Reading Zelazny in the 21st Century

At the opening of the Isle of the Dead, Zelazny is setting out a fishing line of strangeness and ambience, reeling me in, word by word, until I trip. On page 2, “[Condoms] are almost gone now, I hear, the way of the Edsel, the klepsydra and the button hook, shot down and punctured by the safety pill, which makes for larger mammaries, too, so who complains?”

I thought, “Wow, this world is going to be weirder than I thought if men have large breasts.”

I contemplated this idea for probably 30 seconds before it hit me that he meant MEN go in for larger breasts on WOMEN.

Maybe I’m not used to reading first person POV for men, written by men, and here’s the kicker, presumably for men. Maybe I’m not used to reading books with this level of assumption about what is understood to be. Maybe I was so wrapped up in the words that I hadn’t kept any distance from them. These are all possibly true.

Now from what I’ve heard, Roger Zelanzy was a kind man. He was most likely not aware of his sexism. After all, 1969 was barely aware of its sexism, at least compared to today. (How many men today are aware of their own sexism unless it is pointed out by someone he will listen to?) Zelanzy could write this line, that to him was a fact of life so unquestionable, he did not see it as contributing to his world building of a foreign future that is still unknown to the reader. He could not envision me, or I assume any of the other 21st century women or men, taking him literally.


3 thoughts on “Reading Zelazny in the 21st Century

  1. Aaron says:

    I don’t see how what one of the man’s characters says reflects on the man. With that logic, you could vilify anyone.

  2. Nicole Lisa says:

    I can and do, if by “vilify” you mean I called him sexist.

    Reading a book is like having a conversation. If my father or husband or friend says something sexist, I tell him so. If my uncle or an acquaintance or sometimes a stranger says something racist I point that out too. If something racist comes out of my own mouth, I hold myself responsible and apologize if possible to the person, naming my behavior as unacceptable and something to be apologized for.

    I don’t hold an author to a lower standard of conversation, regardless of whether he is dead or a published author or loved by many or by me.

  3. Nicole Lisa says:

    Also, here is a post by Ann Leckie on metaphors and getting punched in the face in restaurants and literature that may shed some light on my response: “It’s not a real heart, it’s a real artificial heart.”

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