Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Book Review: 'The Illustrated Roger Zelazny', edited by Byron Preiss

 2 / 5 Stars

‘The Illustrated Roger Zelazny’ is a mass-market paperback from Ace Books, published in 1979; hardcover and trade paperback editions were issued in 1978, as a Selection of the SF Book Club. Excerpts of the contents were previewed in various issues of Heavy Metal magazine in the late 70s.

The book’s illustrations (mostly in half-tone or black and white) all are done by Gray Morrow. Needless to say, shrinking the dimensions of the original book from 8” x 11” to mass market size (4” x 7”) means that the font is going to be tiny and the illustrations rather cramped. All in all, however, the book’s design it comes off reasonably well, although those over 40 may find spectacles to be necessary.

The book opens with an introduction by editor Byron Preiss, who was a dedicated advocate for the illustrated SF and fantasy book throughout the 70s and 80s. During 1975 – 1977 he supervised the publication of the ‘Weird Heroes’ paperback series, which featured black and white and halftone illustrations throughout the body of the book. 

Preiss also teamed up with artist William Stout and writer William Service for 1981’s very successful book, ‘Dinosaurs: A Fantastic View of A Lost Era’, which exerted quite an influence on the image of the dinosaur in the popular imagination via the use of an art deco / Maxfield Parrish-style approach to depicting these animals.

‘The Illustrated Roger Zelazny’ focuses on the author’s major short stories from the mid 60s, although the lead tale is ‘Shadow Jack’, a prologue (written specially for this volume)  to Zelazny’s novel ‘Jack of Shadows’  (1971). 

This is the best story in the collection, an offbeat sword-and-sorcery tale with great ‘PorPor’ flavor: a witch who looks like Vampirella, and a offbeat hero who very much inspired the engrossing ‘Thief’ series of PC and video games.

Next up is a section devoted to color illustrations of Zelazny’s cast of characters from the ‘Amber’ novels; those familiar with the Amber series will find these depictions interesting.

‘A Rose for Ecclesiastes’ (1963) gets both color and b&w artwork; this tale deals with a linguist given an opportunity to study a dying humanoid race stranded on Mars. 

‘Rose’ is followed by a lengthy, heavily illustrated version of ‘The Furies’ (1965), about a team of psychics employed to bring a revolutionary to justice. 

The book closes with a truncated version of ‘The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth’ (1965), a tale of a fishing expedition on the waters of Venus that serves as the backdrop for a sci-fi iteration of the breezy Doris Day - Rock Hudson romance films of the early 60s. 

I doubt contemporary readers will find ‘The Illustrated Roger Zelazny’ to be all that appealing. 

Zelazny’s stories from the 60s suffer from a self-conscious prose style (the first few paragraphs of ‘Rose’ are cluttered with references to Shakespeare, Saint-Exupery, Sanskrit, Poe, etc.) that seems self-indulgent, even trite, compared to today’s more declarative SF writing. 

I suspect that only die-hard Zelazny fans will want to search out this book.

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