Roger Zelazny – This Immortal

Title: This Immortal
Author: Roger Zelazny
Year: 1966

Browsing my old reviews, I find that This Immortal (or …And Call me Conrad, as it was originally named) is the ninth novel I read by Roger Zelazny. None of these books have been bad; some have been truly astonishing (Lord of Light comes to mind). In his novels, Zelazny frequently makes use of fairly impressive (one might say godlike), and this his first published novel is not an exception. Earth has suffered a terrible nuclear holocaust, and its few survivors strive to live in the ruins, threatened by mutants and aliens. This might seem like it has been done a thousand times, but the characters make it worthwhile anyway.

Zelazny is the master of flawed heroes. It is not that they are evil or any kind of antihero, it is just that they are physically or mentally imperfect in some ways. Conrad, the protagonist of This Immortal is, apart from being ugly and deformed, practically immortal. He refuses to speak about his past and about his age; perhaps he is one of the ancient Olympian gods or demigods? As he himself puts it, his life is a row of farewells and goodbyes. In this particular story, he leaves his young wife to guide a Vegan tourist around the ancient ruins of Earth. When it becomes obvious that there is a conspiracy to kill the Vegan, Conrad is convinced that he must keep him alive. He does not know why, yet, but he knows that the future of his beloved Earth might reside with the fate of the Vegan.

Zelazny’s language is difficult to assess, because at times it is truly fantastic. I feel marvelled by his quick-paced and yet effective style. At other times, however, it is nothing special. As  I have already said, the characters make this novel worthwhile (not only Conrad, but all the other members of the group is fairly interesting also, especially the belligerent Red Wig and the Arab master assassin Hasan). Here and there are sparks of brilliance, but not enough to raise the overall level of the novel to more than four snails. This is on par with what I have previously given to six of Zelazny’s novels, including the Amber series, so perhaps it comes as no great surprise.

Having finishedThis Immortal I now have only two Hugo-Award-winning novels left: The Forever Machine (or They’d Rather be Right) by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley, and this years winner: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon. Unfortunately, the first one seems to be almost impossible to come by, but I hope I will be able to get my hands on at least an e-version of the text.

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