In need of escape from the present dismal circumstances, I happened to notice an ancient set of Roger Zelazny’s Amber chronicles gathering dust on my shelves, and am now engaged in re-reading them for the first time in probably 30 years. I’m somewhere in volume 3 right now. It’s an interesting experience.
I vaguely recall the overall shape of the story, so it’s mostly the details that surprise. And especially the language. Zelazny is a much pulpier writer than I remember. There’s a bit of a noirish, Chandleresque, “down these mean streets” quality to his prose and characterisation. The language mirrors the narrative, a bit, in its collision of high fantasy and contemporary, with the latter dating rather more noticeably. When the narrator slips into the argot of the early 1970s it’s weirdly jarring. Words like “guy” and “high” and “dig” lurk in the text like booby traps, ejecting the reader — me, at least — right out of the narrative world by sheer force of their incongruity. But no-one bats an eyelid at a bit of thee-ing and thou-ing. Blame fairy tales, blame Tolkien: we just expect people who ride horses and fight with swords to talk one way rather than another.
Those aren’t the only linguistic landmines, of course. A kind of tarot deck features heavily throughout, providing a sorcerous — and authorially convenient — cellphone service for the central cast of aristocratic chancers. There are, it is briefly noted, the usual minor suit cards in this deck, but the focus is very much on the Major Arcana. Or, as they are named throughout, the Trumps.
Capitalised and everything.
Assuming we live so long — and given I seem to have lost my copy of the obvious follow up, Roadmarks — I think I may proceed to a bit of PJF next. Tiers or Riverworld? Decisions, decisions.