Home > Book Reviews > This Immortal by Roger Zelazny

This Immortal by Roger Zelazny

I have previously read all of Zelazny’s fantasy/science fiction Amber series, his one-off Lord of Light as a science fiction book club selection, but had never read This Immortal before.  Surprisingly, This Immortal is currently out of print except for an unabridged audio version (which is the media I “read”); I say “surprisingly” because This Immortal, under its original serialized title of “…and Call Me Conrad,” tied with Frank Herbert’s Dune for the 1966 Hugo for best novel.

Honestly, I am not sure what to think of the book.  Like Lord of Light, Zelazny uses mythology or religious texts (in the case of the latter) to mix into a science fiction world.  In This Immortal, he uses Greek legends and folklore as background for his post-apocalyptic world.  The nuclear “hot spots” spawn mutations reminiscent of satyrs, centaurs, and other creatures.  The main character, Conrad Nomikos, is a Pan-like human, but is also referred to as a kallikantzaros, a goblin from Greek folk tales who work almost unceasingly to bring down the world (except during the 12 days of Christmas).

Conrad has had many aliases over the years, continually hiding his identity and longevity.  Zelazny never really confirms how old Conrad is, nor whether he is a god (Pan?) or a mutated human with long life.  He is, however, a protector of the Earth and its peoples, sometimes overtly, sometimes covertly.  The main threat is a blue-skinned alien race, the Vegans, who have purchased some of the Earth land for tourism.  Conrad is assigned to guide an important Vegan through the ruins of Earth’s civilization in order for him to write a travelogue.

Quickly it is apparent that there is more going on than writing a travel guide, as there are several attempts on the Vegan’s life and on Conrad’s.

One inventive episode occurs as the party approaches Giza.  There, Conrad has authorized the dismantling of the Great Pyramid.  “But why?” he is asked.  He then points out the filming equipment and informs the party that the labor force, who is moving the blocks without any modern equipment, is part of an actor’s guild.  His intention, so he says, is to use the building material and then to run the film backward so as to show how the pyramids were originally built by the Egyptians.

The book is interesting and the writing style is obviously from an earlier time in the genre, since it is much less straight-forward than today’s novels.  But, I am surprised that it tied with Dune, since the latter has so much more depth and is more elegantly written.

Conrad himself is written as a worldly man who is quick with a quip and for some reason the style reminded me a bit of a hard boiled detective novel.

I did, however, find several interesting similarities between the books:

  • The concept of an overman or a superman.  In This Immortal, the character of Conrad; in Dune, Paul Atreides.
  • There is a general theme of conservation and the importance of good stewardship of the planet.
  • There was a short comment about the use of a meta-cyanide, which was also the poison used on the gom jabbar needle in the Dune universe to test for human-ness.  I’ve never heard of this term before outside of these two novels.
  • At one point a poisoned needs secreted in the palm was to be used by an assassin.  There are several parallels in Dune, most specifically the needle that Thufir Hawat was to have used on Paul Atreides at the end of the novel.

Again, for me the clear winner would have been Dune, but This Immortal was still worth the read.  I do think that I will attempt to read more of the Hugo and Nebula award winners, especially the earlier ones.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars (finished December 28, 2010)

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  1. December 29, 2010 at 10:05 am

    All I hear is good about Roger Zelazny, I really need to read some of his stuff, so maybe this is a good place to start?

    and I’ve got a hankering for a Dune re-read all of a sudden as well!

    • michaelldennis
      December 29, 2010 at 5:55 pm

      Depends on what you’re interested in. I think this book is a bit more accessible than Lord of Light (which is, I believe, a better book than This Immortal). It’s main fascination is the merging of Hindu and Buddhist personages with a science-fiction colonized world — using technology for prayer wheels / slot machines and reincarnation booths.

      Probably the most accessible is Zelazny’s Amber series, which begins with Nine Princes in Amber. These books are an interesting mix of fantasy and science fiction and start with an amnesiac who is part of a supernatural family that has the ability to travel through parallel worlds. His family is rather dysfunctional and he must survive treachery from them.

      Happy reading!

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