This Immortal

by Roger Zelazny

Cover image

Publisher: Baen
Copyright: 1966
Printing: November 1989
ISBN: 0-671-69848-6
Format: Mass market
Pages: 216

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I seem to have hit a streak of post-apocalyptic novels recently, and this one was completely unintentional. I picked it up because I wanted to read more Zelazny, it won (well, tied for) a Hugo, and it was nicely short.

This Immortal (also titled ...And Call Me Conrad, which is a much better title) takes place after a nuclear war and the discovery of Earth by an alien species. There are only a few tens of thousands of people left on Earth, mostly in the islands since the continents got the worst of the radioactivity. Most of Earth's inhabitants live elsewhere, on alien planets, happy to be their servants and trade away their rights to what's left of Earth.

Into this background comes an alien reporter who wants to tour the planet, and Conrad, as the Minister of Culture, Arts, and Monuments, is assigned to guide him around. The story becomes a combination of a detective puzzle and an adventure story, as Conrad fights off mythical monsters created by radioactivity, worries about assassins, and tries to figure out what the alien wants and what it means for the future of his planet.

I was disappointed in the plot. It never achieves much in the way of substance, I never found either the aliens or their culture that believable, and the twists at the end felt too simple and too much like cop-outs to me. Don't expect to find a deep plot of alien intrigue and rebellion here, or even aliens that act more alien than humans in funny suits.

What do salvage this book, though, are the main character, the quick pace of the first-person narration, and the banter. I found myself really enjoying Conrad's attitude and interactions with the rest of the cast, and ended up finishing the book off in a night. The touches of Greek culture and mythology are also nice (although I have no idea how accurate they are).

Don't expect anything that deep here, but recommended as a light-hearted romp.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-10-12

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