The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth • (1965) • novelette by Roger Zelazny


Meta: ISFDB. Winning the Nebula novelette award in the first year giving out 1966, Hugo nominated. I’ve read it in The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth and Other Stories, my review here.

Entertaining Pre-NASA space opera: A fisherman’s tale on Old Venus trying to catch more than just a huge fish. Catching the fish is only the action part, the story itself is more about struggling in a hard place to find yourself again and a broken love romance. But look at the beautifully crafted poetry:

Venus at night is a field of sable waters. On the coasts, you can never tell where the sea ends and the sky begins. Dawn is like dumping milk into an inkwell. First, there are erratic curdles of white, then streamers. Shake the bottle for a gray colloid, then watch it whiten a little more. All of a sudden you’ve got day. Then start heating the mixture.

As with many works of Zelazny, it contains a couple of literaric references. In this case, the title cites the Leviathan in Book of Job, ch.41:

Who can open the doors of his face? his teeth are terrible round about. […] Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out.

In fact, one could try to cite verse by verse and compare it with the story, which I won’t do here; it is more a pastiche of Hemingway’s subtextual emotional resonance within The Old Man and the Sea than Meville’s Moby Dick. Don’t be afraid, the fast paces action in this story is more in balance with Zelazny’s wordsmithing than in A Rose for Ecclesiastes in this same collection. Clear characters, evolving story and I care about both.

On the negative side, one might wonder about the monotonous character variety: The same cigarette smoking, coffee drinking noir detective style hero lingers in many stories.

The novelette’s style remembers me heavily of the 1961’s Perry Rhodan jungle planet version of Venus when people wondered what might be below the thick clouds and I’ll come back to this topic with Dozois&Martin’s Old Venus.

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