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Book Review: Nine Princes In Amber

Book Name: Nine Princes in Amber
Author: Roger Zelazny
First Published: 1970

Roger Zelazny was born in Euclid, Ohio, the son of of Polish immigrant. He had a typical childhood and showed an early interest in writing. In 1955 he earned a B.A. in English from Western Reserve University and went on to earn an M.A. in Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama from Columbia University in 1959. After graduation, he worked for the Social Security Administration by day and wrote science fiction by night. Zelazny wrote short stories at first, progressed to novellas and finally moved on to novel-length works. In 1969 he quit his day job and became a full time writer. Zelazny was an active member of the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. He was also a member of the Swordsmen and Sorcerers’ Guild of America (SAGA), a group of heroic fantasy authors from the 1960s, much of their work was published in Lin Carter’s Flashing Swords! Anthologies.

Zelazny was married Sharon Steberl in 1964 and later they divorced. Two years later he married Judith Callahan. They had two sons and a daughter. The author died of cancer in 1995, at the age of 58.

While Zelazny is best known for his Chronicles of Amber series, of which Nine Princes in Amber is the first book, he has won 6 Hugo Awards, 3 Nebula Awards, 2 Locus Awards, 2 Seiun Awards, 2 Balrog Awards and 1 Prix Tour-Apollo Award. Many years, Zelazny’s work competed with each other for the same award.

In 2010, Roger Zelazny was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

“I like libraries. It makes me feel comfortable and secure to have walls of words, beautiful and wise, all around me. I always feel better when I can see that there is something to hold back the shadows.” -Roger Zelazy from Nine Princes in Amber

Nine Princes in Amber begins when Carl Corey wakes up in a hospital and has no idea how he arrived or even who he is. He is suspicious of the circumstances of his stay and escapes the room, only to learn that he is recovering from a car accident and his hospital care is being paid for by his sister.

When Carl flees the hospital, he goes to his sister’s house, wishing to learn more about his unknown identity. There he is called Corwin and his sister refers to herself as Flora. In Flora’s library, Corwin finds a set of customized Tarot cards, the trumps of the Major Arcana are all replaced with portraits of members of his family. There are nine brothers, including Corwin and four sisters. While at Flora’s house, his younger brother Random contacts him on the phone. When Random arrives, he is being chased by strange humanoid creatures, which are defeated in concert by Corwin, Flora and Random. Corwin realizes that strange forces are at work that have little to do with how he thinks Earth should be.

Random asks Corwin if he is going to return to Amber and offers to “hellride” with him there. As the two brothers travel, Random subtly shifts the world around him using an innate ability that fascinates his elder brother. They arrive in Amber, a place of sublime beauty and order from which the entire universe takes its form.

In Amber they meet with another of their brothers, Julian. They battle and Corwin manages to unhorse Julian from his steed and take him prisoner. Corwin is learning that the nine princes of Amber are all at battle because their father has been missing for centuries and is presumed dead. When one of Corwin’s sisters arrives, fleeing from yet another brother named Eric, Corwin is moved to confess to Deirdre about his amnesia. Deirdre tells Corwin of the Pattern, from where the power of the royal family to manipulate worlds springs from. It is Deirdre’s opinion that if Corwin “walks the pattern” again, it would restore his memory.

Corwin, Random and Deirdre leave Amber and travel to a nearby reflection world called Rebma. It is an underwater city and ruled by their sister Moire. Since Rebma is close to the original Amber, it also contains a near perfect reflection of the Pattern. Moire grants Corwin permission to walk the Pattern because she believes that the three of them will support her in the defeat of Eric, their brother who holds the royal castle in Amber and is amassing a huge army. There is a price: Random must stay behind in Rebma and marry a blind girl named Vialle. Corwin walks the Pattern and his memory is indeed restored. He is a true prince of Amber and remembers a long life of centuries along with the powers which the Pattern give him: the power to walk through “shadow” and to pronounce a curse before dying. Walking the Pattern also grants him the power to project himself through space and he does so, going to the Castle of Amber where he finds a safe location to rest and think about what he has learned.

In the castle, Corwin searches the library and finds another pack of Trumps, tarot like cards that allow him to create shortcuts through “shadow” and travel to other worlds. He now knows how to use them. Corwin is discovered by Eric and they duel. Corwin doesn’t fair well in the battle and he uses the Trumps to escape.

