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Roger Zelazny, The Chronicles of Amber

Finally got around to reading (well, listening to) the Chronicles of Amber. Rather liked the Corwin Cycle; the Merlin Cycle, not so much. In the first five books, the world was still new; in the last five, there was more politics and less poetry.

When I think back to the series now, I remember two things: the style - first-person epic, serious-yet-not - and Tir-na Nog'th.

First, the style. I really wonder what it sounds like to a native English speaker. I have seen various complaints on Zelazny not being `a master of prose` but I can't evaluate them since I haven't actually read the books (listening is quite different). By ear, I love his style. This, for example:

"Riding, riding, through the wild, weird ways that led to Avalon, we went, Ganelon and I, down alleys of dream and of nightmare, beneath the brass bark of the sun and the hot, white isles of night, till these were gold and diamond chips and the moon swam like a swan. Day belled forth the green of spring, we crossed a mighty river and the mountains before us were frosted by night. I unleashed an arrow of my desire into the midnight and it took fire overhead, burned its way like a meteor into the north. The only dragon we encountered was lame and limped away quickly to hide, singeing daisies as it panted and wheezed. Migrations of bright birds arrowed our destination, and crystalline voices from lakes echoed our words as we passed. I sang as we rode, and after a time, Ganelon joined me. We had been traveling for over a week, and the land and the sky and the breezes told me we were near to Avalon now."

This was read to me by the author himself, and I still remember his voice. Zelazny isn't a very good reader, which is particularly noticeable when he reads Sign of Chaos: he pauses in all the wrong places and sometimes seems to be unsure of what exactly he has been trying to say when he wrote a particular sentence. He isn't a bad reader either, though, and his reading style has an interesting effect which may or may not have been intended. Corwin, in his reading, is curiously hesitant at times; at other times he lunges into fluid poetry. These switches are quite appropriate given the changes he has been going through after waking up in the hospital. Shadow Earth has had some effect on him, an effect that he cannot fully evaluate, hence the uncertainties, the stops to rethink and regroup. I probably wouldn't have read that into the character had I just seen the printed words of his monologues.

And yes, Tir-na Nog'th. Again, it's not the printed words I remember, it's the voice, sing-song and soothing, telling a tale of a strange place.

". . . And so I came to Tir-na Nog'th. When the moon rose and the apparition of Amber came faintly into the heavens, stars showing through it, pale halo about its towers, tiny flecks of movement upon its walls, I waited, waited with Ganelon and Random, waited on the highest crop of Kolvir, there where the three steps are fashioned, roughly, out of the stone. . .
When the moonlight touched them, the outline of the entire stairway began to take shape, spanning the great gulf to that point above the sea the vision city held. When the moonlight fell full upon it, the stair had taken as much of substance as it would ever possess, and I set my foot on the stone. . . . Random held a full deck of Trumps and I'd mine within my jacket. Grayswandir, forged upon this very stone by moonlight, held power in the city in the sky, and so I bore my blade along. I had rested all day, and I held a staff to lean upon. Illusion of distance and time . . . The stairs through the Corwin-ignoring sky escalate somehow, for it is not a simple arithmetic progression up them once motion has commenced. I was here, I was there, I was a quarter of the way up before my shoulder had forgotten the clasp of Ganelon's hand. . . . If I looked too hard at any portion of the stair, it lost its shimmering opacity and I saw the ocean far below as through a translucent lens. . . . I lost track of time, though it seems it's never long, afterward . . . As far beneath the waves as I'd soon be above them, off to my right, glittering and curling, the outline of Rebma appeared within the sea. I thought of Moire, wondered how she fared. What would become of our deepwater double should Amber ever fall? Would the image remain unshattered in its mirror? Or would building blocks and bones be taken and shaken alike, dice in the deepwater casino canyons our fleets fly over? No answer in the man drowning, Corwin-confounding waters, though I felt a twinge in my side.
At the head of the stair, I entered, coming into the ghost city as one would enter Amber after mounting the great forestair up Kolvir's seaward face. I leaned upon the rail, looked across the world.
The black road led off to the south. I could not see it by night. Not that it mattered. I knew now where it led. Or rather where Brand said that it led. As he appeared to have used up a life's worth of reasons for lying, I believed that I knew where it led.
All the way."

"The moonlight is intense in Tir-na Nog'th, silvers over the facing sides of all our imaged places. . . . Stick in hand, I passed forward, and the strangelings moved about me, appeared at windows, on balconies, on benches, at gates . . . Unseen I passed, for truly put, in this place I was the ghost to whatever their substance. . . .
Silence and silver . . . Only the tapping of my stick, and that mostly muted . . . More mists adrift toward the heart of things . . . The palace a white bonfire of it. . . Dew, like drops of mercury on the finely sanded petals and stems in the gardens by the walks . . . The passing moon as painful to the eye as the sun at midday, the stars outshone, dimmed by it . . . Silver and silence . . . The shine..."

"Ghost flowers throb on their stalks all about me, ghost shrubs spill blossoms like frozen firework displays."

