Friday, February 3, 2006

Nine Princes In Amber, Roger Zelazny

Title: Nine Princes In Amber
Author: Roger Zelazny
Rating: Good

For those who have somehow never heard of them, The Chronicles of Amber are one of the highlights of Roger Zelazny's career. They amount to a ten volume set of books - totaling perhaps 1200 pages - and document a fantasy world in which there is one real center - Amber - and all else is shadows, or reflections of that one true place. Earth is a shadow of Amber, and there is an infinity of shadows out there, waiting to be explored. There is also Chaos, of course, the opposite of Amber's order.

I recently purchased The Great Book of Amber - an omnibus containing all ten original volumes - and am digging into it with relish. It has been many, many years since I read the Amber series, and I missed it.

While the books are short enough that calling them separate volumes might be cheating, they come in two story arcs, and combining them seems too long to me. Regardless of how I count them, though, I am going to read them all, and calling them ten books towards my yearly total seems at least semi-reasonable. I intend to beat out the 26 book total by the end of the year anyway.

The books in the Amber series are:
  1. Nine Princes In Amber
  2. The Guns of Avalon
  3. Sign of the Unicorn
  4. The Hand of Oberon
  5. The Courts of Chaos
  6. Trumps of Doom
  7. Blood of Amber
  8. Sign of Chaos
  9. Knight of Shadows
  10. Prince of Chaos
Book one, Nine Princes In Amber is an introduction to Corwin, the hero of the first five books - if my poor memory of the story arcs serves correctly. Corwin awakes on Earth, in the present day, with amnesia after a nasty car accident and has to remember what is going on around him quickly. He's got relatives that want him dead, and there are things going on that he doesn't understand. More than that would be a spoiler, and as I love these books, I don't want to keep people from reading them, so I won't say more of the content.

Zelazny is a wonderful writer. He's no Shakespeare, but he can turn a phrase, and his descriptions work for me. His characters, though superhuman in many ways, are believable within the world he creates. I want to be a part of that world, and I'm willing to fall into these books without reservation.

Of particular interest to me, and someone I hope to track a bit better this time through the books, is a character named Dworkin. He's a magician of sorts, and created some of the most important things in the books. I've had multiple computers named Dworkin, at both home and work. He may be insane, and he's been treated badly, but for some reason he's always been the one I most remember from the books. Given I read them last probably 20 years ago or so, he must have made an impression in some way. If I can figure out what that was, perhaps I will summarize it in the last review of this series.

One thing to say about this specific combined volume: it has some typos in it. I noted two ugly ones in the first book alone. That's bothersome, and I may have to send it off on when I am done with it and acquire copies of the individual books. Time and the number of additional typos will tell.

A final - and I hope humorous - personal story before I end this review: Years ago I worked for a company that no longer exists as such. it was called Spectra-Physics, and we made high pressure liquid chromatography instrumentation. I got assigned to a project along with a very good friend of mine - Scott Shoffner - and we started designing a new instrument controlling system. The plans were for dedicated hardware, running an embedded operating system, and a lot of smarts for dealing with all the instruments the company made. As you might imagine, this was a complex system, and the requirements kept shifting around. Every time we'd talk with marketing, the requirements would change. After a while, we gave the project the code name "Amber" because - like Shadow - it was always changing out from under us, and infinitely variable.

The last part of the story I got from Scott. At some point he was at a meeting with some sales and marketing guys. One of the marketing guys asked Scott to tell the sales folks why the project was called Amber. Scott wondered at this, but went ahead and told the story. When he was done the marketing guy said something to the affect of "Huh. I thought it was named after Amber Lynn, the porn star." It seems there really are fundamental differences between engineers and marketeers. (My wife, on hearing that story, says: "Yeah. Engineers have reasons for doing things. Marketing just pulls stuff out of their ass." Gotta love her.)

Anyway, it's great to be back in Amber! If you haven't read these books you really need to try them. Zelazny writes fluff - almost comic book like fantasy - but it really is fun reading. Come join me!