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Lord Demon
Roger Zelazny and Jane Lindskold
Avon Books, 288 pages

Lord Demon
Roger Zelazny
During his career, Roger Zelazny won 6 Hugos and 3 Nebulas as well as many other major awards in the SF field. Several of his novels and short stories are considered landmarks, including Lord of Light, Creatures of Light and Darkness, "Home is the Hangman," and "A Rose for Ecclesiastes." The 10-volume Chronicles of Amber is regarded as a classic fantasy series. For the last 10 years of his life (he died in 1995), Zelazny lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Donnerjack
Zelazny Tribute Site
Zelazny Tribute Site
Zelazny Tribute Site

Jane Lindskold
Jane Lindskold has written a number of novels including The Pipes Of Orpheus, Smoke And Mirrors, When The Gods Are Silent and, most recently, Changer. She collaborated with Roger Zelazny on Donnerjack and lived with him during the final year of his life.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Changer

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Robert Francis

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Jim Croce wondered what he'd do if he could catch time in a bottle. Kai Wren, the Lord Demon for which Roger Zelazny's final book is titled, not only catches time, but also large chunks of real estate, mythological creatures, and retired sages and scholars in his bottles. Well, "catches" is not quite appropriate -- Kai Wren is an artisan who crafts magical bottles, which contain designer worlds. These bottles bring the owner luck and, if they have the skill, access to a private world.

Many of Kai Wren's associates have these bottles, and use them as home, or as a private retreat when not in residence on their home plane of existence. You see, Kai Wren and his associates, while not technically demons in the Judeo-Christian sense of the word, are not native to this reality. They are extra-dimensional beings who were exiled, after a series of wars, from their home plane to a barren, lifeless plane which they then painstakingly revamped over the millennia.

Their new home is just a hop, skip, and a jump from our plane of existence, and they found a convenient portal to our plane, located in China, a few thousand years ago -- just in time to provide the ancient Chinese with a working model for their demons. And the folks who kicked Kai Wren's people out of their rightful plane all those years ago... well, they're the gods. And the real difference between a "demon" and a "god"? One favours an anarchic, chaotic, lifestyle, while the other favours order.

Apparently, one of Kai Wren's fellow demons wants Kai Wren dead. Except, Kai Wren doesn't know why. Kai Wren made a name for himself during the last demon-god war, which, like every earlier demon-god war, the demons lost. Kai was the only demon to kill a god in single combat. However, following that, he became something of a recluse, retiring to a life of bottle- (and world-) making and contemplation. He hadn't had enough interaction with his fellows to make any enemies. So why the sudden interest in his demise? Perhaps Kai Wren was just a pawn in someone else's bid to become "king" of the demons.

Many of his long-time fans initially came to Roger Zelazny through the Amber series. If you've read his Amber series, some of what is recounted above might have a familiar ring to it. Actually, after the first few times you run across Amber-esque things in Lord Demon, and you begin to suspect something's up, you get hit with one Amber reference that's so blatant that you realize all the earlier ones were probably deliberate, and a planned set-up for the grand "amusing self-reference." Okay, fine. I enjoy a well-planned, self-referential joke as much as the next die-hard fanatic. And therein lies the problem. Some of the pieces of this book seem to be so intently written for the long-time Zelazny fan, that they forgot that some of the people who might buy this book will have never read Zelazny before. And will have no idea what's going on. And will just see a choppy plot lacking the smooth flow that is characteristic of a well crafted Zelazny story.

Parts of Lord Demon grabbed my imagination and wouldn't let go. Parts of Lord Demon had me excitedly turning the pages to see what would happen next. Parts of Lord Demon were vintage Zelazny. Unfortunately, other parts didn't, didn't, and weren't.

Particularly distracting were the seemingly random musings on the nature of Love, which would inexplicably crop up, disrupt the flow of whatever had been going on, then disappear without a trace. That is, until the final few pages of the story, which turned out to be a longer discourse on the same topic. I'm afraid that I came away with the feeling that the whole Love-thing finale was sort of welded onto the rest of the story as an afterthought, and the precursors inserted to justify the ending.

I have always been somewhat leery of books-from-beyond-the-grave. It is a good thing that everyone else isn't, or we wouldn't have had Tolkien's Silmarillion, a book lovingly compiled and edited by Tolkien's son Christopher and Guy Gavriel Kay. Maybe it was the whole Battlefield Earth thing that soured me -- when L. Ron Hubbard died and then miraculously returned to his roots as a writer of speculative fiction (although some might say he never really left). In general, I guess that I am suspicious of the quality of posthumous books, because the author isn't around for the final "quality control." I was torn by my decision not to read Zelazny's Donnerjack when it was published posthumously, because Zelazny had been my favourite author for a number of years, and (aside from The Mask of Loki) I had loved every Zelazny book written.

Rarely, one reads a work written by an author who apparently knew that he or she was dying. Reading Heinlein's To Sail Beyond the Sunset, I got the sense that Heinlein was tidying up the loose ends in the lives of his major characters -- and you know what? They all lived happily ever after. In parts of Lord Demon, I felt that Zelazny was trying to explain, or at least work through, some of the decisions he had made near the end of his life. That was his right, as the author, but as a reader I just didn't think that it worked to the benefit of the story.

Probably more of the blame -- and credit -- should go to Jane Lindskold. Since Zelazny wasn't one to make copious notes, it is almost certainly the case that Lindskold was left to complete the final opus of Zelazny with rather less to work from than she would have liked. Donnerjack, for example, was "completed" by Lindskold, based largely on her conversations with him about the project before his death, rather than on an unfinished manuscript. When I learned this information after having read Lord Demon, it immediately bolstered my gut reaction to the book. I'd prefer to think of a writer of Zelazny's caliber going out with a bang rather than a whimper.

Roger Zelazny was an excellent writer, who crafted many imaginative, well-told tales. Some of his works may be regarded as classics. In Lord Demon, one can find chapters which reflect Zelazny at his best -- and this is no doubt a great credit to Lindskold. If you find that you really enjoy parts, or all, of Lord Demon, then my advice to you is to please read Zelazny's earlier work -- you may be amazed at what awaits you.

Copyright © 1999 by Robert Francis

Robert Francis is by profession a geologist, and, perhaps due to some hidden need for symmetry, spends his spare time looking at the stars. He is married, has a son, and is proud that the entire family would rather read anything remotely resembling literature than watch Jerry Springer.


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