…And Call Me Conrad (This Immortal) by Roger Zelazny
1966 Hugo Award Winner
Published by The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
After The Three Days, Earth was changed into a radioactive wasteland and a relatively small core of remaining people, the least mutated anyway, have become island dwellers to avoid the hotspots scattered across the rest of the landscape. Most humans though, have left Earth which has essentially become a museum for visiting Vegans.
Conrad Nomikos a very mysterious person. He’s apparently extremely old and we know he possesses superhuman strength. He is also the Arts Commissioner of the museum that is Earth and now he’s been given the job of escorting one of those Vegans on a tour of some of the most important remaining cities and landmarks. He resents his task though and resents the danger he must face for an alien who has motives he distrusts.
The first rule about being immortal is…
You don’t talk about being immortal. Conrad’s history quickly becomes suspect and stays that way. He may have had more than one name. He may have lived more than one century. He’ll never tell. Conrad keeps everyone in the dark about everything that he can, and the mystery is agonizing – in a good way.
The party continues their tour and at every stop some new tension is added. Occasionally some act of violence occurs that as it is unfolding serves to lower your guard with the expectation that there might be some release of the tension that just keeps building and building. But instead, these incredibly raw, epic fights (or natural disaster or whatever is happening) only set a new floor for the drama and probably also introduce some new problem as well. Of course there are some moments of slight tension release but for the most part the energy just builds and builds and builds forever.
But if you are going to talk…
Do it well. Conrad is such a fun character. I came to think of him as a kind of bruiser version of The Dude. His attitude is so distrustful and so guarded yet he seems to go ahead with the tour despite his misgivings. When he is confronted about his own motives, his ability to deflect is comical. And this blitheness is really what gives us a break from the tension that just never ends. At a time when the future of the planet is in jeopardy it should be difficult to make jokes without sounding insincere or like a poor writer made a poor joke. Zelazny pulls this off SO WELL. I really looked forward to every conversation Conrad engaged in, just waiting to hear what kind of goofiness he could come up with in spite of the circumstances.
If you didn’t see this before, check this week’s Epic Quote.
And if you really aren’t going to talk…
Then fight. OMG the fight scenes are so raw and graphic in a way that was neither overly detailed nor overly stylized. If weapons were used, they were usually primitive and fists were absolutely devastating. The fighters and the circumstances were mythological (did I mention epic) and so freaking fun to read. Hold on, I’m gonna go back and read one again now…
Then: “Look at me! I am going to put the blade in very slowly. I am going to dine on you one day. What do you think of that?”
I laughed. It was suddenly worth laughing at.
His face twisted, then it straightened into a momentary look of puzzlement.
“Has the fear driven you mad, Commissioner?”
“Feathers or lead?” I asked him.
He knew what it meant. He started to say something, and then he heard a pebble click about twelve feet away. His head snapped in that direction.
He spent the last second of his life screaming, as the force of Bortan’s leap pulped him against the ground, before his head was snatched from his shoulders.
My hellhound had arrived.
This one came at the end of a string of particularly brutal fights and I loved the finality of the last sentence.
I have few complaints BUT…nearly the first 70 and last 10 pages were a little tough to care about and for a long time, I was worried that this would be a total flop. Zelazny spends so much time in the beginning giving half details that upon a re-read will probably be very meaningful, but just served to confuse and bore me this first time through. Still, once the story picks up, I was drawn in quick and completely. I would encourage anyone with a little patience to pick this one up.
Social/Political Climate 5/5
Scientific Wonders 2/5 (this should have been a higher score but I don’t know how to include satyrs here)
Overall 21/25 (The first 20+ score!)
The Die Being Cast...
This week’s book is Dune by Frank Herbert. My second re-read and the second book of the Deathmatch.
Next week’s book is Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein. I’m not sure how many times I've read this one but in the context of the HEP I’m not sure if I’ll like it as much this time. I’m sure it will still get a high HEP score though.