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 I’d thought.
It almost reads like a first draft of Nine Princes in Amber or even Jack of Shadows. Kuttner’s style is too florid, over-the-top, and even primitive compared to RZ, but the rest… 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 place… 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 ‘95 when he died on my birthday, only to learn that was a really silly thing to do that he didn’t want. I’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 hadn’t written that, I wouldn’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 I’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 I’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. It’s too bad I’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.