Zelazny - Chronicles of Amber

July 20, 2004

Roger Zelazny
Chronicles of Amber

Nine Princes in Amber, 1970
The Guns of Avalon, 1972
The Sign of the Unicorn, 1975
The Hand of Oberon, 1976
The Courts of Chaos, 1978
This is a re-read. Yep. I like these and I have read them many a time before. I felt the urge, and since my copies are still in boxes I nipped them from the library for a quick speed through.

For some reason the encounter between Corwin and "laughing boy" in the first book, Nine Princes in Amber sticks with me.

The thought for this read through was that the first volume was written in 1970. The next couple were also written in the 1970s. Not surprisingly, the female characters are largely decorative in the first couple of books, much more involved in the later books. I love watching authors evolve over time, and because science fiction is such a fun-house-mirror view of the world, some of the changes are more obvious than others.

But that was not the point I was intending to make. The first book was written in the Age of Nixon, in the height of the Vietnam war, in an era when people were seriously worried that the world was going to hell in a handbasket. And yet, those concerns are only indirectly reflected in the novel. This is a tale of brotherly intrigue with the killer hook that the solipsists are right, the world is all a thing that we imagine, and that the great men theorists were also right, for only a few special individuals have the power to imagine their own world. As such the books can be read as an exercise in adolescent wish fulfillment within the constraint of other, similarly powered, wish fulfillers. But, other than wishing the world away, or being aware that there is a lack of center at the center of the universe and that the events at the center are always reflected across all the shadow earths, it does not directly discuss the world in which it was written.

As such the books are very unlike, say, Robert Anton Wilson's illuminatti trilogy - also focusing on a cabal of superpowered beings, also written in the 1970s, but inextricably tied to the paranoia and tension of the Nixon years. Not surprisingly, Zelazny's world aged better and he was able to write interesting things in the Amber universe after the Age of Nixon ended. Wilson, by contrast, returns to his conspiracy world and the whole thing feels like an awkward exercise from sophomore creative lit.

Finally, of course, Zelazny was a brilliant prose stylist. I find his prose strongest in the first book - the underwater sword fight with blood billowing through the water like something Van Gogh would have painted - but the whole thing rings with his phrasing, imagery, and verve. The Amber Chronicles are not his best books - I am partial to Lord of Light - but they are his most popular books for good reason.

Posted by Red Ted at July 20, 2004 05:32 PM | TrackBack
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