The Guns of Avalon (1972)

Be warned: I am not a science fiction expert, so fans and experts (fexperts?), read no further. I’m just a feminist with a lot of sci fi on her hands and a pretty voracious reading habit. That said, I began wending my way through my piles of sci fi in a completely unsystematic manner, which is why I wound up reading Roger Zelazny’s The Guns of Avalon first, only belatedly discovering that it was the second in his Amber series.

Despite some continuity issues and general confusion, I did manage to finish this novel, which is about the antics of a weirdly hard-boiled Hermes-like bloke named Corwin whose relationship with his immortal family is, well, problematic. I could sympathize with his sense that he had way too many siblings, as well as the advice he dispenses about trusting friends before relatives, but I  have to say, Corwin’s kind of an asshole. Sure, he can walk all day with another dude on his back and he recovers from a blinding (lots of castration issues in this) through his ability to regenerate.

But I almost stopped reading the book after a long riff about his white knighting of a hooker named Chilblain (maybe it’s Lorraine) who was abused by a previous lover. There’s a lot of posturing about the douche bag who abused her, but then, during the course of a conversation in which Chilblain isn’t particularly forthcoming in Corwin’s estimation, there’s this curious sentence: “I slapped her then.” And this after said posturing about how Corwin was going to “trounce” some other douche bag who had beat her.

And of course, the Big Bad in the novel is another woman — yawn — Dara, who first seduces him by posing as his brother’s great grand-daughter (or something distant enough for Corwin to claim it’s not incest) and then turns into a big cat with horns and electricity who laughs at him inhumanly.

I can’t say that reading The Guns of Avalon was time well-spent, but it was still a kind of interesting look into the Freudian sci fi imagination. Writing style was similarly kind of funny — combo of high fantasy setting and actions, with post-war slang: “Then I fear I must sleep” on one page, then “None of your business, Charlie” on another.


3 responses to “The Guns of Avalon (1972)

  1. I think you have to have first encountered the Amber series as a teenager, very possibly a male one. Nine Princes in Amber is also just plain a better book. Under no circumstances should _anyone_ (even male teenagers with time on their hands) read the 6th (!) through 10th (!!) books.
    Even read in sequence it has its weaknesses, especially this particular book. And yes, the gender stuff in this book particularly stinks (e.g. the fate of Lorraine, which seemed tacked on to give Corwin something to be gloomy about); I don’t recall as much of that in the other ones.
    I actually like the hard-boiled tone, which arguably makes a bit of sense given the background of the main character (having hung out on Earth up to about the seventies). Unfortunately, Zelanzy can’t resist veering into a sort of cod-medieval pomposity when he’s not channeling Dashiell Hammett.

  2. Haha was wondering when you’d find this so we could begin our raucous convo. Is this one of the titles you want? If so, will add to the “send to GL” pile.

    Have moved on to his My Name is Legion. More stylistically coherent (no “hie thee hither, you mouthy broad” and also just more fun. How can you resist an underwater dirty bomb PLUS paranoia about what’s going to happen when facebook has all your data.

  3. I own it already. Also I like my cover better. Later on, the low-end paperback versions of the covers on these books started to depict Corwin as a sort of Fabio-like figure, which was quite funny.

    Incidentally, Alice is a fan of this series, but also flagged gender stuff in book #2.

    It is interesting that Zelazny receives critical acclaim for pretty much everything else, and fan acclaim almost entirely for the Amber series, although many of the die-hard fans get off the bus at one or other of the stopping points. Also interesting – but not worth investigating closely – is the fact that some of the later books in this series seem like a ‘sharecrop’ and read like someone else’s writing.

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