Saturday, February 2, 2008

This Immortal - by Roger Zelazny

This Immortal was the first novel by Roger Zelazny (published in 1966), and was of a level good enough that it shared the Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Novel of the Year with Frank Herbert's "Dune". When I first read the novel many years back, it seemed very ordinary at first reading (in fact, I struggled to understand the meaning of many of the words and people in the novel - maybe if I had been born in the Greek Isles, I would have understood it better); however for the next few days, I kept on thinking about the novel, and read it again within a week. On second reading, it appealed much much more. Now, once every 1-2 years, I dust out the copy of the novel that I have and read it again (and I do not get bored by it at all).

This Immortal - by Roger Zelazny
I was reading a review of the novel in another place, and somebody pointed out something very pertinent about reading the novel - "the best way to understand "This Immortal" is to read Lawrence Durrell's chronicles of the Greek Isles, most especially "Prospero's Cell" and "Reflections on a Marine Venus"---or better yet, read Percy Shelley's "Prometheus Unbound," which is referred to more than once in this novel." Seemed very pertinent. But no matter, this is a fascinating novel and I can understand why this book remains very popular (with a new print coming out in 2007) and a number of authors have claimed to be inspired by the author.
The book is set in an earth sometime in the future, where a nuclear war between human and human condemned vast sections of the earth to be uninhabitable; vast sections of humanity were saved by moving them through space to other worlds. All this was done by an alien blue race called Vegans. They also helped the small number of Earth's population who remained to survive, but all the remaining places on earth were now owned be Vegans.
In the midst of all this, This Immortal refers to the character of the hero of this novel, a huge man who is also very ugly, with one leg shorter than the other. He was there from the nuclear war, but does not want to advertise his immortal nature by changing names. He is Conrad Nomikos, a Greek, born on Christmas Eve. In an earlier time soon after the nuclear war, he prevented the Vegans from converting the remaining portions of earth into resorts. He is otherwise not a person given to many displays, preferring to keep things quiet. He is just currently a caretaker and is also giving security to a rich visiting Vegan, Cort Myshtigo, who is traveling all over for reasons that are not very clear. There are many who want Cort dead, and it is upto Nomikos to keep Cort alive, and to figure out what the purpose of his visit is.
Earlier, Nomikos was heading an organization called the Returnist's - getting people to return so that earthlings can recover their planet from the Vegans. He is now somewhat removed from that mission, and is ambivalent about the Vegans now. During the course of showing Cort around the various ruins, he also protests him from various attempts. Some of those attempts seem very complex, and some very simple, many of them placing Conrad in severe danger.
Amusingly, his wife Cassandra calls him a kallikanzaros', which a Greek term for a little cloven-hooved satyr, who causes mischief of every kind. Conrad has already tricked the people around him about his origins and the death of the character who had his previous name. Now, he has to keep Cort alive till the end, when the surprising end is revealed.

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