February 3, 2023

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Always, Zlaz reveals the private life of a sci-fi genius

Author of novels like Lord of Light and A Night in the Lonesome October, Roger Zelazny was one of science fiction’s most valuable voices. Science fiction writer and editor Warren Lapine credits Zelazny’s books with saving him from the life of a juvenile delinquent.

“Roger Zelazny is a writer,” says Lapine on episode 534 of the podcast “Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy.” “He makes people want to write. You read what he’s doing and you can tell he’s having so much fun you’re like, ‘I have to be able to do that.’ And so I immediately wanted to be a writer. Well, you don’t drop out of school and learn to write, so all of a sudden I was a straight-A student and I went to college and I had a very different life than I ever would have had if it hadn’t been for Roger Zelazny .”

Lapine’s latest project is Immer, Zlaz, which collects hundreds of letters Zelazny wrote to his best friend, Carl Yoke. Zelazny was a private person who rarely spoke about his opinions or private life, and his letters offer a rare glimpse into his thought process. “It’s just very, very intriguing,” says Lapine. “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 works, such as the popular 10-volume Amber series. But Lapine says critics are misplaced in dismissing Amber as light, commercial writing. “Most sci-fi critics don’t even have a degree in English, so they don’t even have a clue,” says Lapine. “All the stuff that’s going on in Amber, the levels and the amount of literary references in it is absolutely amazing. There is a literary allusion on almost every page. But if you haven’t read all this stuff, you won’t understand. If you haven’t read any of the Jacobean plays, you will miss all of these.”

In recent years, Lapine has worked closely with the Zelazny Estate to bring many of Zelazny’s older titles back to print. He firmly believes that all of the author’s dozens of books are worth reading. “Even his most insignificant book is better than the best books by many authors,” says Lapine. “I know we will have other people who will be able to show just as much virtuosity, but that has never happened in my life – before or after his death. There’s just nothing like reading Zelazny.”

Listen to the full interview with Warren Lapine on episode 534 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Warren Lapine on meeting Zelazny:

I’m interviewing Roger and I’ve got the tape and at some points he’s sitting backwards in the chair with his head hanging where people’s feet would be and he’s talking towards the tape recorder microphone and he’s spinning on the chair around. At one point he’s standing on top of the chair and talking down to him, and then he’s standing on top of the back of the chair. He was in constant motion, just kind of spinning around in the chair, up and down and around. I’ve never had anyone I’ve interviewed who was like that. It was fascinating. And he never broke a chain of thought. He was really focused, really good at answering interview questions. But it was surreal.

Warren Lapine on Deus Irae:

[Zelazny] showed Philip K. Dick the chunk he had written and Dick was unlocked and immediately wrote the next chapter and sent it to Roger and then Roger read it and then he wrote a 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 letters you can see that Philip K. Dick is in a terrible place. He has no money, no prospects, nothing is going well for him. And in the last letter he talks about how [Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?] works wonderfully. The money is coming in and this book has sold better than anything he has ever written. Philip K. Dick was just in a very different and better place than when they wrote the book in the very first days.

Warren Lapine on George RR Martin:

reading [Immer, Zlaz] today a modern reader will think that Roger George is dropping RR Martin’s name all over the place. But what they won’t realize is this [George] hadn’t written A Game of Thrones, and he wasn’t half as well known as Roger. So [Roger] only talked about his friend. It might feel like he was dropping the name of the world’s most famous fantasy author, but he wasn’t. … I remember when I first met George and people were like, “Who is George RR Martin?” I would say, “Oh, he wrote Fevre Dream.” That was his best-selling novel, a vampire bestseller the New York Times. That’s what he was known for. I remember hanging out with him at conventions and no one was there except a few of us. Now you couldn’t get close to him at a convention.

Warren Lapine on Zelazny versus the critics:

Some people say, “It’s like he had all these magic tricks and just kept putting them in his pocket.” And I said, “Well, how many times are you going to watch him pull a rabbit out of his hat? I mean, if he pulls the same rabbit out of the same hat, when does it stop being a trick? He was doing all these tricks and all these things that he wanted to see and I never quite understood why they thought he should keep experimenting on stuff like that after he was done with all the experiments that he wasn’t interested in for him. They all wanted him to remain this dazzling writer, going places where no one had gone before. And he just said, “But I was done with that now. I knew where the edges were.”

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