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A Fresh Experience with an Old Friend

To say that Roger Zelazny’s Amber books were an influence on me is an understatement on the order of saying that Kim Kardashian is a little proud of her butt.

“Nine Princes in Amber” was published in 1970. I stumbled on it soon after, in 1973 or 1974, and have returned to it about every two years ever since.  

Which means I’ve read the series something on the order of twenty times. It is the single greatest influence on “Traveler,” both in its sardonic, first-person narrative style, and overall theme. Trav’s mental process of moving between reality streams is a direct descendant of Corwin’s hellrides through Shadow. 

Wikipedia tells me that the original First Edition from Doubleday, pictured above, is quite rare. I don’t know for sure if that is the edition I checked out from the Council Bluffs Public Library, but I do remember the cover as being navy blue, so it’s possible.

A rare stumble by the great artist Boris Vallejo. Everyone knows Corwin's colors are black and silver. Geez.
A rare stumble by the great artist Boris Vallejo. Everyone knows Corwin’s colors are black and silver. Geez.

But the collected set of all five of the “Corwin Cycle” of Amber stories in the two volumes with the incredibly stupid cover is the one that I have read again and again, to the point that I wore out the dust jackets and am seriously considering picking up backup copies.

When the third book in the series, “Sign of the Unicorn,” was serialized in Galaxy magazine, it even got me into trouble with my mom. An installment arrived at the same time as her brother, on a rare visit from the West Coast.

I was way too distracted to hold up my end of the conversation.

The one and only cosplay in my entire life? You guessed it. Corwin of Amber, complete with a silver rose clasp on my cloak.

Unfortunately, the second cycle of stories, featuring Corwin’s son Merlin, aren’t nearly as strong. The last two in particular get pretty weird.

And let’s not even talk about the estate-authorized prequels, written after Zelazny’s death. All that’s missing is Jar-Jar.

If these books were written today, they would be classified as Urban Fantasy, but at the time were classified as “New Wave Fantasy.” Which come to think of it, is a pretty apt description of the trippy nature of the later volumes.

I turned my son Alex on to the series pretty much as soon as he graduated from picture books, and thoroughly indoctrinated him.

I’ve been away from them for a few years, but Alex checked out the audio books and recommended I take a listen.

It’s like reading them for the first time all over again.

The narrator, Alessandro Juliani, best known as Felix Gaeta on Battlestar Galactica, is fabulous. I had no idea he could do so many different voices. He gives each of the nine princes their own identity, and captures Corwin perfectly.

The only downside is paying full price for each book. All five hardly add up to even one Game of Thrones!

This is great for Audible. For me, not so much. But I will consider it an investment in their ongoing effort to record classic sci-fi.

I often say that one of the nice things about getting older is that you can re-read your favorite books again and again, blissfully surprised by the plot twists you’ve forgotten.

Coming back to an old favorite as an audio book is almost the same thing.

1 Comment

  1. Thornargl

    Don’t be dissin on the Boris cover! His illustrations often have that awkward kitschy flavor that reminds me so much of my own peculiar tastes, especially in literature.

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