Roger Zelazny

Roger Zelazny books and biography

Roger Zelazny

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Roger Zelazny
Occupation Author
Nationality American
Genres Fantasy, science fiction
Literary movement New Wave

Roger Joseph Zelazny (May 13, 1937 – June 14, 1995) was an American writer of fantasy and science fiction short stories and novels. He won the Nebula award three times (out of 14 nominations) and the Hugo award six times (out of 14 nominations), including two Hugos for novels: the serialized novel ...And Call Me Conrad (1965; subsequently published under the title This Immortal, 1966) and the novel Lord of Light (1967).

The ostracod Sclerocypris zelaznyi was named after him.



Zelazny was born in Euclid, Ohio, the only child of Polish immigrant Joseph Frank Zelazny (Żelazny, Polish for "iron" or "cast-iron" -adjective) and Irish-American Josephine Flora Sweet. In high school, Roger Zelazny was the editor of the school newspaper and joined the Creative Writing Club. In the fall of 1955, he began attending Western Reserve University and graduated with a B.A. in English in 1959. He was accepted to Columbia University in New York and specialized in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, graduating with an M.A. in 1962. Between 1962 and 1969 he worked for the Social Security Administration in Cleveland and then in Baltimore, spending his evenings writing science fiction. He deliberately progressed from short-shorts to novelettes to novellas and finally to novel-length works by 1965. On May 1st, 1969, he quit to become a full-time writer, and thereafter concentrated on writing novels in order to maintain his income.

His first fanzine appearance was part one of the story "Conditional Benefit" (Thurban 1 #3, 1953) whereas his first professional publication and sale was the fantasy short story "Mr. Fuller's Revolt" (Literary Calvalcade, 1954). As a professional writer, his debut works were the simultaneous publication of "Passion Play" (Amazing, August 1962) and "Horseman!" (Fantastic, August 1962). "Passion Play" was written and sold first.

Zelazny portrayed worlds with plausible magic systems, powers, and supernatural beings. His descriptions of the nuts and bolts of magical workings set his fantasy writing apart from otherwise similar authors. His science fiction was highly influenced by mythology, poetry, including the French, British, and American classics of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and by wisecracking detective fiction. His novels and short stories often involved characters from myth, depicted in the modern world. He was also apt to include modern elements, such as cigarettes and references to Marxism, in his fantasy worlds. Novels such as Jack of Shadows and Changeling revolve around a tension between two worlds, one based on magic and the other on technology.[citation needed]

Zelazny was considered one of the leading lights of the "New Wave" movement in science fiction, which changed the face of the genre in the 1960s.[citation needed] He incorporated elements from literary novels of the mainstream into his fiction, and experimented with allusion, lyricism, and mythic imagery. The mythological traditions his fiction borrowed from include:

  • Classical Greek mythology, in This Immortal
  • Native American mythology, in Eye of Cat
  • Hindu mythology, in Lord of Light
  • Egyptian mythology and some Greek mythology, in Creatures of Light and Darkness
  • and even (on a more humorous note) Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos in A Night in the Lonesome October

Additionally, elements from Norse mythology, Japanese mythology and history, and numerous other traditions appear in works such as The Chronicles of Amber (a popular ten novel series) and Zelazny's "24 Views of Mt. Fuji, by Hokusai." That novella was inspired in part by Hokusai’s Views of Mt. Fuji (Charles Tuttle, 1965), a book that contains precisely 24 prints by Hokusai and in the exact sequence indicated by Zelazny's story; also, the character Mari consults that very book during the story. (Hokusai painted more than 100 images of Mt. Fuji but he is best known for another selection of them: "36 Views of Mt. Fuji, by Hokusai").

A frequent theme is gods or people who become gods. Another recurrent theme is the "absent father" (or father-figure). This occurs most notably in the Amber novels: in the first Amber series, Corwin searches for his absent, god-like father Oberon; in the second series, it is Corwin himself who is the absent father. This theme recurs in Roadmarks and Doorways in the Sand (in the latter, the main character's parents are dead but his uncle fills the role of the "absent father").

He was a member of the Swordsmen and Sorcerers' Guild of America (SAGA), a loose-knit group of Heroic Fantasy authors founded in the 1960s, some of whose works were anthologized in Lin Carter's Flashing Swords! anthologies.

