The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth (collection)

Roger Zelazny
The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth (collection) Cover

A remarkable collection of enigmatic and cerebral-stimulating stories


There is great reading here!

Admittingly, Zelazny's often aureate style can be irritable, but certainly not prosaic - the astringency contrasts wonderfully well with the more poetic moments. Once used to its pretense, the reader discovers elegance, flavour and rare beauty, understanding full well Zelazny's rising to prominence.

The title story is one of sf's greats, about broken love, damaged people, tough places and finding one's soul again. A subtle resonance of Hemingway, and not a sf hodgepodge on Moby Dick. "A Rose for Ecclesiastes" is likewise brilliant, beautifully crafted, inventive and rich ... and painful. The understated theme of miscegenation is very evident, and the fatalism touching.

I would have been contend with just reading these two stories, for this book is worth having just for them. But as I was reading I found myself getting more and more immersed and became less than willing to put the book down until I have finished whichever story I had been reading. "The Furies" and "The Graveyard Heart" are later editions to the collection, but no-one will impugn their inclusion. The first, a sensational tragic allegory about a rebellious space captain coming up against three very unique assassins, the latter dreamlike, about an engineer who wangles himself into a caste of aristocrats who spend most of their lives asleep, awakening only for days at a time to throw a party, greatly extending their lifespans while decades go by in the normal world around them. A splendid story with quiet erudition.

Other first-rate stories are "The Keys to December", "Devil Car", "The Moment of the Storm", "Lucifer" and "Love is an Imaginary Number." Not all the stories are equally brilliant. Some, even the aforementioned modicum, may not be as profound now as when they were first published, loosing some of their potency; they are nonetheless still thoughtful, probing, sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes simply outrageous. "The Great Slow Kings" and "A Museum Piece" are excellent examples. All in all, they are still dazzling, shining diamonds on desert sands.

I am extremely happy to have read the collection. Zelazny's untimely death in 1995 certainly robbed imaginitative writing of one of its most fascinating influences.

Re-read for the RYO 2014 Short Fiction Reading Challenge.