"I place my left foot on the step, rest my left hand on my knee. Distracting but bearable, the throb of my healing gut. I wait for the blackness, the emptiness, to be drawn, appropriate curtain for the theatrics with which I am burdened this night.
And it slides aside, revealing a hand, an arm, a shoulder, the arm a glinting, metallic thing, its planes like the facets of a gem, its wrist and elbow wondrous weaves of silver cable, pinned with flecks of fire, the hand, stylized, skeletal, a Swiss toy, a mechanical insect, functional, deadly, beautiful in its way..."

I'll have to listen to the first five books again sometime. There's nothing deeply philosophical that I have - or likely will - get out of them, but these are good stories to listen to on certain rainy evenings.


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 13th, 2010 03:50 am (UTC)
Ah, The Chronicles of Amber, my first fantasy book... I was thirteen, read them all in Russian and immediately was a fan. Sometimes I think that paintings of beautiful naked women by Boris Vallejo that graced the covers have something to do with that. But still, the Amber Universe (or Multiverse to be precise) was mind-numbing and breathtaking in its infinite strangeness.

Unlike you, I liked Merlin much more than Corvin. Corvin was a valiant hero and a warrior, but Merlin was a smart badass and fumbled with Artificial Intelligence and that alone made him immediately so much cooler than Corvin.
Apr. 13th, 2010 03:53 am (UTC)
Oh yes, and said something along the lines of "it's secure if nobody knows where it is!"
Those programmers in the nineties... :)
Apr. 13th, 2010 02:43 pm (UTC)
I really liked Sapkowsky's comment on the series.
"I traveled to U.S annually, to sign business deals and to purchase next Amber book. Once I came and found out the coming book in the series was not published yet. I felt betrayed. I mean - what the hell he was doing that year, the fellow had responsibility and he did not accomplish it!"

Personally, I was disappointed in Amber, although I read it when I was too old, I guess. I love "Lord of Light", and I am huge fan of "October)", but Amber was too... cyberpunk? (as weird as it sounds) for me, for some reason...
Apr. 13th, 2010 06:40 pm (UTC)
You are right. Cyberpunk does sound pretty weird. Why?.. :)
Apr. 13th, 2010 07:27 pm (UTC)
Well he has a number of books written in a cyberpunk style, except that they occur in medieval fantasy instead of futuristic post-nuclear setting. I mean it sound meaningless, but I guess the same feeling conveyed by the latter presents in the former as well...
How can I describe it... Lemme try this way:
In Dilvish series, Amber series, Jack-from-Shadow and some other less popular Zhelazny books, there is an atmosphere of world that is rotating around the main hero.

There are monsters to be slain, and quests to be achieved that do not exist otherwise. The hero arrives at perilous hour, but not too late to solve the riddle and save the princess. It is a fantasy culture, which may be found in books of others, famous authors, including such prominent figures as Michael Murkok, Andre Norton and Warner Moon. Those books have the same colorful fashion in clothing, magic, sexuality and friendship bonds that symbolizes their era of fantasy genre. Today, same genre elements strongly present in Cyberpunk.

Errr, I am very bad in explaining myself... =\
Apr. 14th, 2010 02:34 pm (UTC)
I see what you are talking about.
But then, of course, I haven't read enough cyberpunk to comment on whether I think the connection is superficial :)
Apr. 13th, 2010 07:26 pm (UTC)
I love what Sasha once said about Zelazny:
"Когда я учился в универститете, сессию заваливали по двум причинам: "Властелин Колец" и "Хроники Амбера"."
Apr. 13th, 2010 08:02 pm (UTC)
Кстати, у меня бы ни то, ни другое не вызвали такой проблемы. :)
Apr. 13th, 2010 08:05 pm (UTC)
У меня бы вызвало, если бы я в то время была в ролевом движении. Но на тот момент, к моему большому сожалению, все мои ролевые знакомства состояли из одного человека:)
Apr. 14th, 2010 04:52 am (UTC)
Ты говоришь о том, что сдала сессию, так, как будто это плохо! =)
Apr. 14th, 2010 11:39 am (UTC)
Не плохо. Но скучно!
Apr. 15th, 2010 02:41 pm (UTC)
Zelazny isn't a very good reader, which is particularly noticeable when he reads Sign of Chaos: he pauses in all the wrong places and sometimes seems to be unsure of what exactly he has been trying to say when he wrote a particular sentence.

Silly girl! This is EXACTLY how one is supposed to read Signs of Chaos!

Apr. 29th, 2010 03:41 pm (UTC)
Пачиму? =)
Apr. 29th, 2010 03:56 pm (UTC)
объяснять шутку значит убить ее? =) особенно когда это типа pun =)
ну просто слова:
wrong places
unsure of what exactly he has been trying to say


- все это кагбе и есть "знаки хаоса". Хаос? Разупорядоченность, зыбкость, ни в чем нельзя быть уверенным? Huh? Huh? Got it?
Apr. 29th, 2010 03:58 pm (UTC)
Я так и поняла, но решила просто уточнить. А то вдруг ты правда знаешь что-то, чего не знаю я =)
Apr. 29th, 2010 03:59 pm (UTC)
=) bad puns are bad =)
Apr. 15th, 2010 02:44 pm (UTC)
In the first five books, the world was still new; in the last five, there was more politics and less poetry.

( 17 comments — Leave a comment )