This Immortal By Roger Zelazny

Conrad Nomikos has a long, rich personal history that he'd rather not talk about. And, as Arts Commissioner, he's been given a job he'd rather not do. Escorting an alien grandee on a guided tour of the shattered remains of Earth is not something he relishes- especially when it is apparent that this places him at the center high-level intrigue that has some bearing on the future of Earth itself. This Immortal

6.0 stars. I just re-read this classic by Roger Zelazny and I was very impressed. Not quite as good as Lord of Light (then again how many books are), but still a smart, well written and original science fiction story combining elements of post-apocalyptic science fiction, alien travelogue and mythic fiction.

BRIEF PLOT SUMMARY:

Many hundreds of years following a devastating nuclear war call The Three Days, the Earth has a population of only four million and is infested with a variety of mutated lifeforms (some of which resemble mythological creatures and monsters). Humanity has joined the civilization of the Vegans, a race of blue-skinned aliens who now own much of Earth's real estate and have set up vacation resorts in order to tour the ancient attractions of Earth.

The story is told by Conrad Nomikos (aka Konstantin Kallikanzaros and many others) a man of indeterminate age with a very colorful past that he'd rather not talk about. Conrad is asked to give a tour to of Earth ruins to a Vegan VIP who may have an ulterior motive for taking such a tour. The rest is a superb ride that is all Zelazny.

Zelazny's imagination is amazing, his writing is excellent and Conrad is a great character. Bottom-line, this is a true classic, a great story and a lot of fun.

Winner: Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Award (tied with Dune)(1966) 216 This Immortal was Zelazny's first novel and tied with Dune for best of the year the year it appeared. It's a true classic. It showcases all of Zelazny's strengths: mythic influences, lyrical writing, memorable characters, and a fast-paced plot with so many twists and turns and surprises that the reader is left amazed at how he made such a hodgepodge of points into a brilliant and cohesive narrative. It's an expansion of And Call Me Conrad, which remains a great short version in its own right. I first read it years ago and listened to this fine recording on a recent long trip; it holds up just as well today! 216 I wish that I could give this book a higher rating, I do. But as it is, I think that It was OK sums it up perfectly for me.

This was my very first Zelazny, and it may not have been the best one to start with. But I just love post-apocalyptic books, and I had wanted to read this one since I heard that it was one. I won't let the fact that this didn't get a higher rating turn me off of Zelazny though. :)

There were a few things that made this book less than great for me.

First, I was under the impression (probably misguided) that this would be a kind of touring the blasted wasteland of the post-nuclear world with a member of the alien Overlord race, who may or may not be trying to wipe out the survivors -- and Conrad is the only one standing in the way book. That's what I got from the description on the back of the book, anyway:

What with the Three Days of War and decades of Vegan occupation, Earth isn't doing too well these days. Indeed, all that seems to be left for us is selling off our heritage to the blueskins bit by bit. That's why Conrad Nomikos, Minister of Culture, Arts and Monuments, is tagged to play the part of native guide when one of these superior beings pays a visit to our backwater planet - and finds himself acting as the haughty alien's bodyguard as well.

But should he? He says that the purpose of his visit is to write a travelogue, but it is entirely possible that the real reason the Vegan is here is to write
finis to the Human race.

So, I was kind of surprised to find that this is very much in the background for most of the story. It seems that a lot of other, barely related, themes take over the story.

This book is very heavy on the Greek symbolism and mythology (this being one of the themes that I feel took over the story), and perhaps it's just me, but I didn't feel like it was very accessible to someone who is not well-versed in Greek history and mythology. Granted, I know that this is a short-coming on MY part, because I do not expect authors to dumb down or over simplify their work to cater to lazy people who refuse to learn something. But I do have a basic knowledge and understanding of Greek history, and I still did not get a lot of the references. *shrug*

It could still be entertaining to some, even without all the classical references being 100% understood, but probably not in the way it was intended. And this was kind of distracting for me. I feel like I read a book with every other sentence written in invisible ink.

Even the dialogue made me feel that way. I love dialogue. It's great for advancing the story, explaining plot, getting to know the characters... so much can be done with it. If it's done well. But I just had a really hard time with the dialogue in this book.

I can usually follow dialogue pretty easily, but here, the lead-off speaker would be named, and then everything that follows would be sans-speaker. I had to re-read dialogue sometimes two or three times because the same speaker would go twice in a row, or the one whose turn it was wouldn't say anything and the conversation wouldn't make sense because my internal score-keeper was thrown off.

