Roadmarks by Roger Zelazny (1937 – 1995) was first published in 1979. I had heard it can be a difficult read due to its structure and style. I would agree with that, but that sort of stuff works out at least midway through the novel. The problem is that, at best, I can describe this novel as “interesting” when there is so much about it that should have developed into awesome and tremendous.
This is the second Zelazny novel that I have read, I do own several more to get through, but my interest in them is waning quite a bit. As with the previous novel that I read, This Immortal (1966), I get this feeling that Zelazny thinks he is the only chap to ever crack open a history book and he must be some kinda special because he has read some literature. To me he comes across as supercilious and obnoxious, which makes me grumpy. Do not get me wrong – I like erudite, intelligent, and clever authors. I like to read books that have some meat to them and the authors have big brain activity. I just do not want a cocky, snarky chap waving his ancient Greek quotes around at me. Nor do I need the lengthy French poems to prove he can read French poems.
Listen, I admit this is non-rational. Its just the feeling I get reading these novels. Others do feel differently, I am sure.
Problems with this novel: the novel is too short and too brisk to give the ideas and layout the room it needs to develop and breathe. Like I said above, so many neat ideas in such an unusual format that it is a supremely interesting novel. But capping at 189 pages, it does not give the reader enough of what is really, really good. It does not allow the ideas to play out. And here is the thing: every one of us has great ideas, I am certain of it. It is in the execution of the ideas that truly tests our ideas and our skill. Move that idea from theory into praxis, my friends. Half-baked potential is always going to be just that. Frankly, the ideas in this novel are so interesting that they deserve a better execution – and the readers are robbed of that.
Or maybe our author could not get the novel further………. Maybe it was 1979 and after the last segments were written the author felt “good enough” and “oh, aren’t I avant garde!” and that was it.
Dragons. I hated the whole element/theme of dragons in this. I do not want to be crass, but I found it stupid.
From what I have already said, you would think I just hated this novel. I did not. In fact, I really liked it. I loved banging down the Road in a beater truck that is also a Transformer when it gets the aid of Baudelaire’s “Alexa” device. I totally loved the books qua A.I., in other words. I also think this is one of the better time-manipulation stories because a Road with exits and on-ramps that relate, in some way, to history is fantastic. I mean, Zelazny is also brazen and bold because in chapter 2 (or one, however you like) we meet a character named Adolph looking for the time-place where “he won.” So, Zelazny shows us straight-away that he is not going to play it safe, let’s say, with his times and characters.
There are constant cigars, odd scenes in roadside hotels, and a completely strange robot that has at some point sustained damage and now spends its time as a potter in a cave. All of these elements do a great job of keeping the reader off-guard and making the storyline lively. However, some of the motives of the characters are absent or vague and underwritten. One guy is looking for his father, for no real reason. One guy is trying to “find himself.” A couple of characters are just hangers-on, somehow voluntarily tying their fate to the randomness of other characters. So, at the end, the novel has to end abruptly and without resolutions. There never was a point to it anyway. It was an exercise in ideas, not in novel-writing or character development or something.
I would certainly have loved a “sequel” or a spin-off wherein the author let us have more fun with the robots or characters from history. I think the hero-agenda that Zelazny is known for is present here, but it does not spoil anything. We can have a new hero for the sequel without taking anything away from Red Dorakeen (the main character). This is not really wishful thinking about what the novel might have been or what might have followed it. It is more so a realizing that this novel wanted me to waste my time on the Road as well. However, I am not as special, I guess, as Red Dorakeen and the purposelessness of a long road ahead with no particular destination does not appeal.
I have no idea what to say about Timyin Tin. Its like a caricature of a Shaolin monk. I find this a lot in society; it does not surprise me. But I feel Timyin Tin should have gotten more page-time or less, or another novel or just been omitted altogether. I am at a loss with this character. He needs a whole different novel series or something
Fritz Leiber’s The Big Time (1961) does it better. And Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979) does, too. No, those are not the same as Roadmarks, but I would hands down give those five stars. For all its interesting quirkiness, Roadmarks is fairly empty. Readers should read this novel so they know what the heck the rest of us are talking about. Yes, its a bit difficult. Yes, it is strange. A very interesting novel is the best I can say.