Saturday Morning Rerun: Roger Zelazny

A couple of years ago, I began replacing my analog library with digital versions of my favorites. I had to come the realization that the physical artifacts- the books- weren’t as important as the content- the stories and information. Ebooks were far easier to maintain and cart around. Last year, I finally took the plunge and got rid of my books. (Read about it here.)

Key to this decision, though, was the idea that I would still have digital versions of my favorite books to share with my children. My oldest son, age 15, is a rabid Stephen King fan and has a love of reading as I do. The little guys, Noodle and the Goon, show all the signs of having that same love.

What are the stories that you really love and have already shared or can’t wait to share with the next generation? Today, I’m talking about my three favorite short stories from one of the greats- Roger Zelazny. If you’ve missed these, maybe you’ll check them out. That is the theme of my “Saturday Morning Rerun”: taking another look at a classic.

These three stories appear in a number of collections. I have them in digital and analog form in the solid The Last Defender of Camelot– a collection of a number of his short stories. In long form, Zelazny’s work with the Amber series alone would qualify him as a Sci Fi legend. But short stories, I think, can be definitive proof of an author’s skill. Succinct, well-crafted, complete- a good short story meets those requirements.

First, with a little bit of whimsy, is “The Stainless Steel Leech”. With equal parts fantasy, science fiction, and horror, this story is an incredibly easy read- less than five pages in my paperback edition. It is a powerful handful of pages, though, as Zelazny tells a complete- start to finish- story. A perfect way to dip your toes into the water.

Next, and longest of these three, is the epic “For A Breath I Tarry”. In the story notes, Zelazny names this one his favorite novelette. I love his ability to put the reader into a character’s perspective and this story is a great example. An interesting foray into the question, “What does it mean to be a man?” Hail, Frost!

Finally, and my favorite of the three, is the titular “The Last Defender of Camelot”. This is actually the story that first ensconced Zelazny as one of my favorites. As a boy, when other kids were talking about being firemen, baseball players, or astronauts, I dreamed of being a Knight of the Round Table. Lancelot, with all of his imperfections, is the character that I’ve most wanted to be. Maybe it is the duality of his virtues and flaws that attracts me. If there is not a better representation of humanity’s potential and shortcomings, I cannot think of one.


Lancelot IS the last defender of that fallen ideal- Camelot. This story represents a modern take on the knight’s quest with a suitably powerful ending. The characters of the stories I loved as a child, now matured as I have, tell the final chapter of the Round Table’s story.

This book is one of the few to survive my digital purge. I have a copy in my ebook library but this yellowed, dog-eared, paperback has remained for a reason. 16 shorts- an impressive body of work and evidence of Zelazny’s genius.

If you’ve never read Zelazny, these three stories are a great place to start. At the same time, the stories delight me every time I go back to them- further evidence of his mastery of story telling. Sadly, Roger Zelazny passed away in 1995 after a bout with cancer. But the magic of his stories lives on, and is worthy of your time. Check them out- you won’t be disappointed!

So what is that story or author that you can’t wait to introduce the next generation to? 



Filed under Geek 101

11 responses to “Saturday Morning Rerun: Roger Zelazny

  1. Do you have a favorite novel of his? I’d have to go with This Immortal (variant title: …And Call Me Conrad).

  2. He is one of those authors that can write so authentically in a variety of styles and genres. As a fan, I love his stories. As an aspiring writer, his skill and ability to shift styles amazes me.

  3. Richard Utt

    How did you find a digital edition of the collection? All I’ve found is the 2002 re-issue, with different contents.

    • Oops- I think I was referring to a different collection in the digital format. This is one of the few physical books I kept as I transitioned to ebooks- in large part because I love these stories so much!

  4. David Gervais

    You do realize that with the usual DRM, you can’t pass your books on to your kids or friends, even if you die. Add to that, with the US model of copyright being forcibly spread around the world, if your kids want to re-buy one of your old favorites, it could still be in copyright and paying royalties to a greatgrandchild of the author, even if they never even met the author? Worse, if the rights holder has let the work go out-of-license, as in out-of-print then there is no legal way to re-buy a book.

    You also leave out the artifact value of some books.
    Also, with books, you never have to recharge or replace the batteries.

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