Monday, September 26, 2011

This Moment of the Storm

Novelette by Roger Zelazny

"Suddenly, it was very dark and there was only the rain."

Zelazny's description of the aftermath of a lightning strike could also double for a description of the turning point in the story where it appears.

This is one of my favorite stories, but one I sometimes have trouble recommending (although given the resemblance of most best-selling novels to cinderblocks, I probably shouldn't.) The writing itself is brilliant throughout, alternating the humor of the opening and foreshadowing the terrificly melancholic end around worldbuilding I still find interesting 65 years after Zelazny came up with it. The story is emotional and thoughtful and even a bit understated in parts.

Literally the only fault I find with "This Moment of the Storm" is that almost nothing happens in the first 2/3 of the story. It's all worldbuilding and character work and setup. All of which is engaging and well done, but it seems a bit slow. The first time I read this, I honestly found myself wondering if anything was going to happen in the story, or if Zelazny was just setting up a neat colony planet to describe hurricane flooding with time out for philosophy. And then, suddenly, everything happens in the last 1/3 of the story. It almost seems as if the slow build is there to make the ending that much more shocking. And where I'd usually wish I'd just skipped the first 2/3, everything that comes before is absolutely vital to the ending. I wouldn't want it a single word shorter.

I'm not sure exactly what I'd call the climax of the story, but I'm sure it doesn't take up more than a line or two. Everything after the line I opened with is short, dark, and devastating. We are moved from humor and love on a world ravaged by a record-setting rainstorm to what may as well be news footage of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans with a slight SF tinge.

Here the narrator explains his dismissal of the definitions of humanity from the philosophy-class introduction.

"Man is the reasoning animal? Greater than beasts but less than angels? Not the murderer I shot that night. He wasn't even the one who uses tools or buries his dead."

Terrible things happen, but eventually the storm clears and recovery can begin. But the narrator finds that the storm has washed away what little progress he had made toward happiness, too. He ends the story, emotionally, in the same place he was before it began. Here are the closing lines, which cinch this one as a personal favorite:

"Years have passed, I suppose. I'm not really counting them anymore. But I think of this thing often: Perhaps there is a Golden Age someplace, a Renaissance for me sometime, a special time somewhere, somewhere but a ticket, a visa, a diary-page away. I don't know where or when. Who does? Where are all the rains of yesterday?

In the invisible city?

Inside me?

It is cold and quiet outside and the horizon is infinity. There is no sense of movement.

There is no moon, and the stars are very bright, like broken diamonds, all.

5 out of 5 philosophy professors are familiar with the time-killing method Zelazny explains here, for whenever they misplace their lecture notes.

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