But even aside from that confusion, a lot of the conversation seemed to assume that the reader knew what the character knew. Terms are just thrown out there with no explanation. Cryptic sentence fragments would be answered with even more cryptic monosyllabic replies. There was no history given for a lot of the organizations or political bodies, but the dialogue would continue on as if anyone listening had a full understanding of it.

Moving on, another of those take-over situations occurred in Greece, where a tribe essentially kidnaps the group and says Hey, we're going to eat you, but since we're reasonable scary cannibals, not only am I going to explain everything right up front like a bad James Bond villain, but I will then, to further my comparison to a bad James Bond villain, offer to let you earn your freedom by fighting our biggest, scariest cannibal dude. Huh? I don't get it. A lot of action takes place afterward, and it was interesting, but I don't really see how it relates to the story. It was funny though.

Conrad, the main character, was too distant and mysterious for me. The only time that he felt really human when he thought that his wife had been killed in an earthquake. I don't know what his motivation is, still. It seems that he is trying to preserve Earth by making it undesirable to the Vegans, but I don't know because he just seems to not give a rat's rear about it one way or the other. Being the Vegan's tour guide/bodyguard, he was nobly trying to prevent any harm from coming to him -- unless and until he could find sufficient incentive not to.

Anyway, it just seemed like there were two or even three stories being told, and I just missed the connection. Since the book seems to get such good reviews from so many people, I am fully prepared to accept the fact that it is probably me that couldn't see the forest for the trees, so to speak. By all accounts, this book is better on second reading, so perhaps I'll give it another shot after earning a degree in Greek History! ;) 216 Zelazny in mythic romance mode, protag Conrad protecting his new bride Cassandra from the foggy foggy dew....

Great stuff, and an immediate resonance for this reader, even after many decades away. Published in an era when a complete novel was often well under 200 pp., or what today would be a long novella. Bravo!

Stalled at about p. 100, where I ceased (momentarily) to care about the Radpol irredentists. Hey, if Terrans are happy in their new homes, working for Vegans, how is this different than any other diaspora? Those are (basically) irreversible, though individuals may return to their ancestral homes. Why should I care?

Because there's a GREAT FIGHT SCENE coming up between Hasan & Conrad! If memory serves....

OK, this one works much better than it should. I guess I'll add a SERIOUS SPOILER notice

3) Well, you get the idea, Logical plotting and structure weren't high on Zelazny's priority list. Fortunately, he was one HELL of a storyteller, and the thing just hits you with Total Mythic Force!

I don't think this is the best place to start, if you are new to Zelazny. That would be A Rose for Ecclesiastes, another Hugo winner. But this one's right up there.

History: first published (abridged) as a two-part series in F&SF, OCT-NOV 1965., Won Hugo for best novel, 1966 . This was his first novel!! 216 Bilimkurgu, mitoloji, Yunanistan, aslında konu tam benlik.
Ama çeviride sanıyorum bir sıkıntı var.
....
Mitoloji ögeleriyle bezenmiş bir bilimkurgu kitabı. Bu yıl hepsini okuyarak kaşınmış bir insan olarak Dante, Homeros, Joyce'dan bahsedince 'heh,' dedim 'seni yalnız bırakmıyor bunlar!' :))
Her Kos sahillerinden bahsettiğinde eski pandemisiz günleri özledim. Biraz da Kios, Lesvos falan yazsaydı dedim. Dertlerim şimdilik bu kadar, kitaba dönersek;

Nükleer felaketler sonucu dünyanın bilindik halinden eser kalmamış, insan nüfusu çok az, başka gezegenlere göç edilmiş.
Karakterimiz Conrad ise ölmek üzere olan dünyada ölümsüz bir insan (Atinalı ayrıca). Kendini dünyayı korumaya adamış.
Vega gezegeninden gelen gazeteciye dünyayı gezdirme görevi alıyor. Ve bu mavi ırkın dünya üzerindeki amacını çözmeye çalışıyor.

🖖 216

This is a lot of fun to read & one of my favorite books of all time. Post apocalyptic earth is being toured by an alien, whose species helped save us after we mostly blew up our home. The tour guide, Conrad, who tells the story from his POV & most of the trip is through a surreal blending of SF & diverse mythology brought to life by radiation. It's short, quirky, & simple on the surface, but there are offhand references, names & partial quotes that make this story a bit of a treasure hunt. They also enhance the meaning of so many simple phrases & often lend it a poetic feel. It reads best you are well read in the classics & mythology.

It doesn't hurt to know something of Zelazny. If you've never read his work before, I wouldn't suggest starting with this one. Probably the Amber series, starting with Nine Princes in Amber is the best.