Corwin begins to use the Trumps to contact his siblings. He makes deals with the various princes of Amber, learning who is aligned with whom and gaining an understanding of where he stands in the royal intrigue. His car accident was no accident after all, but part of the intrigue for the throne of Amber. He joins forces with his brother Bleys and together they command a navy to take Amber from Eric. In the end, Corwin and Bleys are not successful. Bleys falls over a cliff and Corwin is captured and thrown in chains. Eric sentences his defeated brother to be imprisoned and his eyes burned out. Eric crowns himself King of the one true world.

Corwin endures years in prison, blind and helpless. Although he is visited by occasional friends, no one can help him due to their fear of King Eric. As time goes by, Corwin’s eyes begin to regenerate and he begins a futile escape attempt with the use of a spoon. It is during this time, that the former keeper of the Pattern, appears out of nowhere. Dworkin Barimen is insane and has been imprisoned for a long time. He explains that he has come to Corwin by drawing a picture on his own dungeon wall, creating a Trump to travel. Corwin asks Dworkin to draw a picture of the Lighthouse of Cabra, a place he considers a safe haven. Once Dworkin completes the drawing, Corwin projects himself out of prison.

Roger Zelazny has been one of my favorite science fiction and fantasy authors. Nine Princes in Amber was my introduction to his work, but it certainly wasn’t the last book of his that I read. One of the common themes of his writing is that there exists an infinite number of worlds and that every world that can be imagined must exist somewhere. The powerful characters in his books usually have the ability to travel to these different worlds in some manner. The idea that the characters are never sure if they are creating these special places or are simply finding them is the metaphysical question that they ask themselves and never quite answer.

Sometimes his stories are pure fantasy, and others they combine science fiction and fantasy together. Either way, a Zelazny novel was always something unique and wonderful to read. I highly recommend the Chronicles of Amber. The books might be a bit old, but they hold up well and are still an entertaining read.

Nine Princes in Amber Book Cover


The Chronicles of Amber:

The first five novels feature Corwin, Prince of Amber.

1970 Nine Princes in Amber
1972 The Guns of Avalon
1975 Sign of the Unicorn
1976 The Hand of Oberon
1978 The Courts of Chaos

The next five novels feature Merlin, Corwin’s son.

1985 Trumps of Doom – Locus Fantasy Award winner, 1986
1986 Blood of Amber – Locus Fantasy Award nominee, 1987
1987 Sign of Chaos – Locus Fantasy Award nominee, 1988
1989 Knight of Shadows
1991 Prince of Chaos

Zelazny also wrote seven short stories set in Amber. The last five of these stories form one tale set after Prince of Chaos, the final novel.

2005 “A Secret of Amber”
1985 “Prolog to Trumps of Doom”
1994 “The Salesman’s Tale”
1995 “Blue Horse, Dancing Mountains”
1994 “The Shroudling and The Guisel”
1995 “Coming to a Cord”
1996 “Hall of Mirrors”

Book Review: Dreamsnake

Book Name: Dreamsnake
Author: Vonda N. McIntyre
First Published: 1978
Awards: Hugo, Nebula, Locus

Vonda N. McIntyre was born in 1948 in Louisville, Kentucky. She moved around a great deal during her childhood finally settling in Seattle, Washington with her family. She earned a bachelor of science in biology at the University of Washington and graduated with honors. Before going on to graduate school, she attended the Clarion Writers Workshop in Clarion, Pennsylvania in 1970. This is a professional science fiction writer’s school. She went on to study genetics in graduate school and made the self discovery that a research scientist makes a wonderful background for a science fiction writer. She is a woman of many talents from riding horses in hunting, jumping, and three-phase events, earning a black-belt in Aikido, designing websites, partaking in public access television, crochet, and other handcrafts based on mathematical principals.

Ms. McIntyre became an ongoing instructor of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop, now in its new locations on the West Coast, and has been a workshop writing instructor at various colleges and conventions. She belongs to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and several feminist organizations.

McIntyre has been writing since her early 20s. Her first novel, The Exile Waiting being published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1975. It was followed by her Nebula award winning novel Dreamsnake, based off her Analog short entitled Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand. At that point, the author turned to writing Star Trek novels for Paramount and landed the job of writing the novelizations of their hit movies: Star Trek II, III, and IV. She also wrote a fanfiction novel for Paramount entitled The Entropy Effect that was extremely popular with Star Trek fans.

