Remarkable what you can find at one of those large, sprawling, craft-filled market days for a buck. I certainly don’t need any more old paper clogging up the office, but when I recently stumbled across a vendor selling classic science-fiction magazines for cheap, my willpower vaporized like it had been raked over by a ray gun (note the period-correct terminology).
This example is the April, 1963, issue of Fantastic Stories of Imagination, with acover by Frank Bruno. It caught my eye in particular because of the the Fritz Leiber story blurbed on the cover. Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books were a major influence behind my teenage enthusiasm for sword-and-sorcery novels, but his stuff was never just pulp. Leiber went on to be named one of the earliest science-fiction Grandmasters by the SFWA.
But what really made me pull out my wallet was the early Roger Zelazny tale listed on the table of contents. Zelazny is one of my favorites SF writers of the generation that debuted in the 1960s, and Fantastic was one of the publications that nurtured his early career. His story, The Malatesta Collection, is not bad, but it’s evident that he hadn’t yet hit his stride. (This issue came out a full three years before his first novel was published.) It’s a somewhat overwrought tale about a future society uncovering a cache of books, and the contents aren’t quite what they expect. Still, when you really like an author, it’s a treat to find some forgotten story of his.
Fantastic was published as a digest-size magazine from 1952-1980. It was revived as a webzine by Wilder Publications a few years ago, but just ceased publication on January 18 of this year. Fantastic’s time may have passed, but finding any of these old issues for a dollar is money well spent.
Roger Zelazny is one of the giants of the science-fiction and fantasy genres. He’d land a spot in my personal top-10 on the strength of Lord of Light alone. Throw in The Chronicles of Amber and This Immortal and he’s an absolute lock for my “favorites” list.
Still, Zelazny is one of those giants of the field that is in real danger of going undiscovered by younger generations of fans. Despite being a six-time Hugo Award winner and a three-time Nebula winner (This Immortal tied with Frank Herbert’s epic Dune for Best Novel in the 1966 voting), not a single one of his books was available in e-book format until 2014, and even now, much of his catalog remains out of print. Even Lord of Light is not available as an e-book.
Roadmarks, a short novel from 1979, is one of those books that
requires a trip to Half-Price Books or a tour through Amazon’s used book vendors to find. It is out of print and not likely to see the light of day anytime soon, given the travails of Zelazny’s literary estate.
In Roadmarks, Red Dorakeen and a variety of odd characters travel up and down a mysterious highway that can take one to the past or the future, even alternate timestreams. Of course, it requires a special talent to even find the highway, but those who do can wield enormous power. As in many of Zelazny’s books, the characters may or may not be gods or god-like beings and you never quite know until the end. It’s a fast, fun read, but one that forces you to pay attention, as Zelazny not only jumps frequently from character to character, but also to different time periods for each of those characters. That’s difficult for any writer to pull off but Zelazny makes it look easy.
Roger Zelazny died young, at only 58 years old, in 1995. If he had lived a normal lifespan he would no doubt have produced at least a dozen more great novels, and his legacy would no doubt be on more solid ground. As it is, he left too soon and his literary estate has not advanced with the times. Take the time to search the “Z” section at your local used bookstore; Zelazny’s novels are too good to be forgotten.