One of the best guides to this story is contained in NESFA's Power & Light, the second of their Complete Works of Roger Zelazny. There the editors have published the novel in its original form in 2 parts, a novella. Besides some words from Zelazny himself, they have also included explanations at the end of each which explain many (most?) of the references. They did quite a good job of it. In expanding this to a novel, Zelazny didn't really add all that much to it - nothing that matters too much.

If anyone ever wants to do a group read of this, please let me know. I would absolutely LOVE to. 216 This Immortal (aka ...And Call me Conrad) is a science fiction novel that manages to be subtly philosophical, delightfully funny and wonderfully poetical. Written from the protagonist's a point of view, this novel is set in the future in which the human race is dominated by aliens known as Vegans.

The protagonist/narrator is Conrad, a man who has lived for a very long time and is immortal for reasons unknown. Conrad's long life isn't fully explained, it might be a consequence of a mutation or just a mystery. There is also a possibility, hinted in the novel, that Conrad is the Greek god Pan. Like many of Zelanzy's protagonist, Conrad poses super human abilities. In many ways, Conrad reminded me of Corwin from the Amber chronicles- a reluctant sort of Byronic hero.

This Immortal shared 1966 Hugo award with Dune by Frank Herbert. Dune went on to become the best selling science fiction novel and This Immortal seems to have remained in its shadow. It's a shame for it really is a fine novel. Undoubtedly, This Immortal is quite a different novel from Dune. It's much shorter than Dune and the plot is not as developed. Moreover, the world building is not nearly as complex. However, this novel has a lot to offer to its reader. It is a novel that can be read both as fantasy based on Greek mythology and science fiction (if you prefer to rationally explain the super powers and monsters with radiation and mutation). Conrad is a charming and eloquent narrator, a rogue protagonist with an old soul, the type Zelanzy will develop more fully in his other works and novels. In addition, there is a philosophical aspect to this novel. Like many great science fiction novels, This Immortal questions what it is to be human. Contrasted with an alien life form, our narrator has an opportunity to comment on humanity. Who is better suited to fight for humanity and reflect on it than a man who is centuries (if not more) old?

...“I’ve always been impulsive. My thinking is usually pretty good, but I always seem to do it after I do my talking—by which time I’ve generally destroyed all basis for further conversation.”

On overall, I quite enjoyed this novel even if the plot was somewhat predictable. This Immortal would be worth reading for humour alone, even if for nothing else. It is abundant in clever lines worthy of Oscar Wilde. Perhaps not as good as Zelanzy's Lord of Light or The Chronicles of Amber, but what book is? A five star read for sure. 216
Do you not see a convergence of life and myth, here, during the last days of life on this planet?

Somewhere between Heart of Darkness and Tales of the Dying Earth, Roger Zelazny found once again a story to tell about ordinary people acting like Gods in the desolate aftermath of a world war. Lord of Light may be my favorite book in the Zelazny catalog, but This Immortal comes real close on its heels. Instead of exploring the intricacies of the Hindu Pantheon, this time the author goes for the classical Greek mythology.

What is wrong with being born on Christmas?
The gods, deem it a bit presumtuous. For this reason, children born at that time are not of human blood. They are called the kallikanzaroi. Ideally, they look something like those guys with horns and hooves and all, but they don't have to. They could look like me, my parents decided – if they were my parents. So they left me on a hilltop, to be returned.


Born under a bad sign, Conrad tries to make the best of the hand Fate has dealt him. Either though a godlike intervention or as a by-product of radiation from a nuclear war that has destroyed the planet, Conrad has become an immortal, a sort of Earth spirit that has refused to abandon his home when the rest of the human survivors of the cataclysm have fled to the stars, to become refugees on the planets ruled by the more advanced Vegan civilization.

With his mutant genes, Conrad has inherited also some of the sly intelligence of his ancestor Odysseus, enabling him to switch identities and trick databases from pinpointing his real age. Known at various times as a kallikanzaroi, a terrorist, a mutant, a changeling, Nomikos, Karaghiosis, Ozymandias (I walked on through the mess time makes of greatness.) , Conrad is at the beginning of the story ignoring dire warnings from his girlfriend Cassandra ( I have a feeling, she said, that you are heading into some sort of danger. ) and embarks on a mission for the planetary government, on which he serves as Commissioner of Arts, Monuments and Archives. He is supposed to guide a VIP alien from Vega on a tour of the Old Earth ruins: ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, etc...

Who is Cort Myshtigo?
Vegan actor, journalist. Important one. Wants to write about what's left of Earth. So I've got to show it to him. Me. Personally. Damn!


