Friday, May 27, 2022

Tales From the Magician's Skull - Blog Round-Up May27


Tales From the Magician's Skull Blog May 27th 2022 Round-Up

Blogger Master and Skull Minion of the Fifth Order, Bill Ward, continues to collect and share splendid incantations. Here are the latest six:

May 6: Classic Covers: Fred Saberhagen

Prolific writer of science fiction and fantasy series, Fred Saberhagen is best known for his Berserker series of far-future space operas in which a beleaguered mankind squares off against a malign machine intelligence, and the Swords series, detailing a massive conflict involving numerous key players and their unique swords of power. Often combining magic, post-apocalyptic, and military themes in his fiction, Saberhagen’s steady output through the second half of the twentieth century ensured that not only did his larger-than-life narratives entertain a worldwide audience, but his work inspired dozens of first-rate cover illustrations during the boom years of commercial fantasy paperback publishing.


 May 12: Adventures in Fiction: Roger Zelazny and the Chronicles of Amber by Steve Bean

The idea of space gods seems somewhat commonplace today, but Roger Zelazny is the reason that most of us are familiar with them. Today, Steve Bean explores Zelazny’s work and the impact it had on both fiction and gaming. By virtue of his unusual last name, Roger Zelazny is last in Appendix N. This author wonders: “How many readers have never gotten all the way down the list, leaving Zelazny a mystery?” And so, around the anniversary of his birth, let’s take a look at this three-time Nebula Award winner (nominated 14 times), six-time Hugo Award winner (coincidentally, also 14 nominations) and “last-but-by-nomeans-least” author, focusing on his best-known work: The Chronicles of Amber.


May 17: Classic Covers: Roger Zelazny

Roger Zelazny’s explosion onto the speculative fiction scene was practically the horn blast announcing the coming of science fiction’s New Wave, at least in the United States. This fresh injection of modern literary techniques and counter-culture sensibilities into the genre of robots and rocket ships sparked a fertile period of experimentation that saw the genre develop a keen interest in the interior world of the human mind, inverting the frontiers of exploration from the distant and impersonal far corners of space, to the inner life of the individual.

Zelazny combined headlong pulp pacing with literary experimentation and a fine ear for language — as well as an almost mischievous love for the juxtapositions of myth and modernity. While he played with structure and technique in his stories, and freely combined tropes from multiple genres (as in many of his greatest works, such as the Amber SeriesLord of Light, and Jack of Shadows), Zelanzy’s racetrack mind was one of wildly creative invention, nothing like the de(con)structionist mindset of many of those embracing the New Wave as an opportunity to undermine what had come before. Zelazny, a natural storyteller of tremendous imagination, strengthened the foundations of fantasy and science fiction even while exuberantly constructing his own inimitable edifice upon its stones


May 20: No Darkness Without Light: Roger Zelazny’s Jack of Shadows

Godlike beings in competition, the bending of natural laws, a multiplicity of strange environments, the collision of magic and science, characterization rooted in myth and metaphor, and stakes of cosmological or world-shattering import – Roger Zelazny’s most popular fiction, be it his Amber Series, his brilliant Lord of Light, or the subject of this essay, Jack of Shadows, showcase the inherent fascinations that inform much of his work. Not that a grab-bag of story elements alone could possibly define an author – particularly one as creatively unrestrained as Zelazny – but if you should see such a grab-bag flung over the back of a man in a hurry, shades black, cigarette canted, perhaps as he races with seemingly suicidal speed atop a growling chrome hog though the log-jammed streets of conventional narrative, then you’ve just spotted one of the wildest storytellers of the twentieth century. Run after him!


May 24: The Far-Flung Literary Webs of Manly Wade Wellman by Brian Murphy

I’ve always been interested in the great chain of influence, the through-lines from one writer to the next. And I still get a thrill when I discover them, or better yet, experience them in the texts themselves. One of these great through-lines is Manly Wade Wellman (1903-1986). While he does not seem widely read today, the threads of Manly’s life and work are inextricably woven through horror and sword-and-sorcery, from the pulps all the way up to the present day. Even if you haven’t read him, odds are you’ve experienced Wellman in one way or another.

There is a clear literary chain from H.P. Lovecraft to Wellman, on to Karl Edward Wagner and Stephen King. I think it continues in Joe Lansdale, whom Wellman must have influenced, though my somewhat cursory internet research has not turned up anything definitive (Wellman did influence King, who influenced Lansdale). You can see the similarities in the authentic regional voice both use in their stories.


May 27: The Adventures of Elfboot and Hellstallion: Roger Zelazny’s Dilvish, the Damned

Roger Zelazny’s Dilvish, the Damned is a collection of short stories that includes both some of his earliest work, and later stories written with the established authorial voice familiar to fans of his Amber Series. One might say that in tone and style Dilvish, the Damned is as odd and unpredictable as the titular character’s adventures. Beginning with some of Zelazny’s earliest writing, two pieces that originally appeared in Fantastic Stories of the Imagination in the mid-60s written in the mode of a Dunsany or E.R. Eddison, and ending with work from the late seventies and early eighties, much of which was written to expand the story cycle to book length, Dilvish, the Damned is as much a fun romp through sword-and-sorcery fields as it is a snapshot of Zelazny’s evolution as a writer.