Tag Archives: Roger Zelazny

A Night in the Lonesome October

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny

A Night in the Lonesome October is divided into 31 chapters, one for each day in the month, and some people read it that way, one chapter per day. I got it by inter-library loan and read the whole thing in three days, though. It’s a very fast read: the chapters are short and there are many interior illustrations by Gahan Wilson, which perfectly fit the tone of the story.

It recounts an instance of “The Game,” in which an assortment of adepts converge on a shared location for a Samhain ceremony to determine whether or not Yog-Sothoth and his cousins will return to dominate the world. It is told by Snuff, a dog who is the companion of one of the sorcerers. Each of the players in the game has a familiar, and they are all of different species: dog, cat, squirrel, bat, snake, owl, etc. Most of the book involves socializing and strategy among these creatures. In addition to the players and their familiars, there are some other complicating characters, and all of them have their origins in literature outside of this book, creating puzzles and rewards for those well-read in horror fiction.

There are at least a couple of reasonably surprising plot twists, and the whole book is good fun. I don’t think I’ll make an October tradition out of reading it as some have, but I’m glad to have taken it on this year. [via]

To Reign in Hell

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews To Reign in Hell by Steven Brust, introduction by Roger Zelazny.

In his City of God, Augustine of Hippo may have been drawing on earlier lore, but he provided the earliest orthodox reading of Genesis I:4 (and God divided the light from the darkness) to refer to the separation of the angelic hierarchy from the rebel angels. Biblical traces of Canaanite theomachies, such as the Leviathan references in Psalm 74, were incorporated by later theologians into this conjectural narrative. Eventually, this story became grist for the mill of secular literature, implicit in Milton’s Paradise Lost, and explicit in Anatole France’s Revolt of the Angels. Steven Brust’s 1984 entry in this field is To Reign in Hell.

On the back cover of the paperback, an author’s blurb declares, “From all my readings on the revolt of the angels, two things are clear: God is omnipotent, and Satan is not a fool.” And yet in Brust’s novel, Yaweh is not omnipotent, and he is even less omniscient. Instead, he is somewhat fear-ridden and easily manipulated. Satan may not be a fool, but he spends most of the story paralyzed with conscientious indecision. The conflict of moralities between the two is quite comparable to the one revealed in the interview between the archangel Michael and the Pan-like Janicot in Chapter 28 of James Branch Cabell’s The High Place.

The novel is readable enough, but it would be a stretch to compare it to classical treatments. As a piece of modern fantasy literature, it incorporates some novel metaphysical devices: cacoastrum as the chaos-stuff from which heaven is extracted, and illiaster as the organizing principle that permits the angels to generate themselves, each other, and their environment. Brust also performs a lot of exposition through dialogue. The combination of these factors led me to think of this book as a possible back-story to the Lucifer comic books, which substantially let Brust off the hook regarding his illustrious precedents, and made it easier for me to enjoy the story.

Character development is a little halting, hampered in the early going by Brust’s frequent refusal to identify characters until they have been acting or conversing for several paragraphs. This technique creates some dramatic tension, but he uses it enough for it to verge on annoyance of the reader. Perhaps the author actually meant it to reflect a lower level of individualization among the angels prior to the development of the central conflict. I also observed that the framing device of the Three prior Waves of heavenly disruption and development could be compared to the Four Worlds of the qabalah, thus placing the angelic events of the story in the World of Yetzirah or “Formative World,” which would be pretty doctrinally correct.

On the whole, I found the book a fairly engaging read, and it even afforded me a few surprises, despite the necessary foreknowledge that it would conclude with Genesis I:5. [via]

The Dream Master

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Dream Master by Roger Zelazny.

Roger Zelazny The Dream Master

It’s not really a tragedy if the protagonist’s hubris is so great that you want to see him fall. Still, this early Zelazny novel is full of rich, evocative passages. And his kabbalah is not entirely defective, either, when he brings out the qliphoth of Kether to preside over the psychotic break at the story’s climax.

The chief science fiction concept of The Dream Master is “neuroparticipant therapy,” in which a doctor “shapes” the dreams of patients by entering into them with mechanical assistance, and providing subliminal cues through a “ro-womb” in which the patient sleeps. The protagonist Charles Render is a luminary in this still-nascent field. Zelazny illustrates Render’s high intelligence and education with a gratingly clever speech pattern, peppered with literary allusions.

It was strange for me to have read this book so soon after the more recent Rant by Chuck Pahluniuk, since both involve meditations on the culture- and consciousness-transforming properties of the automobile, while neither book quite boasts that as its central theme. In The Dream Master, car traffic has become entirely autopiloted, and thus perfectly safe—to passengers. There is a connection of some sort being drawn between the car and the ro-womb. While material reality becomes safer and more reliable, psychic reality seems to be compensating with new hazards.

Several subplots end up somewhat unfulfilled, including one involving “mutie” dogs engineered for subhuman but supercanine intelligence, and another regarding Render’s son’s aspiration to a career in outer space. Still, for such a short novel, the wealth of ideas is impressive, as is the fact that many of the social and psychological conundrums chosen by the author forty years ago are ones that are still current in today’s science fiction. [via]