Manny's Reviews > Nine Princes in Amber

Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny
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Mar 16, 2010

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bookshelves: science-fiction
Read in January, 1973

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a review of Les Trois Mousquetaires, where I argued that it was the spiritual father of the modern French trash novel. Since then, I've been having three parallel discussions with my wife, Jordan and notgettingenough about what it is that makes something into a trash novel. Three out of the four of us incline to the view that it's the quality of being mass-produced; a trash novel is one that has been hastily constructed according to an existing formula, with a minimum of independent thought. In practice, this means that most trash novels are genre fiction, since formulas typically belong to a specific genre. Notgettingenough, the outlier, is reluctant to accept that the label 'trash novel' has any meaning. She argues that some generally accepted masterpieces were produced quickly, and that an author of sufficient talent can turn out something in a few weeks which is better than a 'literary' novel that might have taken years to write. True, but I would say these cases are rare, and don't invalidate the basic argument. They mainly show that some people are far more gifted than others.

But there are certainly books and authors that lurk uneasily in the no-mans-land around Trashville proper. Zelazny's Amber series comes to mind. This book, the first one, is IMHO a good, original fantasy/SF novel. It's exciting, quite well-written, and contains a bunch of ingenious ideas. (Those magic packs of cards! The fight on the Endless Stair!) But, as the series progressed, I thought it got more tired and stale with each book that appeared, and I would, alas, have to classify the last ones as formulaic trash. Zelazny was no longer creating, just recombining, and it became horribly like listening to a group of D&D players discussing the week's happenings in their current game.

I wonder what this example shows? Perhaps any novel, or indeed any work of art, turns into trash into if it's copied enough times, or copied with sufficient lack of skill. The funny thing is that it can happen even when the person doing the copying is the one who wrote the original template.
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Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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message 1: by Printable Tire (new)

Printable Tire Man that cover is TERRIBLE.


notgettingenough So, Manny, you don't agree with Fulvia Morgana on literature, that it's...

...nothing more than an instrument of bourgeois hegemony, a fetishistic reification of so-called aesthetic values erected and maintained through an elitist educational system in order to conceal the brutal facts of class oppression under industrial capitalism.

And there I was thinking that must be why you gave it five stars...


Manny How could I disagree with someone who knows as much about fetishistic reification as Fulvia? At least, I assume that's what the handcuffs were for...


notgettingenough Manny wrote: "How could I disagree with someone who knows as much about fetishistic reification as Fulvia? At least, I assume that's what the handcuffs were for..."

Ah, now you give me an idea. How to get you to agree on the nature of quality in writing.


notgettingenough By the way, may we not bring Banksy into play here? Just as he points out it is pretentious crap to think it is acceptable that the management committee of the Tate (and their ilk) are the few people in the world who get to say what Art is, so too why is it that a few people who, hmmmm, let's face it, come out of David Lodge's stories and therefore we know are fundamentally dishonest wankers, get to decide what 'good' writing is.

Doesn't that make you feel the least discomfort?


Manny Doesn't that make you feel the least discomfort?

Not at all! All that's required for me to respect your views on literature is that you've read a lot, that the material you've read is reasonably varied (e.g. not all romances, all SF or similar), and that you've thought about it.

If you've read the whole Amber series and you've also read Shakespeare, Proust and Dostoyevsky, and you still think the later Amber books are better, then I'll be happy to argue with you. I'll be very interested to hear why you have those opinions. But I promise I'll respect them.


message 7: by notgettingenough (last edited Mar 17, 2010 06:46AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

notgettingenough Manny wrote: "Doesn't that make you feel the least discomfort?

Not at all! All that's required for me to respect your views on literature is that you've read a lot, that the material you've read is reasonably varied (e.g. not all romances, all SF or similar), and that you've thought about it.

If you've read the whole Amber series and you've also read Shakespeare, Proust and Dostoyevsky, and you still think the later Amber books are better, then I'll be happy to argue with you. I'll be very interested to hear why you have those opinions. But I promise I'll respect them...."


At least one of us is being obtuse. I'm not suggesting in the least that your assessment of this series is anything other than spot on...and I hope I don't have to have specifically read Proust to have an educated opinion....in that case call me ignorant.

Without exactly understanding what 'trash' is, I simply would like to make the point that there is presumably well written and badly written trash, I imagine, and ditto for 'literature'. A lot of literature is formulaic, hastily constructed and as for independent thought - I think I need expansion as to what you mean by that.

Time taken to write something? Well, I can't see that slow equals good or that fast equals bad.

Let me put this another way. I've been part of an antiquarian book business for thirty years or so. We started off with a snobby idea that there was something we saw as 'literature' which we respected, and 'fiction' perhaps, which was second-class. We all read fiction, but.

After you've spent thirty years selling these books and in close communication with the people who are buying and reading them, we came to realise that this distinction is not meaningful. Now we classify everything that isn't non-fiction as 'literature'. That's not to say we don't use what I gather are called 'genre' classifications, but this is in addition to, and not instead of, 'literature'.

Perhaps as sellers of the stuff we are simply respecting our customers by calling their choice of reading material literature...if that's so, I'm glad we do!


Manny A lot of literature is formulaic, hastily constructed and as for independent thought - I think I need expansion as to what you mean by that.

I'm not sure we're really disagreeing. Trash novels are literature, fine with me. But they are a specific kind of literature that one can, in most cases, easily identify.


notgettingenough Manny wrote: "A lot of literature is formulaic, hastily constructed and as for independent thought - I think I need expansion as to what you mean by that.

I'm not sure we're really disagreeing. Trash novels are..."


Maybe I have to read something that is labelled that way, maybe I never have?


message 10: by Stephen (new)

Stephen The two of you have the best discussions. Trash literature is any literature that you/I don't like--currently.


notgettingenough Stephen wrote: "The two of you have the best discussions. Trash literature is any literature that you/I don't like--currently."

Oh dear. That could be Iris Murdoch right now...I'm just going to try harder. My mother's recommendation, so I really don't want to disappoint her.


message 12: by Lori (last edited Mar 17, 2010 10:04AM) (new)

Lori Ah but which Iris Murdoch?

I love the Amber Chronicles. I do admit that the latter ones, especially in the 2nd series dealing with Chaos and Merlin, lose me by rambling, still they fascinate me with the whole concept. Plus I love the characters.

To me, literature has staying power through the ages, and fiction is everything else that is made up! At GoodWill literature section includes old writers, from say a century ago and longer. Not sure I agree with that, and personally I don't divide my home shelves between literature and fiction. I think literature is a subjective value.


notgettingenough Lori wrote: "Ah but which Iris Murdoch?"

The Sea, the sea. It's not fair. All I did was give my mother Hunger to read. I'm only a few pages in and I'm hoping to retract all my bad feeling about it.


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