“It’s a haunting, rich, and tender novel that explores the human side of science fiction in a manner that’s all too uncommon. The world it creates is vivid and fascinating, and Snake is a marvelously well realized character.” —Roger Zelazny

Dreamsnake follows the journey of a young female healer in a post dystopic world that has been reduced to the neolithic and yet has retained technology of a biologic nature. There is space flight and knowledge of other worlds, but access to this is curtailed.

Snake depends on three different types of serpents in order to be a successful healer, without one she is unable to perform her biological tech based medicine. Sand is the rattlesnake that has venom for vaccines and potions, Mist is a cobra with stronger venomous properties as Sand, and finally there’s Grass whose venom is used as a pain reliever and acts as a hallucinogenic drug similar to LSD. What makes Grass unique is that he’s a snake from another world without the ability to breed (as far as we know) and therefore his kind are very rare on Earth.

After having saved a young boy named Stavin from a village of people who fear snakes and therefore murder her precious dreamsnake, Snake is called upon to heal another patient is injured after a fall from her horse. Snake is hesitant to attempt to heal Jesse due to her lack of a dreamsnake, but her duty as a healer overrides her concerns. Jesse is grateful to Snake bids her to go to a place known as Central City where the otherworlders touch down. There she might find a replacement for Grass. Snake, Jesse and a companion set off for the city together.

Not long after the start of their journey, Jesse begins to sicken. The place that she fell off her horse was a radioactive crater and she has developed radiation poisoning. Snake is unable to cure her of this ailment. Before Jesses dies, she bequethes her horse Swift to Snake in the hope that the horse will be recognized by her people and Snake will be allowed access into the city despite Jesse’s absence.

Snake sets off to a place called the Oasis where she learns that her belongings have been destroyed and her precious journal has been stolen. This is where we are introduced to Arevin, the young desert dweller that has fallen in love with the young healer. Snake continues her travels and enters another town where she heals the governor and invites the governor’s son to her bed. This is where we learn about some of the strange sexual trainings and odd tribal practices – the governor’s son failed in a thing called biocontrol (a biological method of birth control that is based on training instead of drugs) and because of this the boy walks around covered in a cloak to hide his shame. Snake helps him to overcome his failing.

Snake then meets a child that has been abused and burned. Snake later adopts this little girl named Melissa. The crazy person that stole her journal, we never know the sex of the character as it is transgender, attacks and injures Snake leaving her to require several days of healing before she can travel to Central City.

Once she reaches the city, Snake is turned away from completing her quest and does not gain access to another dreamsnake. In the end, this doesn’t matter to Snake, who is disappointed by the result, but who realizes that she is self-sufficient as a healer and can continue to heal people without the third snake after all. She has traveled far and learned a great deal of new things. Things happen for a reason and those occurrences shape us into who we are. Dreamsnake comes full circle and the things that were once thought to be obstacles become opportunities.

There is some controversy about this classic science fiction novel. It is one of the first to explore transgender and to feature a woman protagonist that is female of outlook instead of a poorly disguised male character. At the time, the male dominated science fiction realm was scandalized by this. There are relationships in this book, but the sex is freely given and somewhat graphic in places. While the story is structured like a classic quest, the outcomes are subtle and are gained via understanding and teaching instead of via violence. As a teenage girl reading the book when it debuted, I admit that it rather blew my mind. At that age I could not put my finger on why the novel had such an impact on me both as a reader and as a writer, but now I see the threads of feminism and new ways for societies to live that were quite intriguing. The biological tech is very interesting and something that may become a reality via our genetic engineers in the not too distant future. McIntyre’s background as a biologist clearly shows in her writing.

Dreamsnake is not in print, but you can purchase an ebook copy directly from the author. While the story is a little dated, it is a novel worth reading if you wish to learn more about classic science fiction.

Book Review: The Little Prince

Book Name: The Little Prince
Author: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
First Published: 1943

Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint Exupéry, more popularly known as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, was born to an aristocratic family in Lyon on June 29, 1900. He was the third of five children of the Countess Marie de Fonscolombe and Count Jean de Saint Exupéry. His father died of a stroke in Lyon’s La Foux train station before his son’s fourth birthday. This left the family in poverty.