Zelazny died in 1995, aged 58, of kidney failure secondary to colorectal cancer. Other sources have incorrectly indicated lung cancer.[1]


  • Levack, Daniel H. C. Amber Dreams: A Roger Zelazny Bibliography. San Francisco: Underwood-Miller, 1983.
  • Lindskold, Jane M. Roger Zelazny. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1993.
  • Sanders, Joseph. Roger Zelazny: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography. Boston: G. K. Hall and Co., 1980.
  • Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Roger Zelazny, Master of Amber: A Working Bibliography. San Bernardo: Borgo Press, 1991.[2]

Experimental novels and unpublished sketches

Zelazny often experimented with form in his novels. The novel Doorways in the Sand practices a flashback technique in which most chapters open with a scene, typically involving peril, not implied by the end of the previous chapter. Once the scene is established, the narrator backtracks to the events leading up to it, then follows through to the end of the chapter, whereupon the next chapter jumps ahead to another dramatic non-sequitur.

In Roadmarks, a novel about a highway that links all times and possible histories, the chapters that feature the main character are all titled "One". Other chapters, titled "Two", feature secondary characters, including original characters, pulp heroes, and real people. The "One" storyline is fairly linear, but the "Two" storyline jumps around in time and sequence.

Creatures of Light and Darkness, featuring characters in the personae of Egyptian gods, uses a narrative voice entirely in the present tense; the final chapter is structured as a play, and several chapters take the form of long poems.

He also tended to write a short fragment, not intended for publication, as a kind of backstory for a major character, as a way of giving that character a life independent of the particular novel being worked on. At least one "fragment" was published, the short story "Dismal Light", originally a backstory for Isle of the Dead's Francis Sandow. Sandow himself figures little in "Dismal Light", the main character being his son, who is delaying his escape from an unstable star system in order to force his distant father to come in and ask him personally. While Isle of the Dead has Sandow living a life of irresponsible luxury as an escape from his personal demons, "Dismal Light" anchors his character as one who will face up to his responsibilities, however reluctantly.


Amber novels

Main article: The Chronicles of Amber

While his earlier works won greater critical acclaim, Zelazny is probably best known for the Amber novels. These fall into two distinct series of novels, together with a set of short stories.

The first five books describe the adventures of Prince Corwin of Amber:

  • 1970 Nine Princes in Amber
  • 1972 The Guns of Avalon
  • 1975 Sign of the Unicorn
  • 1976 The Hand of Oberon
  • 1978 The Courts of Chaos

The second series tells the story of Corwin's son Merlin (Merle), a wizard and computer expert. These volumes are:

  • 1985 Trumps of Doom
  • 1986 Blood of Amber
  • 1987 Sign of Chaos
  • 1989 Knight of Shadows
  • 1991 Prince of Chaos

Zelazny also wrote several short stories set in the Amber multiverse. These include:

  • 1993 "Prologue to Trumps of Doom"
  • 1994 "The Salesman's Tale"
  • 1994 "The Shroudling and The Guisel"
  • 1995 "Coming to a Cord"
  • 1995 "Blue Horse, Dancing Mountains"
  • 1996 "Hall of Mirrors"
  • 2005 "A Secret of Amber" [story fragment co-written with Ed Greenwood, published in Amberzine #12-15]

The middle five of these seven short stories form one tale, taking place after Prince of Chaos.

All 10 novels have been published in a single omnibus form as The Great Book of Amber and six of the seven short stories have been collected in Manna from Heaven.

Zelazny also contributed to a spin-off work, The Visual Guide to Castle Amber (1988) which was a reference work detailing biographies of the Amber characters and a detailed guide to Castle Amber itself. This was written by Neil Randall and illustrated by Todd Cameron Hamilton and James Clouse.

