Classic Science Fiction Novels to Read During the Pandemic: This Immortal by Roger Zelazny

One of the advantages of reading some of my favorite novels is that I already have them here in my home. I don’t go to bookstores and libraries are closed. Yes, I order books online but I try to keep this to a minimum; my budget is not used to buying a lot of books.

I can’t go wrong with This Immortal by Roger Zelazny. It’s my favorite of the late author’s novels, right up there in my esteem with some of his wonderful short stories and novellas such as “The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth,” “A Rose for Ecclesiastes,” and “He Who Shapes.”

There are several reasons why you can’t go wrong by picking up a copy of This Immortal in the midst of this damned discouraging pandemic. First of all, there is Zelazny’s uniquely readable style. With Zelazny, not one word is wasted. He doesn’t meander; he propels you rapidly along a plot line. Another writer might have padded this material into a thousand-page doorstop of a book. Zelazny, though, is succinct, poetic, and marvelously lucid and detailed with a minimum of verbiage. This is a fairly short novel, the kind you don’t see much of nowadays in which the author says what he has to say and then stops. And no one can say it like Zelazny.

Zelazny is an expert at characterization. The narrator is the sort of godlike superhero that Zelazny specializes in: centuries old, powerful, courageous, resolute, but at the same time incredibly witty and likeable. The cast of supporting characters is also fleshed-out well, and each is idiosyncratic in their own way.

The main character is Greek, and Greek mythology forms an integral aspect of the story. That’s another thing that I like about the book. I lived in Greece for over fifteen years. I raised my family there. Zelazny manifests a love for Greece, the Greek people, and the language, customs, landscape, and legends of the land.

The plot is fairly simple. A superior alien race has usurped Earth’s prominence. Most Earth people have immigrated to other worlds. Earth itself is a shattered wreck that its surviving inhabitants are attempting to resuscitate. The narrator, a man named Conrad, although he has had numerous other names in the past, takes an important alien on a tour of Haiti, Egypt, and Greece with an entourage of Earthlings, some of whom are attempting to assassinate the alien. On the way they encounter all sorts of perils such as mutated monsters, tribes of half-humans, and creatures out of Greek myths. That’s another great thing about this book: it is full of adventure and excitement. There’s never a dull moment.

The best thing about This Immortal is that it is fun through and through. I couldn’t help but think that Zelazny must have had a great time writing it. Sometimes the joy it conveys is so intense that it almost brings tears to my eyes. It’s not often that you can take a wild ride like this in the company of a master word-craftsman like Zelazny. He was a one-of-a-kind writer who burst onto the field in the sixties as part of the speculative fiction “new wave,” and he was one of its finest and clearest voices. He died too soon, but at least we can celebrate his life by continuing to enjoy his marvelous fiction.

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