Recently I listened to Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles Of Amber series yet again. It’s one of my favorite SFF works (and I consider it both Science Fiction and Fantasy). There are a lot of reasons why, but mostly the characters. I like Roger Zelazny characters a lot, and, yes, I do think that the second series–the Merlin books–are as good as the first series–the Corwin books. They are good in a different way, and Zelazny’s style changed somewhat between the end of The Courts Of Chaos and The Trumps Of Doom. But that’s okay, Merlin is a different narrator than Corwin, with different skills and interests and life experiences.
Anyway, one thing that struck me on this particular read-through (because it is important to my current WIP) is how important the central conceit of “walking through shadow” is to the novels.
Not just in terms of the storyline, but in terms of making the cosmos palatable. Zelazny created an impossibly huge universe–everything that could possibly exist is not only real, but reachable by his characters. It is an insanely ambitious plot device and really shouldn’t have worked, but it did.
What makes it work is Zelazny’s immediate and sensual description of shadow walking. The first shadow walk (okay, “shadow drive”) in Nine Princes In Amber is full of details, from sparkling sidewalks to “Kentucky Fried Lizard Parts”. The section where Corwin and Bleys move against Amber is more of a montage, but feels like a series of war dispatches. In a metaphysical sense shadows may lack the “true reality” of Amber, but the ground truth is that if an actualized theoretical abstraction bites your head off, you are truly, really dead.
I don’t want to copy the cosmology of the Amber novels for Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts, but I do want to emulate how he combined infinite possibilities with a concrete sense of quotidian reality. In particular I am working on the transitions between the Midworld and the various realms of Nightmare. Although my main character travels via astral projection through the Dream Sea to the Realms, I want to give the feel that the incorporeal is not imaginary–there is real effort and real danger involved in making the journey.