Skip to main content

Roadmarks (SF) - Roger Zelazny *****

Already sadly half-forgotten, Roger Zelazny was one of the best science fiction/fantasy writers in the generation that came after the golden era greats like Asimov, Heinlein, Wyndham and Clarke. He often wrote in a science fiction - fantasy crossover known unimaginatively as science fantasy, which seems to have almost disappeared as a genre - and why it can be so good is demonstrated masterfully his short novel Roadmarks. It's science fantasy in that it operates like science fiction, with logical, science-based content providing the setting, but it contains a couple of off-the-wall elements that don't have any scientific basis. Arguably, the one area science fantasy has flourished is in superhero stories - but Zelazny's are far more interesting.

Although Zelazny is probably best remembered for his highly entertaining Amber fantasy series, Roadmarks is significantly more sophisticated in its approach. To begin with it's not totally clear what is going on - in a good way. You just have to go with the flow as you go from chapter 2 to chapter 1, then the next chapter 2. Objects and people seem to change without reason - but all will become clear in what is one of the best time travel stories I know. Interestingly, time travel really doesn't play much of an active part in the story, despite being the backbone of its setting. The way it is used is wonderfully casual - at one point, for example, we meet an ex-crusader making a living by washing car windscreens.

The book's one flaw is something that dogs much of Zelazny's work (and may be why he wrote with co-authors so frequently) - he appears to have been rather a quick and dirty writer. It feels like he dashed off a book, then wanted to get onto the next project. I frequently complain that books are too long, but this one could have been a bit longer. The ending for example, though effective, seems rushed. The whole thing could have done with just a little more work. But that doesn't stop it being a gem of the genre. Rereading it for the first time in 20 or more years has inspired me to go out and hunt up some more vintage Zelazny - he was, without doubt, a master of the craft.


Paperback:  

Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Art of Statistics - David Spiegelhalter *****

Statistics have a huge impact on us - we are bombarded with them in the news, they are essential to medical trials, fundamental science, some court cases and far more. Yet statistics is also a subject than many struggle to deal with (especially when the coupled subject of probability rears its head). Most of us just aren't equipped to understand what we're being told, or to question it when the statistics are dodgy. What David Spiegelhalter does here is provide a very thorough introductory grounding in statistics without making use of mathematical formulae*. And it's remarkable.

What will probably surprise some who have some training in statistics, particularly if (like mine) it's on the old side, is that probability doesn't come into the book until page 205. Spiegelhalter argues that as probability is the hardest aspect for us to get an intuitive feel for, this makes a lot of sense - and I think he's right. That doesn't mean that he doesn't cover all …

Six Impossible Things - John Gribbin *****

On first handling John Gribbin's book, it's impossible not to think of Carlo Rovelli's Seven Brief Lessons in Physics - both are very slim, elegant hardbacks with a numbered set of items within - yet Six Impossible Things is a far, far better book than its predecessor. Where Seven Brief Lessons uses purple prose and vagueness in what feels like a scientific taster menu, Gribbin gives us a feast of precision and clarity, with a phenomenal amount of information for such a compact space. It's a TARDIS of popular science books, and I loved it.

Like rather a lot of titles lately (notably Philip Ball's excellent Beyond Weird), what Gribbin is taking on is not the detail of quantum physics itself - although he does manage to get across its essence in two 'fits' (named after the sections of Hunting of the Snark - Gribbin includes Lewis Carroll's epic poem in his recommended reading, though it's such a shame that the superb version annotated by Martin Gardi…

Elizabeth Bear - Four Way Interview

Elizabeth Bear won the John W. Campbell award for Best New Writer in 2005 and has since published 15 novels and numerous short stories. She writes in both the SF and fantasy genres and has won critical acclaim in both. She has won the Hugo Award more than once. She lives in Massachusetts. Her latest title is Ancestral Night.

Why science fiction?

I've been a science fiction fan my entire life, and I feel like SF is the ideal framework for stories about humanity and how we can be better at it. Not just cautionary tales - though there's certainly also value in cautionary tales - but stories with some hope built in that we might, in fact, mature as a species and take some responsibility for things like reflexive bigotry and hate crimes (as I'm writing this, the heartbreaking news about the terrorist attack on Muslim worshipers in Christchurch is everywhere) and global climate destabilization. These are not intractable problems, but we need, as a species, the will to see that we …