‘Immer, Zlaz’ reveals the personal life of a sci-fi genius

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Roger Zelazny, author of novels such as Lord of Light and Night in lonely October, has been one of science fiction’s most valued voices. Science fiction writer and editor Warren Lapin believes that Zelazny’s books saved him from the life of a juvenile delinquent.

“Roger Zelazny is a writer for writers,” Lapin says in episode 534 of the series. Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “He makes people want to write. You read what he does, and you can tell he’s having so much fun, you think, “I should be able to do this.” And so I immediately wanted to become a writer. Well, you don’t drop out of school and learn how to write, so I suddenly got an honors student, went to college, and had a completely different life than I ever had if it wasn’t for Roger Zelazny.”

Lapin’s latest project Immer, Zlaz, which contains hundreds of letters that Zelazny wrote to his best friend Karl Jock. Zelazny was a private man who rarely spoke about his opinions or personal life, and his letters provide a rare insight into his thought process. “It’s just very, very exciting,” Lapin says. “If you want to know who Roger Zelazny was, these letters will do it for you.”

Zelazny’s early work was showered with praise, but critics were less enthusiastic about his later writings, such as the popular 10-volume Amber row. But Lapin says critics are wrong when they reject Amber like light, commercial text. “Most science fiction critics don’t even have a degree in English literature, so they don’t even have a clue,” says Lapin. “Everything that happens in Amber, the levels and amount of literary allusions there are absolutely staggering. Almost every page has a literary allusion. But if you haven’t read all of this, you won’t understand. If you haven’t read any of the Jakob plays, you’ll miss them all.”

In recent years, Lapin has worked closely with the Zelazny estate to bring many of Zelazny’s old books back to print. He firmly believes that all dozens of the author’s books are worth reading. “Even the smallest of his books is better than the best books of many writers,” says Lapin. “I know that we will have other people who will be able to show the same virtuosity, but this has not yet happened in my life – neither before nor after his death. There is nothing better than reading Zelazny.”

Listen to the full interview with Warren Lapin in episode 534. Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (higher). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Warren Lapin on meeting Zelazny:

I’m interviewing Roger and I’ve got a cassette in there, and at some points he’s sitting upside down in a chair with his head hanging where people’s feet should be, talking into the microphone of the tape recorder, and he’s spinning in the chair. At one point he stands on a chair and talks to him from top to bottom, and then he stands on the back of the chair. He was in constant motion, just spinning in his chair, up and down and back and forth. I’ve never had anyone I’ve interviewed like that. It was exciting. And he never broke the chain of thought. He was very focused, answered the interview questions really well. But it was surreal.

Warren Lapin on Deus Ire:

[Zelazny] showed the piece he wrote in Philip K. Dickand Dick unlocked and immediately wrote the next chapter and sent it to Roger and then Roger read it and then he wrote the chapter and sent it back to Philip K. Dick. And what’s really interesting to me about these letters is that at the beginning of the letter Philip K. Dick is in a terrible state. He has no money, no prospects, he does not succeed. And in the last letter he talks about how [Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?] doing great. The money is coming in and this book has sold better than anything he has ever written. Philip K. Dick was simply in a different and better position than when they wrote to each other in the very early days of the book.

Warren Lapin on George R. R. Martin:

Reading [Immer, Zlaz] today the modern reader would think that Roger constantly mentions the name of George R. R. Martin. But what they don’t understand is that [George] didn’t write Game of Thrones however, he was not half as famous as Roger. So [Roger] just talking about his friend. It may seem that he mentioned the name of the most famous fantasy author in the world, but he is not. … I remember when I first met George, people were asking, “Who is George R.R. Martin?” I would say, “Oh, he wrote Feverish dream“. It was his best selling novel, The newspaper “New York Times Best selling vampire novel ever. That’s what he was known for. I remember hanging out with him at conventions and there was no one around but the two of us. Now you couldn’t get close to him at the convention.

Warren Lapin on Zelazny against the critics:

Some people say, “It’s like he had all these magic tricks and just kept putting them back in his bag.” And I’m like, “Well, how many times do you want to watch him pull a rabbit out of a hat?” I mean, if he pulls the same rabbit out of the same hat, when does that stop being a gimmick? He did all these tricks and did everything he wanted to see, and I never understood why – after he finished doing all the experiments that he aspired to – that they decided that he should continue to experiment with things who had no interest in him. They all wanted him to continue to be a dazzling writer who went where no one had gone before. And he’s like, “But now I’m done with it. I knew where the edges were.”


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