Skip to main content

Doorways in the Sand (SF) - Roger Zelazny *****

Every now and then I take a break from reading science books and unwind with a spot of fiction. This is often something new, but I also like to dip back into old favourites... and was so glad that I did with Roger Zelazny's Doorways in the Sand, which I haven't read for about 20 years, but was a delight to return to because it remains totally brilliant.

I was a huge fan of Zelazny's Amber series in my teens (I used to haunt the SF bookshop near Piccadilly Station in Manchester, as it sold US imports, and had the latest addition to the Amber books long before they were published in the UK), and still enjoy them, despite the output getting a bit strained towards the end. Doorways, though, is SF rather than fantasy, with that same type of wisecracking hero who would have been portrayed by a young Harrison Ford in the movies.

For the first few pages this could be a 1920s comedy, with a night climber at university who has a trust fund that pays him until he graduates - so every time he comes close to graduating, he changes to a different course, never quite accumulating enough points to graduate, despite the university's determined attempts to see him pass, leading to a comic encounter with the latest in a series of student advisors.

However, there are strange things afoot. Fred, our main character, seems to be receiving garbled messages from the universe, while chapter endings result in sudden, often quite baffling shifts of situation. You have to be prepared to go with the flow and enjoy the scintillating words that Zelazny throws at you and eventually all will become clear (if not straightforward). The book is a total delight, and I don't know anyone currently writing in SF who can achieve this kind of masterful mind play mixing science fiction, humour and adventure. (If there is, please let me know.)

If you've never read it, you really must. Come one - there's a talking wombat. Need I say more?

Ridiculously, appears to be out of print at the time of review, but available secondhand.

Paperback:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Feed (SF) - Nick Clark Windo ****

Ever since The War of the Worlds, the post-apocalyptic disaster novel has been a firm fixture in the Science Fiction universe. What's more, such books are often among the few SF titles that are shown any interest by the literati, probably because many future disaster novels feature very little science. With a few exceptions, though (I'm thinking, for instance, The Chrysalids) they can make for pretty miserable reading unless you enjoy a diet of page after page of literary agonising.

The Feed is a real mixture. Large chunks of it are exactly that - page after page of self-examining misery with an occasional bit of action thrown in. But, there are parts where the writing really comes alive and shows its quality. This happens when we get the references back to pre-disaster, when we discover the Feed, which takes The Circle's premise to a whole new level with a mega-connected society where all human interaction is through directly-wired connections… until the whole thing fails …

The Bastard Legion (SF) - Gavin Smith *****

Science fiction has a long tradition of 'military in space' themes - and usually these books are uninspiring at best and verging on fascist at worst. From a serious SF viewpoint, it seemed that Joe Haldeman's magnificent The Forever War made the likes of Starship Troopers a mocked thing of the past, but sadly Hollywood seems to have rebooted the concept and we now see a lot of military SF on the shelves.

The bad news is that The Bastard Legion could not be classified as anything else - but the good news is that, just as Buffy the Vampire Slayer subverted the vampire genre, The Bastard Legion has so many twists on a straightforward 'marines in space' title that it does a brilliant job of subversion too.

The basic scenario is instantly different. Miska is heading up a mercenary legion, except they're all hardened criminals on a stolen prison ship, taking part because she has stolen the ship and fitted them all with explosive collars. Oh, and helping her train her &…

On the Moor - Richard Carter ****

There's much to enjoy in Richard Carter's pean to the frugal yet visceral delights of being one with England's Pennine moorland. If this were all there were to the book it would have made a good nature read, but Carter cleverly weaves in science at every opportunity, whether it's inspired by direct observations of birds and animals and plants - I confess I was ignorant of the peregrine falcon's 200 mile per hour dive - or spinning off from a trig point onto the geometric methods of surveying through history all the way up to GPS.

Carter is something of an expert on Darwin, and inevitably the great man comes into the story many times - yet his appearance never seems forced. It's hard to spend your time in a natural environment like this and not have Darwin repeatedly brought to mind.

I confess to a distinct love of these moors. Having spent my first 11 years in and around Littleborough, just the other side of Blackstone Edge from Carter's moor, the moorland…