John Betancourt has written a series of novels set in the Amber multiverse. Betancourt's series tells the story of Corwin's father Oberon, a wizard and shapeshifter. It is set several centuries before Nine Princes in Amber. That the Zelazny estate authorized the series has caused some controversy; see

Other novels

  • This Immortal (1966) (Hugo Award winner, 1966, initially serialized in abridged form in 1965 under Zelazny's preferred title ...And Call Me Conrad)
  • The Dream Master (1966) (an expansion of the novella "He Who Shapes" (1965) which was reprinted in Science Fiction Origins (1980), ISBN 0-445-04626-0)
  • Lord of Light (1967) (Hugo Award winner, 1968)
  • Creatures of Light and Darkness (1969)
  • Isle of the Dead (1969)
  • Damnation Alley (1969) (on which a film of the same name was based)
  • Jack of Shadows (1971)
  • Today We Choose Faces (1973)
  • To Die in Italbar (1973) (cameo appearance by Francis Sandow from Isle of the Dead)
  • Doorways in the Sand (1976)
  • Bridge of Ashes (1976)
  • My Name is Legion (1976) (considered a fix-up novel in three parts, or a collection of 3 stories)
  • Roadmarks (1979)
  • Changeling (1980)
  • Madwand (1981) (a sequel to Changeling)
  • The Changing Land (1981)
  • Dilvish, the Damned (1982) (a "fix-up" novel or short story collection that precedes events in The Changing Land)
  • Eye of Cat (1982)
  • A Dark Traveling (1987)
  • Wizard World (1989) (omnibus containing Changeling and Madwand)
  • Here There Be Dragons (1992) (written 1968/69 and illustrated by Vaughn Bod; delayed publication until 1992)
  • Way Up High (1992) (written 1968/69 and illustrated by Vaughn Bod; delayed publication until 1992)
  • A Night in the Lonesome October (1993) (illustrated by Gahan Wilson)
  • The Dead Man's Brother (2009) [mystery/thriller novel (not sf) completed in 1971, finally published in 2009]


  • Deus Irae (1976) (with Philip K. Dick)
  • Coils (1982) (with Fred Saberhagen):
  • The Black Throne (1990) (with Fred Saberhagen):
  • The Mask of Loki (1990) (with Thomas T. Thomas)
  • The Millennial Contest series (with Robert Sheckley):
    • Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming (1991)
    • If at Faust You Don't Succeed (1993)
    • A Farce to Be Reckoned With (1995)
  • Flare (1992) (with Thomas T. Thomas)
  • Wilderness (1994) (with Gerald Hausman)
  • Psychoshop (1998) with Alfred Bester (This novel was completed in 1995 by Zelazny. Bester's manuscript The Psycho Hockshop stopped mid-sentence on manuscript page 92 (approximately 30-40 pages of the final book), and several pages of manuscript prior to page 92 were also missing.)

Posthumous collaborations

Two books begun by Zelazny were completed by companion and novelist Jane Lindskold after Zelazny's death:

  • Donnerjack (1997)
  • Lord Demon (1999)

Also, the adventure game Chronomaster (developed by DreamForge Intertainment, published by IntraCorp in 1996) was designed by Zelazny and Jane Lindskold (who also finished it after his death).


  • Four for Tomorrow (1967)
  • A Rose For Ecclesiastes (1969) (the UK hardcover title of Four for Tomorrow)
  • The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth, and Other Stories (1971)
  • My Name is Legion (1976)
  • The Illustrated Roger Zelazny (1978) (contents of hardcover and paperback differ)
  • The Last Defender of Camelot (1980, Pocket Books and SFBC)
  • The Last Defender of Camelot (1981, Underwood-Miller) (contains 4 stories not in the Pocket Books version)
  • Alternities #6 (1981) (Special issue devoted entirely to Zelazny, contains rare stories and poems)
  • Dilvish, the Damned (1982)
  • Unicorn Variations (1983)
  • Frost & Fire (1989)
  • The Graveyard Heart/Elegy for Angels and Dogs (1992) (with Walter Jon Williams, featuring a sequel to Zelazny's story by Williams
  • Gone to Earth / Author's Choice Monthly #27 (Pulphouse, 1992)
  • The Last Defender of Camelot (ibooks, 2002) (Collection has the same name as earlier collection, but different contents.)
  • Manna from Heaven (2003)
  • The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth, and Other Stories (ibooks, 2005) (adds two stories from Four for Tomorrow)
  • The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny (NESFA Press, 2009) (The Zelazny Project is a 6-volume retrospective collection that will include all of his short stories, novelettes, novellas and poems, including previously unpublished and uncollected works. A biography, story notes and annotations complement the text.)
    • Volume 1: Threshold
    • Volume 2: Power & Light
    • Volume 3: This Mortal Mountain
    • Volume 4: Last Exit to Babylon
    • Volume 5: Nine Black Doves
    • Volume 6: The Road to Amber

