Wednesday, October 15, 2008

This Immortal Intersects Genres

So you’re cruising Genreville, looking for something unique. You dismiss Best Seller Highway, Bodice Ripper Boulevard and Thriller Trail out of hand as too commercial. You pull through SF Junction and Western Way, Fantasy Circle and Horror Lane, but don’t find anything to your liking. You drive and drive and drive until you find yourself in a section of town you aren’t familiar with. The asphalt is full of potholes, the surrounding blocks underdeveloped. You stop and consult your map. Ahead is the intersection of Post Apocalyptic Drive, Space Opera Street and Mythic Parkway. You look up, and there, turning cartwheels on the corner, is Roger Zelazny’s This Immortal.

You can tell Zelazny’s first novel is going to be something different as soon as you’re introduced to its protagonist, Conrad Nomikos. Conrad is Commissioner of the Department of Arts, Monuments and Archives for a future Earth still reeling from the ravages of nuclear war. Not only does he catalogue the planet’s few remaining wonders, such as the pyramids and the Sphinx, he also gives tours of them. But he’s picked up a client he’d rather not have, an extraterrestrial of the galaxy-spanning Vegan race named Cort Myshtigo. After Earth immolated itself, the Vegans took over, treating it as a vacation destination for the planet-hopping set, part day spa, part radioactive
Outward Bound adventure. Myshtigo wants to pen a memoir of his travels, but a band of resistance fighters think he’s up to no good and want him dead. Conrad, though, won’t let a client perish, even one he doesn’t like. He’s had plenty of time to practice bodyguarding, having been alive for hundreds of years due to a freak mutation. In fact, he may be more than merely human.

This Immortal has the all elements of a genre gem, but its disparate parts never quite come together. One page has you reading about interplanetary travel, the next about the consequences of nuclear devastation and the next about satyrs listening to Conrad play a shepherd’s pipe. The chatty dialogue proves equally disconcerting. Tossing out one-liners about a bestial mob’s preferred method of cooking human flesh spoils the mood. Ditto for quips about chewing gum and chipmunks during a voodoo ceremony or discussions of cultural anthropology before a duel. You can’t fault Zelazny for his breadth of vision, though, or for his fight scenes, which are cracking good. Still, those who think this Genreville locale sounds enticing might find Alfred Bester’s
The Stars My Destination a more satisfying read.

(Picture: CC 2007 by

1 comment:

Loren Eaton said...

For those given to celebrating small things, this is the one-hundreth post on I Saw Lightning Fall. Huzzah!