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.

Seven Lines From My WIP

I was tagged by the great AR Miller to share seven lines from my next book. I in turn tagged the other Writing Lads, Lennox Randon and Rob Cline to do the same.

This is from “Prisoner,” the sequel to “Traveler”.

* * *

     The space had been furnished, after a fashion. There was a bed, and the lamp casting the light sat on a box up on its end to make a nightstand. On the bed, sat Sophie Patel and Ella Day.

     The girls looked at me as I came into the light.

     “Hi,” I said. “My name is Trav.”

     The girls’ eyes grew wide. Sophie grabbed Ella, pushing her protectively behind her. The younger girl shrieked in terror.

     “Girls, it’s OK,” I said. “I’m a police officer.”

     “Help!” screamed Sophie. “It’s him! He’s here! Help us!”

* * *

OK, that was nine lines. Sue me.


For most of my life, I have been a closet nerd, quietly reading my books and watching my shows, thinking that I was pretty much the only one who pondered weighty topics like “When Obi-Wan told Luke he didn’t remember owning a droid, why didn’t Artoo start beeping ‘WTF, old man? How about all those times I saved your bony ass?’

But as the Internet got rolling, I realized there were entire quadrants of the web totally devoted to the same geeky stuff I liked.

The Lurkers Guide,  Marvel A-Z, Gateworld.net, the Banzai Institute. Some were corporate sites set up to promote a company’s Sci-Fi properties, but others were lovingly maintained by individuals who loved this stuff as much as me.

OK, more than me, since they spent thousands of hours, not to mention dollars, maintaining their sites.

But these days, maybe because I’m a contrarian, I’d much rather hang with real people than in forums or chatrooms. Which I got to do this past weekend at ICON, Iowa’s first (and best) Sci Fi and Fantasy convention, which was this past weekend in Cedar Rapids.

At ICON, I often find myself in large groups where not a single person answers the question “Who’s your Doctor?” with the name of their physician.

Getting to sit on a panel with writers like Jim C. Hines and have dinner with artist Lar Desouza (not to mention meeting his alter ego, Sailor Bacon), is just icing on the cake.

Unlike big conventions like Comic-Con, which emphasize movie and TV stars, ICON remains mainly about writers, and year after year, attracts some of the genre’s best, led by ICON founder and UI Writer’s Workshop grad, Joe Haldeman, who has won many Hugo awards.

A perfect atmosphere for someone now out of the closet, not only as a nerdy Sci-FI fan, but as a nerdy Sci-Fi WRITER.