Thursday, February 20, 2014

Simple Tastes

This is the best cover for this book.
As you may recall, a few weeks back I made a commitment to read five short novels in a two-month period. I did this mainly because I seem to have ADD when it comes to reading, and I struggle mightily to read anything more than 250 pages long. So, with that in mind, I made a small pile of books from varying genres, and set to it.

The first in the pile was Nine Princes in Amber, the first in the Amber series by Roger Zelazny. I was looking forward to this one as it is considered a classic, and EVERYONE I talked to assured me that I would just love it. Well…

It’s not that it’s a bad book. And it’s not that I won’t finish it. But, the truth is, it’s not grabbing me. I’m fifty pages in and all I have seen is verbal fencing matches, and a bizarre road-trip, interspersed with a couple of “ok” fights. It is interesting that the main character knows literally nothing about himself at first, and that the reader learns bits and pieces as Corwin learns them himself. But, it’s taking too long. And that is getting frustrating. Basically, when I put the book down out of necessity, I am not compelled to pick it up again by anything other than a sense of duty to finish it.

My copy has this cover.  Frazetta!
Compare this to last night. One of the other books in the pile is The People That Time Forgot, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Having read several of ERB’s books, including a couple from the Pellucidar series, this seemed like familiar territory. After tucking Connor in, I found myself more-or-less alone in the house (Michele and Faith were both at work). So, instead of plopping in front of the computer or Xbox, I grabbed the ERB book, and lay down on the couch. By the time Michele came home an hour later, I was already over fifty pages in, and didn’t want to stop.

So, the question is, why? Why are the melodramatic musings of Burroughs more appealing than the intellectually challenging narrative of Zelazny to me? I think the answer is in progression.

Fifty pages into Amber, and I know the main character’s name, the names of his siblings, most of whom I have already lost track of, and the fact that they are all somehow tied to a mystical realm called Amber (presumably as royalty, based on the title). I know that getting to Amber involves some kind of magic, but I have no clue how that magic works, or why. In short, Corwin is being pulled along through the story, and it’s all he can do to make it look like he knows what he’s doing when he clearly doesn’t.

Fifty pages into ERB and I have a summary of the previous book, a background of the main character, and enough information about the supporting cast to make them feel real without being overwhelmed with details. There’s been action, danger, and fights for survival, and even a budding romance. I have a feel for the world that makes it real in my mind, thus making the obstacles the character is facing more real. But more than any of that is the sense of forward motion. Tom Billings is being proactive, even in the face of his own sense of doom and gloom. He knows his plight is hopeless, but he moves forward, weapon in hand, and determination in his heart.

And this may be the crux of my problem. The hero in Burroughs’ tale is a Hero; a selfless man of action. Zelazny’s hero is a thinker, a ponderer, and a bit of an egotist. In short, he is not what I like in a “hero.”

All of that being said, I’m sure Amber will get better. I’m sure, as things get revealed, the plot will move more briskly, as Corwin will eventually know enough about the situation, and himself, to be proactive. But, before I get there, I want to know how Tom Billings will survive Caspak.


Paul R. McNamee said...

Sometimes, it's not even "simple tastes" it just tastes.

Even when I align with someone 98% of the time, there is always that 2% where we look at each other and say, "Huh?"

It can be a song, a story, a novel, a movie.

Charles Gramlich said...

The Amber books are not my favorite Zelazny. I like a lot of his short stories. I think, too, they were a little too intellectual for me.

A said...

I had a friend recommend the Amber series but was never really sure whether it'd be worth it.