When he was 17, his younger brother succumbed to rheumatic fever. Saint-Exupéry remained at home to care for his brother Francois, but it was to no avail and his brother died. This left Saint-Exupéry in the role of being the sole “man” of the family and caused him to become the protector to his mother and sisters. Later he would write of his brother’s death “…remained motionless for an instant. He did not cry out. He fell as gently as a young tree falls”, this imagery would much later serve to create the climactic ending of The Little Prince.

Saint-Exupéry had difficulty in deciding on a career path. He failed his final exams at the Naval Academy and then studied architecture at École des Beaux-Arts for over a year, but did not graduate. He fell into a habit of accepting odd jobs until he began military service in the French Army during 1921. After taking private flying lessons, he was transferred to the French Air Force. He received his pilot’s wings in Casablanca, Morocco and posted to the 34th Aviation Regiment at Le Bourget on the edge of Paris. It was then that he had several aircraft crashes, endangering his life.

Saint-Exupéry was engaged to future novelist Louise Lévêque de Vilmorin at the time and due to pressure from her family, he quit the air force and flying to take an office job in the city. He was not happy in this choice and in time the young couple broke off their engagement. He returned to working odd jobs and had little success over the next few years.

He began flying again in 1926 and became an airmail pilot. His routes included Africa, Europe, and South America. He became one of the pioneers of international postal flight, in the days when airplanes had few instruments and pilots flew by the seat of their pants. He worked for Aéropostale and became the airline stopover manager for the Cape Juby airfield South Morocco, in the Sahara desert. His duties included negotiating the safe release of downed pilots taken hostage by enemy Moors, a task which earned him his first Légion d’honneur from the French Government.

In 1929, Saint-Exupéry was transferred to Argentina, where he was became director of the Aeroposta Argentina airline. He surveyed new air routes across South America, negotiated agreements, and even occasionally flew the mail as well as search missions looking for lost fliers. This period of his life is documented in the IMAX film Wings of Courage by French director Jean-Jacques Annaud.

In 1931, his first book Vol de nuit (Night Flight) was published and gained widespread acclaim. He also married the Salvadoran artist and writer Consuelo Suncin that same year. She was a twice-widowed Salvadoran writer and artist. A true bohemian spirit with a “viper’s tongue”. While Saint-Exupéry was bemused by his diminutive wife, their marriage was a stormy one. She was both his muse and the source of much personal angst. Saint-Exupery would engage in many affairs during their marriage, usually with a Frenchwoman Hélène de Vogüé. She would become the author’s literary executrix after his death.

On December 30, 1935, Saint-Exupéry and his mechanic-navigator André Prévot crashed in the Sahara desert. They had been attempting to break the speed record in a Paris-to-Spain race and win a 150,000 francs prize. They survived the crash and wandered the desert for four days, with little water or supplies. Both saw mirages and experienced hallucinations and came close to death. They were found by a passing Bedouin who saved their lives. The near brush with death would figure prominently in Saint-Exupéry’s 1939 memoir, Wind, Sand and Stars. Saint-Exupéry’s classic novella The Little Prince, which begins with a pilot being marooned in the desert, is also a reference to this experience.

Following the German invasion of France in 1940, Saint-Exupéry joined the French Armée de l’Air to serve his country. After the armistice with Germany, he went into exile in 1940 to New York City. He had the intention to convince the United States to enter the war against Nazi Germany. It was there that he belatedly received his National Book Award for Wind, Sand and Stars won the previous year while he was fighting the Germans. His wife Consuelo followed him to New York a few months later.

It was soon after Saint-Exupéry’s arrival in the United States that the author adopted the hyphen within his surname. It was due to his annoyance of Americans addressing him as “Mr. Exupéry”. It was also during this period that he authored Pilote de guerre (Flight to Arras), which earned widespread acclaim, and Lettre à un otage (Letter to a Hostage), dedicated to the 40 million French living under Nazi oppression.

The French wife of one of his publishers helped persuade Saint-Exupéry to produce a children’s book, hoping to calm the pilot’s nerves and to compete with the new series of Mary Poppins stories by P.L. Travers. Saint-Exupéry wrote and illustrated The Little Prince to answer this call. It would be first published in early 1943 in both English and French in the United States, and would but only later appear in his native homeland posthumously after the liberation of France. This novella has been translated into more than 250 languages and dialects and is one of the top three selling books in the world.