Cort Myshtigo may have a secret agenda for inspecting the Earth – either to develop it as a tourist resort for rich Vegans or to recommend abandoning the planet altogether. Conrad and the rest of the humans who refused to go into exile, some of them also hiding supernatural powers, are too poor to to survive without Vegan handouts, yet too proud to become third rate immigrants for the aliens. So they roll down the red carpet for Cort Myshtigo and assign Conrad to find out what the deal truly is.

The Vegans would like to get the home world problem off their hands. Sure, they want to visit it. It is instructive, sobering, humbling, and downright frightening for them to come here and see what can be done to a world.

The journey through the broken down Earth, filled with Hot spots of radiations, mutant beasts and myths roaming the deserts of North Africa and the rocky hills of Peloponnese is instructive, sobering, humbling and downright frightening for the reader, too. Conrad discovers that an assassin or two has infiltrated his party and is forced to act as the alien's bodyguard even as he decides if it would not be better to kill the damn tourist himself. There's a lot of action in this short story, and wily tricks played by the Greek on his companions ( Born to knot a tiger's tail, that is the saying for people such as you. ), but in the end the novel becomes an elegy for what was lost in the collective madness of our human race.

The forces of final disruption were already goose-stepping amidst the ruins, arms upraised ...

Conrad / Nomikos / Karaghiosis may look as ugly as sin to an outsider, but he has the power of the earth running through his blood. Like Antaeus he draws strength from the land and he may yet guide us towards an Earth reborn. I don't want to spoil the outcome of his confrontation with homegrown terrorists, alien spies and reawakened mythological bests, but I recommend you try this intense post-apocalyptic story for yourself.
216 It’s embarassing that this is my first read of Zelazny. I’d always pictured his work as quirky fantasy, not something that would appeal to my decades long affinity for hard sci fi over the decades. But I am more open to fantasy now, and, besides, this one is science fiction, and a delightful one at that.

The setting is a post-nuclear apocalyptic Earth where the remaining humans, numbering only in a few million, are divided between those who live a utopian life under the support of an advanced alien race from Vega and those who inhabit the wastelands under primitive conditions. Our hero, Conrad, heads up a government division devoted to preservation of human cultural sites and artefacts which is granted a lot of power because of the the prospect of economic benefits from tourism. He gets tapped by his boss to organize an inspection of cultural resources and ecological status around the world for an important alien named Myshtigo, starting with Egypt.

He hopes to discourage the Vegans from involvement and interference in the work of restoration and rehabilitation of Earth. In organizing the tour, he is concerned with the potential of a diplomatic disaster and retributions if Myshtigo gets injured or killed by dangerous mutant wildlife or remnants of the anti-Vegan revolt among the surviving “wild” human settlements. Conrad is surprised by how much he likes the Vegan and is torn by conflicting motivations when he begins to suspect that members of his own security may be part of a plot to kill him.

It slowly emerges that Conrad has many secrets about his past. Because of genetic treatments, he has the privilege of indefinite long life and special physiological advantages that contributes to his superior warrior capabilities. He has had important roles with the rebel movement under different identities over hundreds of years of history. In sum, he approaches demi-god status. And at one point when he learns that his home island where he lives with his love Cassandra is sunk like Atlantis by an earthquake, his berserker rage is on the order of that of Roman gods, taking most of his party to restrain him from destroying everyone in sight.

Conrad’s first person account makes for a wonderful and fun read, with philosophical and humorous interludes paced by classic heroic action sequences. Supposedly Zelazny intended there to be ambiguity over whether this is “realistic” science fiction tale of post-apocalypse recovery or a fantasy of a superhero enacting mythic themes as the god Pan. Either way, it was a well written, engaging, and satisfying tale for me. Time for more Zelazny!
216 This Immortal: Flamboyant New Wave SF with Greek mythic overtones
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
Roger Zelazny was one of the darlings of the New Wave in the 1960s, mainly with short stories, but his first novel This Immortal tied for the inaugural Nebula Award in 1966 with none other than Frank Herbert’s Dune, arguably the greatest SF novel ever. So how could this slight 174-page Ace paperback (David, if you will) rival a Goliath like Dune?

It’s the story of Conrad Nomikos, a man in charge of maintaining the ancient ruins of classical human civilization on a post-holocaust Earth scarcely-populated by humans, mutants, and fearsome mythical creatures, mainly as tourist attractions for the alien blue-skinned Vegans (no, they’re not opposed to animal products). He reluctantly accepts an assignment to show the sights of old earth to a Vegan journalist named Cort Myshtigo who is writing a book on human civilization.

