The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny
Roger Zelazny deserves every bit of his status as a legendary SFF author. At his best (which he often was – see Lord of Light), his prose verged on poetry without ever losing its readability. His short fiction (gathered in several partial collections over the years) was as good, if not better. So, running across a complete collection of his short works is as exciting to an SF fan as finding that a (more) affordable version of the [Jack] Vance Integral Edition is being published. Zelazny and Vance were not only among the top SF writers, but were two of the absolute best for those who love good writing for its own sake.
Which is why the editorial policy behind this collection (published by NESFA) is so puzzling. Curious decisions include: – stories are not in chronological order, nor in series groups, nor in topical order. Yes, there’s a general chronological sequence here, but stories are often presented out of order, for no evident reason. – Zelazny aspired to be a poet, and there’s a lot of his poetry here. Ironically, for a writer whose prose was so beautifully poetic, his actual poetry is pretty poor. The poems are scattered throughout the volumes of the collection – often topically linked with the following story. It’s a little hard to argue with the editors on this – several hundred pages of poetry in one place would have seriously weakened one of the volumes in the set. And if the poetry had just been left out entirely, you’d wonder about it, and how good it must have been. – Several excerpts from novels. Frankly, I just resent this. I have the novels – they’re mostly available for purchase. I bought this set for the short stories. – One little quibble. One the inside back jacket, Michael Whelan gets as much space as Zelazny himself. Yes, he’s a famous (if overrated) artist, but hey, he just did the one cover, not the six volumes of content.
Strange sequencing, etc. aside, the collection is well done. There is excellent information on publication dates and how the stories fit the various series. There are many previously unpublished (or underpublished) pieces. There are carefully collated comments from Zelazny about each story, and there are (over-) copious interpretive notes about the allusions in each story. Also, there’s a nicely written biographical piece included in each volume. While they’re all respectful of Zelazny’s talent, they’re not sycophantic in tone. There are also introductions by guest notables for each volume – some good, some that lead you to question why the editors selected people who clearly did not know Zelazny well.
Finally – the stories themselves. If you’re a Zelazny fan, this collection is well worth your time. Otherwise, it’s not your best introduction. Some of the underpublished (e.g. in a fanzine) stuff just isn’t that good. And the strange sequencing ends up undercutting the effect of the really great stories that are also here. I’m a long time, committed Zelazny enthusiast, and I’m confident that this is not the collection I’d give my spouse in order to share my burning enthusiasm for Zelazny’s work. If you’re already a fan, though, this will satisfy your completist desires, and give you access to a lot of new work, uneven though it may be.