In 1943, Saint-Exupéry rejoined with the Free French Air Force. He was eight years over the age limit for being a pilot and his previous crash injuries was causing his body pain and limited mobility. His last assigned reconnaissance mission was to observe German troop movements in and around the Rhone Valley before the Allied invasion of southern France. He took off in an unarmed P-38 from an airbase on Corsica. To the great alarm of the squadron members who revered him, he vanished into that long night without a trace.

“A saint in short, true to his name, flying up here at the right hand of God. The good Saint-Ex! And he was not the only one. He was merely the one who put it into words most beautifully and anointed himself before the altar of the right stuff.” -Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff

When he was a young boy, the narrator drew an elephant inside a boa constrictor. However, all adults who saw the picture thought it was a hat. He tried to explain but was told to take up a more useful hobby instead of drawing. The lack of creativity of the adults frustrated him and made him stop drawing.

He is now a pilot but his plane has crashed in the Sahara desert. There, he encounters a golden-haired young boy he calls “the little prince”. The prince asks him to draw a sheep and when he shows him his childhood drawing, the boy correctly guesses what it is. The narrator fails to draw a nice-looking sheep then out of frustration just draws a box and says that the sheep is inside the box. Much to his surprise, the prince tells him that the drawing is exactly what he wanted.

The two are stranded in the desert for eight days. The pilot tries to repair the plane and the boy tells him his life story. The prince describes his life on his planet, which is an asteroid as big as a house. The planet has three tiny volcanoes and several kinds of plants and the boy wants a sheep to eat the unwanted plants. He also loves a mysterious rose growing on his planet and is on a journey to see what else is in the universe.

The boy has been to six other asteroids and has met a foolish adult inhabiting each of them. One of the inhabitants, a geographer who only concentrated on theories but never explored the area he was mapping, told him that the planet Earth would be a good place to visit.

The prince landed on Earth and when he saw rosebushes, he was sad to learn that his rose was not unique. He doubted himself and felt bad about his small planet. However, he met a fox who convinced him that his rose was special because of his love for it. He and the fox eventually separated and the prince met a railway switchman who told him how adults were oblivious and never satisfied with their situation.

Back to the present time, the very thirsty narrator and the prince find a well. The pilot later sees the prince talking to a poisonous snake who has previously claimed to be able to return the prince to his home planet. The prince wants to go home.

“People have forgotten this truth,” the fox said. “But you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed. You’re responsible for your rose.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

The Little Prince Book CoverWhile The Little Prince is considered a children’s book, there is much commentary about living as an adult and seeing beyond what our eyes tell us. It is a book about love, respect, and home. Much of the author’s life went into this small volume that has influenced billions of children to this very day. It is a book that should be part of every child’s bookcase.

50 Days of Indie: Wendy Van Camp

The Curate's Brother on Amazon

My book “The Curate’s Brother: A Jane Austen Variation of Persuasion” is featured as number 48 of Cheryllynn Dyess’s 50 Days of Indie Authors promotion. Cheryllyn has been interviewed here on No Wasted Ink. Please visit her interview if you haven’t already and gain an introduction to her as an author.

Day 48 of 50 days of Indie….featuring Wendy Van Camp

Featured on OC Author Spotlight: Wendy Van Camp

The Curate's Brother on Amazon

I am the featured author at Lit Central O.C. this week. I speak about my writing process and inspiration for my new ebook “The Curate’s Brother: A Jane Austen Variation of Persuasion”. Lit Central O.C. has many interesting articles about the writing process and events going on in Orange County, California in addition to my spotlight. I hope you’ll stop by and give the magazine a try.

O.C. Author Spotlight: Wendy Van Camp

Lit Central O.C. is an online magazine established in January 2014 with the purpose of strengthening the O.C. writing community and forging better ties among the many O.C. writing groups. It features essays, articles and reviews by O.C. writers, as well as ongoing columns on self-editing, self-publishing and technology for writers. The O.C. Author Spotlight series features interviews with published fiction authors on Thursdays, and an excerpt of their latest or favorite work on Fridays. Lit Central O.C. is also home to Event Central, the most complete literary event calendar in the county.