Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth

Novelette by Roger Zelazny
WINNER: First Ever Nebula Award, 1965

First let me say that I love Zelazny, and I love his writing style. The most pleasurable thing about this story, and much of his work is in how it is written. All the subtle little jokes, the humor, the sarcasm, the repetition of metaphors and the willingness to take them a step farther than most writers would go. Particularly in this era of his writing, Zelazny could write a 10 page essay describing a salad and I'd probably give it a 3/5 on style alone.

But I like this one more than that hypothetical salad story, although the writing is especially good here, even for Zelazny.

Carl Davits is a baitman. This means he is hired to sail around on a ship the size of 10 football fields and bait the ends of a line shot out to catch the sort of thing you need a ship that size to catch. And they have to attach the bait once the line is already in the water, it would snap off otherwise. So he gets triple hazard pay.

The target is a huge reptile called Ichthyform Leviosaurus levianthus, or Ikky for short. The title of the story comes from a description of the biblical Leviathan by the way. And if Davits can overcome his fear, his rabbit-instincts, and his drinking problem, he might be able to redeem all his past failures by being the first to ever catch one.

But the real hazard on this fishing trip is his ex, Jean Luharich, who owns a giant cosmetics company, and the entire expedition. (The use of the monster hunt to sell cosmetics is a pretty funny running theme.) They both remain attracted to each other, but antagonistic and I can't help but wonder if their no doubt explosive breakup was related to the same fear which destroyed the other aspects of Davits' life.

I love the way Carl's attraction to Jean is described throughout. He likes the shape of her knees, her diving suit is tight enough it makes him want to look away... and look back again. I should give an example of one of my favorite descriptions before I wrap this up, so here is a poetic-and-then-backhanded description of Jean:
Hair like the end of the rainbow, eyes like nothing in nature, fine teeth.
And later:
She shook her end of the rainbow.
Anyway, I love the writing, I quite like the character development and setting, and things actually happen in this story. But it isn't Zelazny's best. 4.5 out of 5 baitmen never manage to keep something they catch.

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