Creatures of Light and Darkness – Roger Zelazny

Creatures of light and darkness

Image used for review purposes only. Source.

Egyptian gods fighting in space. That’s what this weird little book is about. I wouldn’t call it a novel – the story isn’t comprehensible enough for that – but more of an extended prose poem, or even a collection of prose poems.

When I say that, what I mean is that we’re dealing with some very good writing here. Lots of literary fireworks. Zelazny does that thing where you have a long sentence that forms its own paragraph, with clauses separated by semicolons. Some chapters are written in actual poetry and the conclusion is written like a play. The book’s fantastic/futuristic setting affords Zelazny many opportunities for bizarre imagery, and he generally takes these opportunities.

Didn’t get much sense of a plot, though. Far as I can make out, Anubis trains a champion to restore order to the galaxy, and the champion makes an honest fist of it. He goes to a planet bursting with babies, watches a man commit suicide at a carnival, meets up with a tough nurse and later on it turns out that he’s Set. There’s also a verbose poet running about, three quarreling craftspeople arguing about pins, and Yahweh might be hiding in the backstory. To be honest, I would have put this book through a lot more editing before publishing it. The general vibe of awesome incomprehensibility put me in mind of some of Grant Morrison’s comics.

We don’t get so much in the way of characterisation, but we do get some very well-done character sketches. One character, the Steel General, stands out. At times a cyborg and others a normal meat-man, he is a weirdo who plays banjos and always supports the losing side in any war. And his horse has eight diamond hooves.

You can make your own decision whether or not you should read this book based on the above review. For myself, I’ll just boast that the edition I read may have been published as early as 1970. Only cost two dollars, as well.

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4 thoughts on “Creatures of Light and Darkness – Roger Zelazny

  1. I do love Zelazny! I have this one of the shelf… which ones is your favorite? My vote might be with This Immortal (variant title: …And Call me Conrad) which tied Dune for the hugo award that year.

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    1. I think I enjoyed his collaborations with other authors the most. I liked Deus Irae, which he did with Philip K Dick. Lots of apocalyptic imagery and a genuinely creepy computer. The story behind that book forms one of the most entertaining paragraphs I’ve read on Wikipedia.

      I also liked Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming, which he did with Robert Sheckley. Kind of like Shrek for adults, before fairy-tale parodies ran themselves into the ground.

      Damnation Alley made an impression on me, although I read it when I was much younger so some of the details are foggy. I remember it being very gritty and dark, and that he got away with calling the protagonist Hell Tanner.

      I want to get around to reading This Immortal and try the Amber series before I die. I hear that my Immortal is similar to Creatures of Light and Darkness, only with Greek gods. I’ve already read Lord of the Light, which I liked better than this book, so I may as well finish the whole set.

      If you like Zelazny, you should check out Mindwebs. It’s an old radio show where a DJ reads out sci-fi stories, and it taught me most of what I know about Seventies science-fiction. He reads out three Zelazny stories, quite a bit from Dangerous Visions, and a good variety of other authors. Basically, if I see a book written by an author I recognize from Mindwebs, and it costs less than fives dollars, I’ll likely be buying it.

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      1. I had no idea that Mindwebs existed…. It’s SOOOOO much better than those other radio shows such as Dimension X which “adapted” (read: mutilated) the original stories. Thanks so much — I’ll be listening to these on my international flights this summer…

        I have not read his collaboration with PKD — I had not heard good things about it in the past. I think the only Zelazny novel I disliked (I have not read all of them yet) was Jack of Shadows (not sure why, I couldn’t review it either). I really enjoyed The Dream Master — but then again I enjoy Freud in my SF for some reason.

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