|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.
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. 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:
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.
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.
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:
The second series tells the story of Corwin's son Merlin (Merle), a wizard and computer expert. These volumes are:
Zelazny also wrote several short stories set in the Amber multiverse. These include:
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
Two books begun by Zelazny were completed by companion and novelist Jane Lindskold after Zelazny's death:
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).
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.