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Book Note: Roger Zelazny, The Last Defender of Camelot

I read this book about 19-Nov-2006. I've read this book before. The book is copyright 1962. This note was last modified Sunday, 10-Dec-2006 21:08:37 PST.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


A collection covering the first 18 years of his career, including his first couple of stories from 1962.

Passion Play

An end-of-the-world story; more common in 1960s SF.

His first published story.

Involves autonomous cars re-creating Grand Prix races—and particularly famous accidents—as a memorial to humanity.

And it's very short


His second published story.

The Four Hoursemen gather to greet a starship arriving from Earth. I think that makes it another end of the world story, just an incipient one.

The Stainless Steel Leech

Humourous, perhaps; also end of the world.

The last vampire, weak due to long starvataion, and a mutant robot (essentially a robot vampire) are friends, and the vampire manages to ensure the survival of the robot.

A Thing of Terrible Beauty

I believe that in this one, an alien visitor is sharing the body of a human so as to be present at—the end of the world again. I could be wrong, though.

I've actually enjoyed these stories more than the write-up seems to suggest; they're very evocative, well-written. And short. They're just not the sort of thing where saying "what happens" makes their appeal clear.

He Who Shapes

This was later expanded into the novel The Dream Master, which I also didn't like too well.

A psychiatrist of a new type, using fancy machinery to go into the heads of patients, works to introduce a blind psychiatrist to sight, so that she can go on to learn this technology herself. In the end they end up stuck in her mind, I think.

Along the way, a girlfriend (who seems somewhat extraneous) and an engineered talking dog (who is an interesting minor character) play roles.

They do have air cars. In fact, the dog drives one at one point.

Comes Now the Power

A telepath who has lost his powers in a divorce (not, you understand, as a result of the legal settlement, but from the stress), manages to get them back, by having a dying girl show him again how it works. He pays her back by giving her his life experience.


Re-entering the ring for the first time in years, a "matador" who fights autonomous cars has three bouts; in the last one, he dies along with the car. Since this is his third death, it's permanent.

Which makes the second piece of really bizarre car imagery.

Damnation Alley

Another one that was later expanded into a novel. And a movie. Zelazny makes clear that (in all cases so far, not just this story) he eventually came to prefer the original story.

Hell Tanner is forced to drive across country (with two other cars and 4 other drivers) to deliver something crucial to Boston. The middle of the country is "Damnation Alley", a complete wilderness and anarchy, with bizarre beasts, bad people, and horrid weather (all air travel is impossible because of the winds a few hundred feet up).

There's some nice discussion about just how full-blown a sociopath Tanner is (he's seen acting to keep his brother safe for example), and he eventually chooses to carry through the mission for its own sake (the other drivers are all out of it for one reason or another, so they can't threaten him).

There's also a great bit near the end where the police in Boston are going to arrest him for looting, and when they tell him to put his hands up he hands them the pin from the grenade he's holding.

For a Breath I Tarry

Zelazny's favorite novella (of his own I presume), and I think mine too.

Yet again set after the death of man; the machines are trying to restore the Earth, and Frost, the northern controller machine, is attempting to become human. He's tempted with more knowledge of man by Mardel, an agent of Divcomm, the alternate controller, which perhaps should never have been activated.

There's also a brief appearance by the Ore Crusher, still carrying the bones of the last man in its bucket; it destroyed the last man in an accident, and must spend the rest of its existence wandering around telling other machines its story.

The Engine at Heartspring's Center

A man goes to a suicide colony—a resort for people wanting to die—but is never quite ready. Eventually the management sends an agent after him, who gets him to fall in love, but she does too. It's not, in the end, more creepy than touching, or more touching than creepy; it's rather balanced. I even find myself admiring the persistence of the colony in fulfilling the contract.

The Game of Blood and Dust

Alternate history, with two players making changes to things at various points. Three rounds are played.

No Award

This one was commissioned for the Saturday Evening Post. And the intro makes no reference to the title, which is a joke on the Hugo voting procedures (it's what you vote for if you don't like any of the stories nominated).

Telepathy, and its use in Secret Service level security work. And a trick to get around it, involving severing the corpus calosum. Possibly the first fiction I'd read involving that, too, back when.

Is There a Demon Lover in the House?

Jack the Ripper (never named) wanders on a foggy night into the modern world, sees a snuff film, and wanders home again. It's a mood piece.

The Last Defender of Camelot

Morgan LeFay and Lancelot are still around, in the modern world, and they combine to protect us against Merlin when he turns up. He doesn't understand compromise or shades of gray.

Stand Pat, Ruby Stone

Courtship and marriage and dinner, in a species that has three individual go into a marriage and two survive the first night.


A girl likes a guy who's had half his body pretty much redone, to run spaceships. He loves his ship better.

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David Dyer-Bennet