Creatures of Light and Darkness

This empties out my archives on Zelazny material.

Creatuers of Light and Darkness

Raw Feed (1998): Creatures of Light and Darkness, Roger Zelazny, 1969.

As with his Roadmarks, the plot of this Zelazny novel faded from my mind quickly, but I found both books very entertaining while reading them.  This may be the most lyrical Zelazny I’ve read to date with rich poetic language, and it’s dedicated to Samuel Delany who also dedicated books to Zelazny.

A plot combining science fiction and fantasy is not unique to this novel.  There are elements of it in Zelazny’s Amber books and his Jack of Shadows both written, I believe, after this novel.  Zelazny does very little rationalization of the figures of Egyptian mythology he uses here:  Osiris, Anubis, Set, Typhon, Thoth, Nephytha, and Isis.  As far as I can tell from my limited research, Zelazny doesn’t use many of the traditional relationships or stories from Egyptian mythology.  Anubis as lord of the dead is about it.  But Egyptian mythology, evolving over time and from the collision between, and assimilation of, various cults, isn’t very consistent, and Zelazny may have been using stories I’m not familiar with.  Zelazny seems to want a Manichean-like conflict mixed with the familial conflicts and the suppressed (or forgotten) memories found in his Amber series by using the more familiar Egyptian deities instead of Babylonian or Zoroastrian ones.  Osiris is life, Anubis is death.  They control the Midworlds, and it’s not desirable either one prevail.

For awhile, it seemed Zelazny would be doing a riff on themes of overpopulation (a favorite of late sixties and early seventies sf writers.  The planet Blis is vividly overpopulated, Osiris triumphant, but Zelazny drops all pretense of writing even a metaphorical book on the dangers of overpopulation.  The novel’s second half is devoted to family conflicts and the familiar quest motif from fantasy, here for a magical wand, shoes, and glove.  Zelazny throws in a lot of sf machinery from the first gripping part of the novel where Wakim (an amnesiac Set) is a subject of Anubis in the underworld and tortured in various ways.  The House of the Dead contains five races of aliens and numerous cyborgs.  Osiris and Anubis practice life and death control on the Middle Worlds.  Why they should do this (self-motivation or administering for some other entity or entities) is unsaid.  Their instrumentalities are so vaguely described or not rationalized at all that the Egyptian deities of this story are magical figures.  Oh, there is some vague references to hyperdimensional space travel and time travel (Set and the Prince of a Thousand Names aka Thoth are both each others’ father and son and the deities and other “angels” sometimes practice the art of tactical fugue (a retreat to the past to alter the former present/future), but the predominant tone of this book is as a fantasy.

Zelazny does throw in some elements from other mythologies.  There is an explicit reference to the Minotaur and a figure that seems to be an unnamed Cerebus.  The artisan Norns almost seem like they’re out of Norse mythology though I’ve never heard anywhere else of strange creatures demanding to be painfully mutilated so that they can see their work as the price of their services.  Their sight is temporary since they’re democratic peers rip their eyes out.  Zelazny created the Steel General, unkillable symbol of rebellion and struggle for the underdog, out of whole cloth.  There is one bit of interesting sf speculation in the “Pleasure Comp” aka a “Dearabbey Machine”, a machine-human combination, human from the waist down.  An intelligent computer, it will answer questions so long as it is sexually stimulated.  This nifty bit of invention along with prostitutes who have brain implants so their bodies can make the proper moves after coins are inserted in a vending machine for sex, is covered in a two page chapter along with the wonderfully heretical religion of Saint Jakes the Mechanophile which posits man as “the sexual organ of the machine that created him”.  Man exists to initiate mechanical evolution.  When perfection is achieved, Man will undergo the “Great Castration”.

However, Zelanzy doesn’t do anymore with this notion than have a chapter where Horus has sex with such a machine to gain information.  The novel has several witty philosophical discussions.  Anubis and his servant Wakim debate the qualities defining life.  Madiak the priest gives some hilarious prayers and benedictions carefully designed to cover all theistic positions.  Typhon aka “the Abyss that is Skagganauk” almost seems to be a black hole at times, but he is clearly sentient and the story may be too early to use the concept.

I found the book exciting, very poetic (there are entire pages of verse) and fun, but, as a novel, it is pretty incoherent, even for the fixup novel it is.


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


2 thoughts on “Creatures of Light and Darkness

  1. Hi

    I have always felt that Creature of Light and Darkness’s use of Egyptian mythology (I could be wrong) sort of grew out of the success of Lord of Light’s use of Hindu mythology. After all Zelazny uses myth and mythical creature in many works. However in Lord of Light the Hindu myths and religious basis of the work in general is central to the plot and is maintained throughout. I agree with you that in Creatures Zelazny has some interesting bits but no coherent story. I felt Jack of Shadows had the same problem, beautiful language, some great ideas but a lack of finish. That said, I have reread both books and I love Zelazny because I love his language, his characters and his world building.

    Happy reading

    1. Thanks for the comment.

      Zelazny certainly got the reputation for using various mythologies the sf treatment. Eye of Cat uses Navajo myth. I didn’t care for it, but Christopher S. Kovacs defends it in a recent issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction.

      I remember liking Jack of Shadows — but that was more for the central concept than the stories.

      I’ve got a lot Zelazny on the shelf I haven’t read yet, but my favorite so far, of the novels, is My Name Is Legion — but I have a fondness for the conceit of the invisible agent behind that novel. (A concept, in a sense, used in the current tv show Person of Interest.)

      But Zelazny seems one of those sf writers best at the short lengths.

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