OFFBEAT: Last, lost words of an Ohio sci-fi great

When he died in 1995 at age58 while battling cancer, Cleveland native Roger Zelazny was one of the most famous and well-loved scienc
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010

 

When he died in 1995 at age58 while battling cancer, Cleveland native Roger Zelazny was one of the most famous and well-loved science fiction writers in the world.

During the 1990s, novelist Jane Lindskold completed two novels that Zelazny left unfinished after his death, "Donnerjack" and "Lord Demon."

And that seemed to be that.

Zelazny's fans could only wonder what he would haveproduced if he'd lived.

Then, in February 2009, the mystery and noir paperback house Hard Case Crime issued "The Dead Man's Brother," by Roger Zelazny. The cover, which showed a machete-wielding hero protecting a woman, proclaimed "First Publication Anywhere."

Zelazny fans who pick up the book will recognize the author they loved.

"It's damned good," said Kirby McCauley, the late author's literary agent. "Believe me, that was the happy surprise."

Born in Euclid, Zelazny lived in the Cleveland area and inBaltimore before settling in Santa Fe, N.M. He won a stack of awards for science fiction novels such as "Lord of Light." Readers particularly loved his "Amber" series of 10 fantasy novels. His initial stories in the 1960's caused a sensation among science fiction fans. His first novel, "... And Call Me Conrad," reprinted later as "This Immortal," won a Hugo Award, the genre's biggest honor, in a tie with Frank Herbert's classic "Dune."

For most of his career, Zelazny was represented by a literary agent in New York City, Kirby McCauley. McCauley and his sister, Kay McCauley, still run the Pimlico Agency.

About two years ago, Kay McCauley was working on papers in Pimlico's storage area in a New York City warehouse, making digital copies for Internet storage. She came across a cardboard box marked, "Save, no submissions at this time at Roger's request."

"When I read it, I said, 'Oh my God. Why didn't we try and sell it earlier?'," McCauley said.

Much new information about Zelazny's literary career is just now coming to light, with the launch of a six-volume set of Zelazny'scollected stories.

The first two volumes have just been published by the New England Science Fiction Association, which operates a small press publishing house. The editors plan to publish all of Zelazny's short stories and poetry, and also are including many articles based on research into Zelazny's career.

Dr. Christopher Kovacs, one of NESFA's editors, says Zelazny began "The Dead Man's Brother" in early 1970 and finished it in June 1971. The novel's hero is a former art smuggler named Ovid Wiley who has gone straight and become a professional art dealer. After Wiley's former partner turns up dead in Wiley's studio, the CIA embroils Wiley into a scheme to recover a large sum of money stolen from the Vatican. Adventures with assassins, CIA agents and corrupt police officers ensue in Rome and the jungles of Brazil.

Zelazny's agent tried to sell the book for two years, but publishers rejected it. Many said they wanted a science fiction novel from Zelazny instead.

Despite Zelazny's failed efforts to publish the book, reviews have been good. Publisher's Weekly called it a "fantastic andcompelling hard-boiled mystery."

The reviewer wrote, "The twists and turns come at breakneck pace, and vintage details addunexpected charm."

Prominent novelist Neil Gaiman blogged about the book.

"I am reading this book really slowly. A chapter a month," Gaiman wrote. "Because when it's done, there won't be any classic period Zelazny novels I haven't read ... And from what I have read so far, it is classic wonderful Roger Zelazny all the way."

Are there any other major works by Zelazny, waiting to be discovered?

Probably not, Kirby McCauley says.

"It is kind of like the last of the line," he said. "I'm virtually certain there are no other novels like this that are going to pop out."