Doorways in the Sand • 1975 • SF novel by Roger Zelazny

Zelazny is a must read for classical SF – three Nebula awards, six Hugos (two for his novels This Immortal in a tie with Dune, and Lord of Light) speak a language of their own. So do the titles of his stories like The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth or A Rose for Ecclesiastes. Zelazny belonged to a group of authors – Chip Delany, Tom Disch, Harlan Ellison, John Sladek – starting in the 60s to form a kind of offshoot of the British New Wave. British New Wave was more experimental with authors like Ballard, Aldiss and Moorcock. But those authors helped to bring in other aspects than Science to SF.

The author usually uses characters from myth and interprets them in a modern world. In this novel, he changes his style by adapting a work from phantastic literature – Alice in Wonderland – to SF. In one other aspect, he stays true to his style, namely the smoking density; I think, I counted more than 30 occurrences of smoking pipes and cigarettes in this short novel. Also, he uses his typical motif of absent father (e.g. in his Amber cycle) who reflects the unexpected death of Zelazny’s own father in 1962.
Like many others of his works, the novel is a kind of literary experiment. He uses flash-forward technique by starting chapters with a jump forward in time to the result of the chapter and then using the rest of the chapter to describe how it came to it. I had to get used to this and didn’t recognize the technique for the first couple of chapters, but then expected and liked it.

I think, this is the most funny work from him. He mixes SF, detective, and comic elements in a near future SF setting where aliens contacted Earth and started cultural exchange. But mostly, it is a homage to Lewis Carroll’s works. Zelazny includes loads of references to Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Through The Looking Glass, or The Hunting of the Snark.
To really like this novel, you also have to like Zelazny’s absurd humour:
„Enter, pray.“
„In which order?“
O bless this house, by all means, first. It could use a little grace.“
„Bless,“ I said, stepping in.

You will also find Zelazny’s intelligent, poetic language: „Sunflash, some splash. Darkle. Stardance. Phaeton’s solid gold Cadillac crashed where there was no ear to hear, lay burning, flickered, went out. Like me.“

The plot itself? Not that important or memorable. But fun and full of action with a nice main protagonist, and short enough!

I’d like to recommend reading the great wikipedia article about it.

Meta: isfdb. The novel was published in serialized form in Analog starting June 1975 and later as book.

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