In between work today, I got in a quick read – The Dark World by Henry Kuttner, from 1946. I read on Wikipedia a few weeks ago that it had influenced Roger Zelazny heavily, so I wanted to see for myself – and lo and behold, the connections are even more obvious than Iâ€™d thought.
It almost reads like a first draft of Nine Princes in Amber or even Jack of Shadows. Kuttnerâ€™s style is too florid, over-the-top, and even primitive compared to RZ, but the restâ€¦ an immortal with amnesia that gains a conscience, a power struggle with sharply defined and overtly color-schemed characters, generous bloodshed and sword-play, a mixture of Earth and some otherworldly placeâ€¦ they seem very much like proof of concept for more advanced parallel-world ideas that RZ came up with – the Trumps, Shadow, the Pattern and the Logrus, even the World Machine from JoS. It all feel rooted in this little 126-page book.
I knew he was a fan of Alfred Bester, which explains the vastly improved dialogue, but combine Kuttner and Bester with an energetic, poetic approach, and you get RZ. Neat.
I have been very, very leery of writing in anything resembling a RZ-way since I wrote an 11th Amber novel, The Road To Amber, on a lark as a much younger undergrad, back in â€˜95 when he died on my birthday, only to learn that was a really silly thing to do that he didnâ€™t want. Iâ€™ve still got the thing, somewhere, in a bottomless trunk. 65,000 words, I think. It helped convince me that I could begin, sustain, and end a story. If I hadnâ€™t written that, I wouldnâ€™t have had the confidence to write EJ.
And it was a really fun pastime, trying to imitate the master. I hit a good stretch more than once, but I came to realize that it all leaned on an already established and rock-solid skeleton – pulling off the surface hijinks are nothing, really, compared to what lies beneath. I wonder if the guy who writes the Oberon books, which I have avoided, has fallen into this trap.
But reading Kuttner has gotten me thinking again. What if the problems Iâ€™m having with my 2nd book, which has lingered for six years now even though it lives in my head every day, are at the core because Iâ€™m trying to avoid sounding like RZ? It looks like he was not bashful at all in embracing Kuttner, consciously or unconsciously. Why should I avoid 1st person like the plague? As I said before, the style is nothing compared to the skeleton, and this skeleton is mine. It might open the book up and allow for the kind of weird riffing that I like to do in this blog. Itâ€™s too bad Iâ€™m overworked.
Maybe I could get a PhD grant, and work on my dissertation AND the book in relative relaxation. I could, also, eject pigs from my backside.