Poetry collections

  • Poems (1974)
  • When Pussywillows Last in the Catyard Bloomed (1980)
  • To Spin is Miracle Cat (1981)
  • Hymn to the Sun: An Imitation (1996)


  • Poems (1974)
  • The Bells of Shoredan (Underwood-Miller, 1979)
  • For a Breath I Tarry (Underwood-Miller, 1980)
  • A Rhapsody in Amber (Cheap Street, 1981)
  • The Last Defender of Camelot (Underwood-Miller, 1981) (just the story)
  • The Bands of Titan / A Freas Sampler / A Dream of Passion (Ad Astra, 1986)
  • The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth (Pulphouse, 1991) (just the story; paperback and hardcover editions)
  • And the Darkness is Harsh (Pretentious Press, 1994)
  • The Last Defender of Camelot (Subterranean, 2003) (Zelazny's story plus George R. R. Martin's teleplay for Twilight Zone)


  • Thurban 1, issue #3, 1953 (Zelazny was assistant editor; part one of Zelazny's short story "Conditional Benefit" appeared here)
  • Nebula Award Stories Three (Doubleday, 1968)
  • Nozdrovia #1, 1968 (co-edited with Richard Patt)
  • Forever After (Baen, 1995)
  • Warriors of Blood and Dream (AvoNova, 1995)
  • Wheel of Fortune (AvoNova, 1995)
  • The Williamson Effect (Tor, 1996)

Zelazny was also a contributor to the Wild Cards shared world anthology series, following the exploits of his character Croyd Crenson, the Sleeper.

Zelazny created the Alien Speedway series of novels (Clypsis by Jeffrey A. Carver, Pitfall and The Web by Thomas Wylde) which appeared between 1986-87. His own story "Deadboy Donner and the Filstone Cup" appears to have been inspired by the outline that he wrote for Alien Speedway.

Zelazny created and edited a shared world anthology called Forever After. The frame story uses preludes, written by Roger, to connect the stories. This shared world involved stories by Robert Asprin, David Drake, Jane Lindskold, and Michael A. Stackpole. Forever After was published by Baen Books posthumously.

Following Zelazny's death, a tribute anthology entitled Lord of the Fantastic was released. This featured stories inspired by Zelazny, and personal recollections by contributors such as Robert Silverberg, Fred Saberhagen, Jennifer Roberson, Walter Jon Williams, Gregory Benford and many others.


Winner of 6 Hugo Awards, 3 Nebula Awards, 2 Locus Awards, 1 Prix Tour-Apollo Award, 2 Seiun Awards, and 2 Balrog Awards - very often Zelazny's works competed with each other for the same award.[3]

  • ...And Call Me Conrad won the 1966 Hugo Award; it tied for novel with Dune, by Frank Herbert.
  • "The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth" won the 1966 Nebula Award (novelette).
  • "He Who Shapes" tied for the 1966 Nebula Award (novella)
  • Lord of Light won the 1968 Hugo Award (novel).
  • Isle of the Dead won the 1972 Prix Tour-Apollo Award (novel).
  • This Immortal won the 1976 Seiun Award (foreign novel).
  • "Home Is the Hangman" won both the 1976 Hugo Award and the 1976 Nebula Award (for novella).
  • "The Last Defender of Camelot" won the 1980 Balrog Award (short fiction).
  • "Unicorn Variation" won the 1982 Hugo Award (novelette) and the 1984 Seiun Award (foreign short fiction).
  • Unicorn Variations won the 1984 Locus Award (collection) and the 1984 Balrog Award (collection/anthology).
  • "24 Views of Mt. Fuji, by Hokusai" won the 1986 Hugo Award (novella).
  • Trumps of Doom won the 1986 Locus Award (fantasy novel).
  • "Permafrost" won the 1987 Hugo Award (novelette).
  • Of note: His books were a major inspiration for the classic computer game Planescape: Torment developed by Black Isle Studios. [4]


  1. ^ IMDB Biography [1]
  2. ^ Source of bibliographical information. Jane Lindskold via Roger Zelazny. 1993.
  3. ^ SF Awards Index ^ Interview with Planescape: Torment lead designer Chris Avellone [3]

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