Saturday, 17 January 2015

This Immortal by Roger Zelazny

This Immortal was first published in 1966, my Panther edition paperback a couple of years later (it cost me five shillings, which is 25p in new money). The last time I read it was about forty years ago, so I was pleased when it was chosen as the monthly read for the Classic Science Fiction discussion group.

The story is set on a future Earth almost destroyed by a global nuclear war. The majority of the descendents of the survivors are now living on other planets, courtesy of the amiable Vegan aliens (as in, from Vega, rather than plant-eaters) who are fascinated with Earth and its history, but some still remain. One of them is the hero and teller of the tale, Conrad Nomikos, the Commissioner of Arts, Monuments and Archives for the planet. He is somewhat displeased to be called from his extended honeymoon to act as a tour guide to Cort Myshtigo, a wealthy and influential Vegan visitor. As the tour proceeds it becomes clear that there are many undercurrents, with threats to the lives of Myshtigo and Nomikos himself, but not until the end of the story is the real purpose of the Vegan's visit revealed.

Zelazny's writing style – laconic understatement laced with dry humour – is the main pleasure of the story. This flows rapidly, emphasised by the lack of any chapters, just line spaces to indicate a change of scene. Nomikos is a somewhat elliptical narrator, only gradually and indirectly revealing that he is very odd indeed – a man of indeterminate age, unusual abilities and many previous identities, who played a major role in the historic campaigns to prevent the Vegans from buying up the whole of Earth and to encourage the human emigrants to return home.

The inclusion of a variety of bizarre mutant humanoids and animals living in the still-radioactive zones seems a bit dated now, but was a standard SF assumption at the time. It did not detract from my pleasure in reading this story again, and I finished it in a couple of sessions.


Fred said...

I think it has also been published under the title "....And Call Me Conrad."

A good story. I reread several years ago, I think. It does wear well in my opinion.

Anthony G Williams said...

Yes, I agree. That's mainly down to the sophisticated writing style, I think. SFF is not generally known for such writing, but Zelazny stood out.

Fred said...

Yes, especially his shorter works. I like them better than his novels, of which _This Immortal_ and _Lord of Light_ are my favorites. Two of his short stories are among my favorite short stories and others rank high also. The two favorites are "A Rose for Ecclesiastes" and "The Doors of his Face, the Lamps of his Mouth."

Anthony G Williams said...

When I re-read those short stories recently, I was reminded why "Doors" was one of my favourite short stories, but "Rose" didn't appeal to me so much - beautifully written, though!