Thursday, February 28, 2013

Nine Black Doves, by Roger Zelazny (short works)

The full title of this book is The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volume 5: Nine Black Doves. It is volume five of the wonderful six-volume set that NESFA Press did a few years ago, collecting nearly all of Zelaznys short fiction, poetry, and short non-fiction writings. I picked up the entire set when it was released in 2009, skimmed through hitting my favorites, and have been returning to it occasionally to read one cover to cover.

Roger Zelazny was one of the best fantasy and science-fiction writers of the second half of the 20th century. A number of his novels remain in print, but his shorter works are getting harder and harder to find. Thats a damned shame, as his best short stories and novellas compare well the novels. I have been holding onto tattered paperbacks of them over the years, and have been very happy to replace and expand them as volumes were released.

The works in this volume are all from the last third of his career. They tend to be a bit longer than the earlier ones. A number of them were written as supplements and illustrations to other works or were later incorporated into novels. Theres nothing in this volume with the incredible impact of “Comes Now The Power” (volume 2) or A Rose for Ecclesiastes” (volume 1), but Permafrost and “24 Views of Mount Fuji by Hosaku belong in anyones list of best Zelazny works. Further, this book contains a number of pieces that Zelazny wrote for other writers series, including the Croyd Crenson stories for George R. R. MartinWild Cards series and Mana From Heaven for Larry Nivens The Magic May Return. In both cases, the Zelazny pieces were highlights of the original collections, and they read surprisingly well in isolation from the original series.

Each story is followed by comments from Zelazny when appropriate ones could be found, and some brief comments by the editors about things referenced in the story. The Zelazny comments are usually at least interesting, the editorial remarks less so and can usually be skipped without loss.

Each volume also has a number of Zelaznys poems, articles, scripts, novel and film proposals, and so forth. Zelazny was never one of my favorite poets, but the rest are almost always interesting and often give you additional insights into other works or things planned but never finished about his serials. Theyre worth reading, but on their own are not interesting enough to buy the book for.

Ultimately you want this and the other volumes for Zelaznys fiction. On that point, the only downside is that there is a lot of minor Zelazny in each volume. NESFA could have made an excellent ‘best of’ collection out of two volumes this size, but Im very pleased that they resisted the temptation. Even minor Zelazny shorts are better than most current writers, and merely good Zelazny suffers only by comparison to his best.

This and the other five collections are available only from NESFA Press in these high-quality hardbacks at $29.00 each. Theyre well worth the price for acid-free archive-quality editions, and the matched set with overlapping dust-jacket illustrations looks as good on the shelf as they read in the hand. Recommended.

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