadmarks is one of his more enjoyable books; I've read it with pleasure a number of times.

If he's really best known for the Amber series, that's a shame. The first book was good in parts, but the sequels got worse and worse; I never finished the series. He wrote a whole lot of better stuff than that.

Anthony G Williams said...

Yes, his earlier work was high-quality SFF, but he seemed to hit a popular seam with the Amber books and I don't doubt that they made him lots of money!

Fred said...

I suspect that the novel Zelazny will most likely be remembered for, and justifiably so, is _Lord of Light_.

It was nominated for a Hugo and a Nebula and won the Hugo in 1968.

I read it recently and it's as good as I remembered it to be.

Anthony G Williams said...

I see I still have my old copy of 'Lord of Light', so I'll have to dust it off and give it a re-read sometime.