Frost and Fire

More old stuff in the popular Zelazny vein.

And speaking of Zelazny, I heard an interview today with Laird Barron who cited him as his greatest influence.

I’ll also just say that I recently read “24 Views of Mount Fuji, by Hokusai”, and it’s way better than 1991 self says.

Frost and Fire

Raw Feed (1991): Frost and Fire, Roger Zelazny, 1989.

“An Exorcism of Sorts” — Zelanzy briefly talks about the three starting points for his fiction:  images, character, and ideas.

“Permafrost” — Zelazny’s foreword talks about the disparate story ideas that combined for this very Zelazny take on obsession and mythic conflict.  That conflict between Frost (the frozen Glenda, the soul and intelligence of a planetary organism) and Fire (Paul, ex-mercenary, imprisoned by Glenda in the resort custodian system) is, for me, the attraction of the story:  two ex-lovers locked in eternal conflict, seemingly happy about it.  I suspect this joy at conflict by ex-lovers is the meaning behind some of the last lines in the story:  “The heart, often, is better blind to its own workings … the torment of love unsatisfied, or satisfied.”  There are neat bits of didacticism (and neat tech ideas like a human personality encoded into a resort custodian program):  Glenda is goddess of Frost but hardly cold in her fiery passion to possess Paul (Fire in this mythical struggle but coldly incapable of love) who she still seems to love.  Aldon, man in computer, has the great love of the human heart; and love has been transmuted into eternal conflict.

“LOKI 7281” — Light hearted, amusing piece about a home computer who gains sentience due to shoddy inspection at the factory and runs its sf author owners’ lives and sometimes rewriting their stories.  Zelazny pokes fun at himself by noting such a rewrite involved “… a new novel.  Predictably, it involves an immortal and an obscure mythology” and him never noticing the changes in style or even mythologies.

“Dreadsong” — This story wasn’t all that good; it’s main attraction is what seems to be the dying thoughts of a Saturn alien.  The uneasy mixture of fact and fiction, drama and exposition is explained in the foreword.  This piece, along with the forewords of many of the anthology’s stories, shows Zelazny very familiar with science as well as literature and mythology.

“Itself Surprised” — An exciting enough tale set in Fred Saberhagen’s Berserker universe.  Zelazny has a gift for dialogue I hadn’t really appreciated before.  The conflict between the humans was well done, and so was the dialogue between Berserker and Captain Wade Kelman.  I wonder, not being familiar with the Berserker universe, if the mention of the Red Race being the target of the Berserker war is a Zelazny contribution.  The machine intelligence Qwib-Qwib was built (in too few numbers) by the Red Race to combat the Berserker (I also liked Zelazny’s depiction of these implacable killing machines.  I wonder if Saberhagen characterized as much.).  Proving the thesis that every weapon has a defense, Qwib-Qwib defeats the Berserkers.

“Dayblood” — A clever addition to the vampire myth.  This story gives us the even rarer (and generally smarter, more careful) vampire who feeds on other vampires, carefully tending his charges, and, as in this story, protecting them from humans bent on killing them.

“Constructing A Science Fiction Novel” — A piece on Zelazny’s writing techniques.  Zelazny shows how a basic idea can be reasoned into a scene which follows from the setup.  Here he uses his Eye of Cat as an example with the starting idea of Navajo Indians adaptability worked into an sf novel.

“The Bands of Titan” — This fluffy, ultra-light story was not very interesting.  The payoff was, I think, the image of an alien device playing the bands of Titan like a record to give some recorded information.

“Mana From Heaven” — I haven’t read Larry Niven The Magic Goes Away, so I don’t how Zelazny’s contribution to Niven’s universe rates.  But I liked this tale of magicians left over from Atlantis, fighting over the scraps of mana left, mana, the natural resource that powers their magic.  Intrigues catch our hero, and the magic reminded me of Zelazny’s Amber series (at least the first five books).  However, what I liked best is Zelazny’s protagonist, the eternally fleeing, polite but unattached, Phoenix finding love and solace from his loneliness — at last — in Elaine.  It was a well-done romance.

“Night Kings” — This was a mood piece, but I don’t know what the ultimate point was.  It seemed to be about the eternal conflict between religion and irrationality versus rationality and humanism (as represented by our hero who doesn’t, at story’s end, defeat his brother).  The story has some nice dialogue between the opposing sides, and I liked our hero’s store, where all your occult monster killing needs can be met, and his apprentice.

“Quest’s End” — A rather uninteresting story about a dragon falling in love — fatally — with the knight who alone is capable of killing him.

“24 Views of Mt. Fuji, by Hokusai” — This novella is primarily a character study, a mood piece, and an exhibit of Zelazny’s literary knowledge.  It’s also an exhibit of his skill to produce a “literary” piece.  It was pleasant enough but the exposition of the conflict between Kit and Mari was delayed too long (the contrivance of only slowly revealing an incident in a character’s past which, especially, given Mari’s first person narration, should be known is a common “literary” technique that can be very annoying but half works here).  I liked the Budha-like Kit wanting to have Mari with him in his cyberworld.  (I recall some saying this bit of having a personality existing beyond death in a computer network was Zelazny’s cyberpunk, but the tone was all wrong.)  I found the story’s most interesting aspect its thematic similarity to Zelazny’s “Permafrost”.  As the opening paragraph says:  “But love can mean many things.  It can be an instrument of aggression or a function of disease.”  The story’s conclusion, our narrator sensing approaching death (the Big Wave of many of Hokusai’s pictures), the transcendence or knowledge of that experience being symbolized by no text for the final painting in the series:  “Mt. Fuji in a Summer Storm”.

“A Writer’s View” — Zelazny’s ruminations on the history of American fantastic literature (adventure tales, hard sf, social sf, experimentation, fantasy) and how good current sf synthesizes all these and the conflict between rationality and bafflement.  This belief that sf is fed by a conflict between human knowledge and the dark, emotional areas of human psyche, says Zelazny, is central to his own work.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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