Sunday, September 21, 2014

Classic SF About A Dog, and Various Monsters

Zelazny, Roger, 1993, A Night in the Lonesome October, illustrations by Gahan Wilson, Chicago Review Press, $15.95. ISBN 978-1-55652-560-5. Perfect bound paperback. 280 pages. Unabridged edition, 2014. You can still get the book for as little as $8 in older editions, but perhaps not for long now that people will be talking about it again.

This was Roger Zelazny's last book, published in 1993, two years before his untimely death. Now it has been reissued by Chicago Review Press, and serves as a poignant reminder of what science fiction loses when any great writer dies. A Night in the Lonesome October is a tour de force, bringing together many of the classic monsters of literature for an event that happens, or can happen, every time a full moon falls at the end of the month of October. Classic villains, some of whom may really be heroes, depending on your point of view, come together with a variety of supernaturally endowed newcomers to prevent or facilitate a metaphysical event of earth-shattering importance. The characters include Jack the Ripper, Sherlock Holmes (not really a monster, but he is there), Frankenstein and his monster, and many others. Each has a familiar. This book is just downright charming. Charming is not easy to do with this kind of subject matter, but Zelazny had a gift. Did I mention the book is narrated in the first person by a dog?

October has 31 days and the book has 31 chapters. I understand (okay, from advertising copy) that some aficionados read a chapter a day all through the month of October. I don't have the patience to read a book this good over a period of 31 days. It usually takes me either one or two days to read it. Yes, I bought a copy back in 1993 and have read it a few times over the years. It is great to see A Night in the Lonesome October back in print.

A Night in the Lonesome October
is narrated by a serious-minded watchdog who can speak to humans and has a great deal of experience going up against creatures most of us would never want to meet. But Snuff is, after all, a dog. His perspective adds an element of humor to this tale full of murder and intrigue, culminating with a metaphysical event of truly biblical proportions.

Snuff has basically three jobs. First, he is a watchdog and he has to watch. The house needs to be protected from external threats and from the possibility that several imprisoned monsters might get loose. Second, sometimes his human partner needs support on a particularly dangerous expedition. Finally, Snuff can learn things that a human can't. Animals talk to each other and they trade information; that is part of the Game. Early in the book Snuff makes friends with the familiar of the witch in the next valley. He might learn a lot from her, but can you ever really trust a cat? Even if the cat turns out to be working for the other side? There is another dog involved in the Game, a big one, as well as a bat, an owl, a rat, a snake, and more. The humans are getting murdered one by one, and Snuff's master may be next.

Gahan Wilson's numerous drawings are perfect for this kind of story. The cover painting by James Warhola is stunning. All of the pictures appeared in the original 1993 edition.

My recommendation? Buy this book now. 5/5 stars. One more thing: like most of Zelazny's books there is no explicit sex. Buy this book for all of your children, nieces, and nephews, especially if they are fans of monster movies!

A Night in the Lonesome October
is one of Zelazny's best, and you owe it to yourself to read it. Then read Lord of Light, also by Zelazny, which in my opinion is the best science fiction novel of all time. A Night in the Lonesome October was a great end to a career that produced multiple Hugo and Nebula award-winning books.

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