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Friday, June 15, 2012

Steven Brust: The Complete Package

To Reign in Hell, Steven Brust’s classic novel on the war in Heaven, contains a pleasure beyond that of the story itself.  In his introduction, Roger Zelazny describes his joy in discovering Steven Brust’s writing so early in the man’s career: at this time, Brust had only published two Vlad Taltos adventures, Jhereg and Yendi.  Just think of it!  Two pages of undiluted Roger Zelazny!  Not just a previously unseen story, one he probably wouldn’t have published if he still lived, but his own words, spoken from the great man to the average man, extolling the virtues of an up-and-coming writer he’s discovered.

In Search of Roger Zelazny

In High School, I discovered The Chronicles of Amber.  I devoured the five novels that comprised that Fantasy series, and then sought out anything else I could find from the great man.  The library, the bookstore, the grocery store spinner racks, the Science Fiction Book Club: none could hide their treasures from me.  Through them, I discovered classic novels like Madwand and The Changeling, Doorway in the Sand, Damnation Alley, Roadmarks, Lord of Light, the adventures of Dilvish the Damned, and the collection The Last Defender of Camelot.  Searching out his novels became a quest, and reading them a delight. 

When he embarked on a second series of five Amber novels, I waited impatiently for each new installment.  Reading them returned me to a fictional land I longed not just to visit, but to inhabit.

I’ve often wondered why some authors’ work resonates with me more than others.  Thankfully, in his introduction to Steven Brust’s novel, Roger Zelazny offers me his own explanation.  “Most good writers have one or two strong points,” he contends.  “Excellent plotting, say, can carry a story even if the writing itself is undistinguished.”  “A graceful prose stylist is a pleasure to read—even if the author is shaky when it comes to plotting or characterization.”  He goes on to discuss authors who masterfully develop their characters, or whose dialogue carries a reader along, hungry to read what each character will say next.

In addressing his particular genre, he discusses the differences between Science Fiction and Fantasy.  “Science Fiction,” he says, “explains everything,” while “fantasy generally doesn’t explain enough.”  One who can mix the two effectively, “cutting across the categories,” possesses special skill.  Roger Zelazny argues that Brust possesses the complete package: “solid plotting, good prose, insightful characterizations, fine dialogue,” and an ability to weave both sides of the genre into his stories. 

I agree, Roger.  I do so agree.

As I’ve mentioned previously, in the last few years, I’ve turned to Steven Brust’s work not only to fend off the depression that threatens during winter, but also to fuel my literary efforts.  Now I understand why I repeatedly turn to his novels when I could be reading the works of others.  Now I understand why I’m reading through his Vlad Taltos series a second time.  Now I understand why The Chronicles of Amber launched me on my earlier quest to acquire all the Roger Zelazny novels I could find.  For, like the great man himself, Steven Brust offers me everything I could hope for as a reader.  As an aspiring author, he possesses all the skills I hope to master.  He is, as Roger Zelazny might say, the complete package.

Mystery solved.

Gazing up at my role-models,
Dragon Dave

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  1. I too very much have enjoyed Roger Zelazny's and Stephen Brust's works. And I also have studied them as I worked to improve my writing for publication (I still refer back to them often).

    You didn't mention Creatures of Light and Darkness, which I enjoyed almost as much as Lord of Light--but I saw it in your picture of Roger Zelazny's titles.

    Best of luck as you move forward with your writing efforts!

  2. Dear Terry,

    My search for great Roger Zelazny stories continues. I recently picked up both the novels you mentioned, and have yet to read them, the second NESFA volume, and Lord Demon, the latter completed by Jane Lindskold after his death (not pictured). I enjoyed the Agnostic’s Prayer on your blog, and look forward to encountering it when I read the novel.

    The first NESFA volume reminded me of Roger Zelazny’s great love of classic literature. One thing I didn’t realize, but it made clear, was that his initial desire was not to be a writer of prose, but a poet. These two factors link him with J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and are no doubt part of his fiction’s timeless appeal.

    Thanks for reading my blog, and thanks again for the feedback. I love the covers for your novels, by the way. Best of luck with your writing career!