Compared to modern SF novels the length of this book might almost be closer to being a short story than a novel but Zelazny does mange to pack more ideas into a short space than many other manage in much longer works.
The main character, Render, is a dream therapist who works by manipulating the dreams of his patients to turn them into immersive experiences where Render shapes the dreams to help his clients gain new perspectives on their issues. This is a perilous occupation since if the therapist gets too involved in the dreams they are creating then they risk their own sanity. Render is one of the best in the world at what he does, however in this book he takes on his biggest challenge to date as he takes on a blind woman (and aspiring dream therapist) as a patient who wants to experience seeing in her dreams what she can never see in reality.
The novel being partially set in various dreams that Render has created does allow for some memorable scenes and there’s also plenty of imagination shown elsewhere in the world Zelazny describes, particularly memorable is a guide dog with an enhanced intellect and some genetic modifications allow him some ability to speak whose personality is an intriguing mix of canine and human. Occasionally the technology does feel a bit dated (the book was written in the 1960s) but most of the time it doesn’t detract from the story.
I think Zelazny is one of the genre’s best writers of prose and there is some very good writing in here. The plot is also intriguing but some parts of it are perhaps a bit underexplained and the ending feels rushed and unnecessarily vague in terms of describing what exactly has happened. I’m also unsure about the purpose of some of the scenes and subplots, particularly concerning Render’s precocious son whose visit to an exhibition on interplanetary travel feels a bit disconnected from the rest of the novel. There is some good characterisation in here, particularly of Render and his patient although the supporting characters mostly don’t get much depth.
Overall, I’d say this was a good book but not one of Zelazny’s best works, compared to a masterpiece like “Lord of Light” it feels as if it wasn’t quite as good as it should have been.
Rating : 7 / 10
In 1966 the Hugo Award for best SF novel was a tie between this book, Zelazny's debut novel, and Frank Herbert's "Dune". In retrospect this is possible a slightly surprising decision since one of those books has been significantly more influential than the other, but while this isn't as genre-defining a work as Dune is, it is still a fine novel.
It's also a lot shorter than Dune, but Zelazny does manage to pack a lot into what by modern standards would be a very brief novel. The premise of a seemingly immortal man acting as a tour guide for an alien writer through the ruins of a post-apocalyptic Earth devastated by a nuclear war and abandoned by most of the human race does make for an interesting journey through an intriguing setting. Although a Science Fiction novel there's also a heavy influence from mythology, particularly Greek mythology, and some of the more unlikely plot developments and pieces of world-building make more sense in terms of a mythical story rather than a traditional SF novel. The plot does require a high tolerance for unlikely coincidences, but I don't think it really detracts from the novel. At first it can be hard to see where the plot is going and some things are initially puzzling, but the ending of the novel does manage to clear up some of the odder plot developments and it makes for a satisfying conclusion to the story.
The characters do initially seem to be archetypes, but do acquire some more depth as the story goes on as their initially hidden motivations become apparent. I'm not sure some of them are necessarily believable characters, but they are memorable and it's the kind of story which almost demands larger-than-life characters. The protagonist, Conrad, is the most interesting of them and feels like a prototype for later Zelazny heroes such as Corwin of Amber or Lord of Light's Sam.
Zelazny has always been a fantastic writer of prose, and while Zelazny's writing maybe isn't quite as assured as in later work such as Lord of Light or Creatures of Light and Darkness, it's still very well written with plenty of memorable and powerful passages of writing.
This might not be Zelazny's best novel, but it's still a very good read.
Rating : 8 / 10