However, from the start there are a number of suspicious aspects, as a number of tour members have associations with a rebel human group called the Rad Pols (Returnists), determined to wrest control of the Earth back from the Vegans. Moreover, the bodyguard Hasan is also a well-known assassin and it becomes clear that he has been hired to kill the Vegan for political reasons.

However, Conrad himself conceals a very mysterious past, and some suspect him of being Karagiozis, a revolutionary Greek who fought against the Vegans as a terrorist. He also seems to have very detailed knowledge of events hundreds of years in the past, as well as superhuman strength and fighting skills. Who is this mysterious figure, and why is he acting as a tour guide to the Vegans? Is he opposed to the Vegans or not? What are their plans for Earth?

This Immortal reminds me very much of another New Wave SF book I read recently, Samuel R. Delany’s 1967 Nebula winner The Einstein Intersection. They both feature devastated far-future Earths roamed by mutants and adventurers, and strong and overt references to Greek myths like Orpheus and Eurydice and the satyr god Pan. The prose is playful, lush with bizarre imagery and casual literary references, and flits from scene to scene with abandon. Like Delany, Zelazny was not satisfied with SF as practiced by Golden Age writers like Heinlein, Clarke, or Asimov. He wanted to inject a healthy infusion of literary allusions and allegory to the tumultuous social upheavals of the 1960s. College students were interested in Asian mysticism, psychology, mythology, alternative lifestyles, and were at the same time reacting against the Vietnam and Korean Wars, the Establishment, and most of all the constant threat of nuclear destruction at the touch of a button.

However, unlike the undisciplined self-indulgence of The Einstein Intersection, the storyline and characters of This Immortal were extremely well developed, especially the narrator Conrad. In particular, I liked his complex relationship with Hasan the Assassin, as they find themselves on opposite sides regarding the Vegan Myshtigo, but maintain a code of honor that is unshakable. And the more we learn about Conrad’s past and the politics surrounding the Vegan’s plans for Earth, the more we understand what is at stake. There are several passages describing Conrad’s conflicted thoughts about Earth’s fate and his role in it, sometimes proud and defiant, other times resigned and pessimistic:

It is our country. The Goths, the Huns, the Volgars, the Serbs, the Francs, the Turks, the Vegans have never made it go away from us. People, I have outlived. Athens and I have changed together, somewhat. Mainland Greece is mainland Greece, and it has not changed for me. Try taking it away, whatever you are, and my people will stalk the hills, like the chthonic avengers of old. You will pass, but the hills of Greece will remain, unchanged.

Later in the novel, the night before Conrad is slated to duel Hasan the Assassin over the fate of the Myshtigo, they share a pipe of some alien substance that relaxes and Conrad’s resolve to fight the Vegans weakens:

The struggle seemed ridiculous. We would lose it in the end. It was written that humanity was to be the cats and dogs and trained chimpanzees of the real people, the Vegans. And in a way, it was not such a bad idea. Perhaps we needed someone wiser to watch over us, to run our lives. We had made a shambles of our own world during the three days [a limited nuclear exchange], and the Vegans had never had a nuclear war. They operated a smoothly-efficient, interstellar government, encompassing dozens of planets. Whatever they did was aesthetically pleasing. Their own lives were well-regulated, happy things. Why not let them have the Earth? They’d probably do a better job than we had ever done. And why not be their coolies too? It wouldn’t be a bad life. Give them the old ball of mud, full of radioactive sores, and populated by cripples. Why not?

However, he quickly shakes this off, recalling:

But I had lost my Cassandra, my dark witch of Kos, to the mindless powers which move the Earth and the waters. Nothing could kill my feelings of loss. It seemed further away, somehow insulated behind glass, but it was still there. Not all the pipes of the East could assuage this thing. I did not want to know peace. I wanted hate, I wanted to strike out at all the masks in the universe. Earth, water, sky, Taler, Earth gov and office, so that behind one of them I might find that power which had taken her and make it too know something of pain. I did not want to be at one with anything that had harmed that which was mine, by blood and by love. For just five minutes even, I wanted to be Karagiozis again, looking at it all through cross-hairs and squeezing a trigger. Oh Zeus of the hot red lightings, I prayed, give it to me that I may break the powers in the sky.

It’s a great novel, utterly different from Dune and yet fully deserving to share the stage. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Victor Bevine, and his deep and rich voice is the perfect vehicle for the world-weary philosophical musings of Conrad. 216

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Roger Zelazny ½ 4 Summary