Roger Zelazny, Manna from Heaven (Wildside Press, 2003)

'The dead are too much with us.' — from Zelazny's The Isle of The Dead

It is indeed worth noting that Manna from Heaven is the first major collection of Zelazny's short fiction in 15 years. Though some of the pieces here have been reprinted elsewhere, there is a great deal of material here that has not been easily accessible without paying inordinately large sums of money for obscure collections and zines where they were originally printed. That Zelazny did some of his finest writing in the short form cannot be disputed; that he also could stretch out a thin premise beyond its breaking point is also cannot be disputed. (If you desire to do so, write me here and we'll arrange a meeting in the Green Man Pub to discuss it over pints of Dragons Breath XXXX Stout!)

If you haven't encountered Zelazny before, I'll quote the Harper Collins bio for him:

Roger Zelazny burst onto the SF scene in the early 1960s with a series of dazzling and groundbreaking short stories. He won his first of six Hugo Awards for Lord of Light, and soon after produced the first book of his enormously popular Amber series, Nine Princes in Amber. In addition to his Hugos, he went on to win three Nebula Awards over the course of a long and distinguished career. He died on June 14, 1995.'
This dry and less than exciting précis of him and his career leaves out far too much of who he was as a writer, from the fact that the Amber series consists of ten short brilliant novels that are better than almost all fantasy that has ever been written to, as A Checklist of Roger Zelazny confirms, the fact that he has written more short fiction than I can scarcely believe exists! (Some of his short fiction would become part of novels, i.e., 'The White Beast', published in Whispers 13 and 14 became a part of his Dilvish, the Damned novel. Likewise' Pattern in Rebma', later part of Nine Princes in Amber, first existed as a transcribed reading in Kallikanzaros.) He's certainly not the only prolific short fiction writer of that period ('60s to '80s) as the money for writers of his ilk was very much coming from the magazines that were quite prolific at that point. Manna from Heaven exists in large part because he was prolific!

Which sort of explains this (new) collection of some of his shorter fiction. Despite the dust jacket's claim that '[r]eaders across the world have been waiting more than 15 years for a new collection of stories from the pen of grandmaster Roger Zelazny . . .', this anthology has a mysterious provenance. Though published by DNA Publications and Wildside Press, everything save the introduction by Steven Brust and the awful, truly awful, cover art by Bob Eggleton, is copyrighted by the Amber Corporation which I believe is Jane Lindskold. That likely means that she's mined the output of Zelazny to put together this collection. Now keep in mind that I hold the belief that the writing quality of this writer could range from absolutely brilliant all the way down to completely forgettable crap.

First, read the introduction by Brust. Though short, it does show how much a writer of considerable fame and talent considered Zelazny to be a truly major writer. Brust is right in that he, our departed writer of the fantastic, could write sentences that take one's breath away. He was that damn good. What Brust also notes that he creates truly memorable characters, i.e. , those in the Amber series. And that serves as a segue to the most important work in Manna from Heaven which is the set of previously uncollected short pieces set in the Amber series. Indeed features all six uncollected Amber short pieces are which are, with their original publication place and date, as follows: 'Prolog to Trumps of Doom' (limited edition of Trumps of Doom, 1985 and Amberzine # 4, by Phage Press, August 1993); 'The Salesman's Tale' (Amberzine #6, by Phage Press, February 1994 and Ten Tales, edited by John Dunning, 1994); 'Blue Horse, Dancing Mountains' (Wheel of Fortune, edited by Roger Zelazny, 1995); 'The Shroudling and the Guisel' (Realms of Fantasy, October, 1994) and (Amberzine # 8, by Phage Press, November 1995); 'Coming to a Cord' (Pirate Writings, Number 7, 1995) and (Amberzine # 10, by Phage Press, October 1997) and The Best of Pirate Writings edited by Edward J. McFadden III); and 'Hall of Mirrors' (Castle Fantastic, edited by John DeChanice and Martin Greenberg, March 1996). If I read these dates right, some of these were published after he passed on. No, I don't know if that means that Jane, like she did with Donnerjack and Lord Demon, edited these after he passed. It could be just the usual lag in getting a short story published.

Are they worth reading? Yes. No. Maybe. Have you read the entire Amber series? Do you know the characters so well that you could have conversations with them over Dragons Breath XXXX Stout in the Green Man Pub? If so, yes. They definitely fill in gaps in the series for you, the hard-core fan. For the casual reader, they serve no purpose at all. If you are that reader with more than a passing interest in this writer, Manna from Heaven (the name is take from a tale here, 'Mana from Heaven' which indeed is spelled with one 'n'. Go figure!) 'Godson', though excessively pun-ish, reflects nicely Zelazny's obsession with death and immortality. Just beware of the awful puns. Likewise I'll recommend 'Mana from Heaven' in which all the themes that Zelazny was so fond of are played out. This story particularly suggests why he found a kindred spirit and companion in Jane as it reads a lot like her fiction! 'The Furies' which is (surprise) a play off that Greek myth would be better if the characters had names that didn't make me groan (Sandor Sandor and Benedick Benedict are but two herein.) 'Come Back to The Killing Ground, Alice, My Love' starts off with a line that plays homage to the film Casablanca ('All the death-traps in the galaxy, and she has to walk into mine') and features a duel to the death and beyond. Lastly, his collaboration with Harlan Ellison, 'Come To Me Not In Winter's White', which details the attempts of man who might be Chronos Himself to save his dying lover is a tale that will chill you to the marrow as it has some of the most coldly sad language you'll ever read.

If you're a collector of Zelazny, you'll want this collection. If you're just interested in some hours of good reading, it might be worth your time. I'll add it to my collection of some thirty titles by him as it's worth keeping. You may well want to wait 'til a more reasonably priced edition (this is $30) comes out.

[Cat Eldridge]