The great science fiction writer Roger Zelazny was an amazing reader. A few years ago, with some effort, I tracked down an audio cassette of him doing a wonderful reading of his novel The Courts of Chaos, the last of the first Amber series and about the only cassette in that series I could get my hands on at the time.
My most vivid memories of him reading, however, come more from Dark Carnival in the late 1980s, where a photo of me with him was taken, and I seem to recall that at my family members’ insistence (several are Zelazny fans, and were in attendance) I gave him a copy of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine with my first professionally published fantasy story, “The Beast With Blood-Red Eyes,” which was rather intentionally Zelaznyesque. (Incidentally, it was a gift I would not have been given had I not been pushed into it, something I considered sort of pompous and self-aggrandizing, in the presence of a dude like the Zman. But my family has always been far more supportive of me than I am of myself.)
I’m confident he made much more of an impression on me than I did on him. I also saw him at the World Fantasy Convention in New Orleans in 1994, alongside some friends of his who were distant acquaintances of mine (now, sadly, I forget who). He was very graci0us when told that I admired his work and he was a huge influence on my writing. He smiled and shook my hand. He died of colorectal cancer about seven or eight months later. His was the one hand in science fiction I really wanted to shake.
But it was his voice, and his fiercely otherworldly presence, that I remember most vividly. Many a grizzled, expressive, hard-assed, brilliant and slightly terrifying character I’ve written has been based on my having heard Zelazny speak in person at those two events and several others in the late ’80s and early ’90s. He’s a writer I miss almost every day.
In the above hour-long clip, he reads two stories at the 4th Street Fantasy Convention in 1986. The clip comes to me via Facebook from his son Trent Zelazny, who I’m told is also a kick-ass writer and a big fan of hard-boiled noir fiction, with (last I counted) two well-received books to his credit.