Zelazny, Roger Joseph

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Zelazny, Roger Joseph

(b. 13 May 1937 in Cleveland, Ohio; d. 14 June 1995 in Santa Fe, New Mexico), science fiction and fantasy novel writer who made a major impression on the genre.

Zelazny was the only child of Joseph Frank Zelazny and Josephine Sweet. His father was a Polish immigrant who worked as a pattern maker for a typewriter company. Zelazny’s childhood was spent in Euclid, a suburb of Cleveland, attending public school and spending much of his time reading. This early exposure to literature influenced him for the rest of his life; it was at this time that Zelazny was first exposed to the genre that he would later revolutionize, science fiction. He became interested in writing humorous, fantastic stories as early as junior high school.

Zelazny’s first published compositions were poems in a high school literary magazine, Eucuyo, for which he was later named editor. While still in high school, Zelazny submitted several pieces for publication to science fiction magazines but received only one acceptance, for the short story “Mr. Fuller’s Revolt,” which sold to Literary Cavalcade in 1954. He became somewhat discouraged and turned his attention to poetry.

His poetry won some recognition at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, where he twice won the Finlay Foster Poetry Prize. Oddly enough, he entered college intending to pursue a degree in psychology, reasoning that it would be more productive, but he changed his mind and graduated in 1959 with B.A. degree in English.

Better educated than most science fiction writers, Zelazny went on to graduate school at Columbia University, studying Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. In 1962 he began his rise to distinction. He finished a commitment to the Ohio National Guard, received his M.A. degree from Columbia, and sold two stories—“Passion Play” to Amazing Stories and “Horseman” to Fantastic. That same year he began working for the Social Security Administration as a claims agent to support himself and continuing to write part-time. In 1963 and 1964 he published numerous short stories, including “Graveyard Heart,” “Lucifer,” and “A Rose for Ecclesiastes,” for which he received his first Hugo nomination.

The next year was more challenging. Zelazny and his fiancèe, Sharon Steberl, were in an automobile accident, which postponed their wedding, and later that year, his father died unexpectedly. The couple was married on 5 December 1964, but they separated in 1965. After his separation, Zelazny was promoted to claims policy specialist and relocated to Baltimore. He met another Social Security employee, Judith Callahan, and married her on 20 September 1966, two months after his divorce from Steberl was finalized.

Putting the anguish caused by the failure of his marriage and the death of his father behind him, he received tremendous vindication for his efforts as a writer in 1966. He won two prestigious awards—the Hugo Award for “…And Call me Conrad” and the Nebula Award for both “He Who Shapes” and the “The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth.” He published his first novel-length works, This Immortal, the original version of “…And They Call me Conrad” and The Dream Master Which was based on “He Who Shapes” and expanded on the advice of editor Damon Knight.

Zelazny continued to be a prolific and much acclaimed writer through the 1960s and 1970s. He was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula Awards more than fifteen times. His book Lord of Light, published in 1967, won Zelazny his second Hugo and persuaded him to return to writing full-time. Quitting his job with the government worried him, and to compensate for the lack of regular income, he focused almost entirely on novel-length works—Jack of Shadows (1971), To Die in Italbar (1973), and Doorways in the Sand (1976). Most of his works are characterized by a certain whimsy or humor, bitter though it may be, and many of them are based on myth and folklore. Lord of Light was based on Hindu mythology, “Creatures of Light and Darkness” (1969) had Egyptian overtones, and “The Eye of the Cat” (1982) drew from Navajo folklore.

While Zelazny’s short fiction is critically acclaimed, his Amber Chronicles are best known. Starting in 1970 with Nine Princes in Amber, he caught the imagination of the public with his whimsical and symbolic fantasy series. Subsequent volumes included The Guns of Avalon (1972), Sign of the Unicorn (1975), The Hand of Oberon (1976), and The Courts of Chaos (1978).

In 1975, in the midst of all of this writing, Zelazny moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his wife, Judith, and his son, who was born in 1971; they had two more children. Zelazny periodically returned to the genre that he was most lauded for—short fiction. In 1976 he won the Nebula and the Hugo for “Home is the Hangman,” and in 1980 he won the Balrog Award for “The Last Defender of Came-lot.” He also received Hugos for “Unicorn Variation” (in 1982), “24 Views of Mount Fuji, by Hokusai” (in 1986), and “Permafrost” (in 1987). His earlier works continued to gain recognition—the French edition of The Isle of the Dead won the Prix Apollo in 1972, and “Damnation Alley” was made into a movie in 1977. While Zelazny’s later works are considered subordinate to his early efforts by some science fiction scholars, they were still well received. He earned a Balrog Award and a Daicon Award for Unicorn Variations and the Locus Award for Trumps of Doom (1985).

Throughout his writing career, Zelazny is credited with a talent for experimentation in various styles and commended for the psychological, religious, and philosophical elements in his writing, hearkening back to his early education. He is also recognized for his form and chaos theory and for his mastery of the quest tale, which has inspired much commentary. His career ended with his death from colon cancer.

One of the most versatile and philosophical of science fiction and fantasy writers, Roger Zelazny died at the age of fifty-eight. He was a prolific writer and published more than 50 novels and 150 short stories during his career, gaining him international renown. His works were translated into many languages, among them French, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, German, Swedish, Greek, Hebrew, and Japanese. He also collaborated with such authors as Philip K. Dick, Fred Saberhagen, and Robert Sheckley. Biographies include Carl B. Yoke, Roger Zelazny: Starmont Readers’ Guide 2 (1979); Jane M. Lindskold, Roger Zelazny (1993); and Theodore Krulik, Roger Zelazny (1986). Journal articles include Richard Cowper, “A Rose Isa Rose Isa Rose: In Search of Roger Zelazny,” Foundation 11/12 (March 1977); and John Clute, “The Word from Space,” London Guardian (20 lune 1995).

Wendi Arant Kaspar