Visions of Paradise

Saturday, January 13, 2007


Like most science fiction fans, I bemoaned Roger Zelazny's abandoning serious novels for light, fast-paced throwaways the last decade of his career. Practically everything he wrote after 1982's Eye of Cat was basically a non-thinking book: the second Amber series (which made me yearn for the original series, which itself was not top-notch Zelazny!), the collaborative farces with Robert Sheckley (If At Faust You Don't Succeed, etc.), the juvenile A Dark Traveling, the humorous horror genre tribute A Night in the Lonesome October. Only a few short stories examined the human soul, particularly the novella "24 Views of Mt. Fuji, by Hokusai."

When I learned in 1994 that Zelazny published a western novel Wilderness in collaboration with Native American expert Gerald Hausman, I assumed it was another light adventure that happened to be set in the American West rather than space and time. But still, it was Zelazny, which guaranteed that at least the writing itself would be enjoyable, even if the rest of the novel demonstrated no other redeeming qualities.

Wrong! Wilderness was easily the most thoughtful Zelazny novel since Eye of Cat, and actually succeeded better than that one. The novel stems from two historical facts recounted early in the novel: in 1808 a mountain man named John Colter ran one hundred and fifty miles, half-naked, while pursued by several hundred Blackfeet warriors; and in 1823 an injured hunter named Hugh Glass crawled over one hundred miles through the wilderness from the Grand Valley to the Missouri River. What followed was a story of survival, two men struggling against the untamed American wilderness in the face of incredible odds, and surviving!

The novel is anything but an adventure. It explores the human spirit more deeply and more successfully than any Zelazny work since "Home is the Hangman" twenty years prior. It is also a wondrous novel, since man versus nature can be every bit as wondrous as man versus the unknown. I recommend this novel highly, not just for Zelazny fans, but for all science fiction fans. I know Roger Zelazny published novels after this one, but this is the one I will remember as the capstone of a wondrous writing career.


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