I had heard this story was being optioned for some kind of video development; maybe a movie or series. So, it certainly seemed time to reread a book I hadn’t read in decades. And any excuse to revisit a Zelazny is a good excuse. The accolades printed right on my copy were absolutely glowing so I tried to review the story with a mind to the times when it was published. It was a fascinating story.
Red Dorakeen drives the Road and has always driven the Road. He can’t recall any other existence with any clarity except for some faded memories of a world he can no longer locate. Most people who are able to find and drive the Road come to understand that the off-ramps will take them to realities that may differ a little or by a lot; and they all also accept the idea that an off-ramp that isn’t visited will eventually disappear. Red thinks this is what happened to the off-ramp he’s been searching for most of his life. He has tried to recreate what little he remembers by influencing events only to discover that all he accomplished was to establish an alternate reality; a new off-ramp.
Red travels with a sentient brain in the form of a book and his on-again, off-again companion, Leila. As the story starts, Red finds himself the target of a hit contract and he’s pretty sure he knows who put the hit on him. All he has to do is survive ten attempts on his life and the game ends. But Red has never been the type to hide, or just survive; he’s a bit more…proactive than that. So he intends to take the game directly to his enemy, Chadwick, who was/is his friend.
But Flowers, the book, and Leila have strong personal concerns that Red isn’t exactly himself anymore. Flowers has observed, over the few years he’s partnered with Red, that Red goes through periods of change when he appears to become younger and stronger but with a changed personality.
And while this storyline carries the book, the whole purpose of the story is to examine the origin of the Road and its purpose. There is no explanation for most of the book to explain why some people, throughout history, have an ability to sense/find the road and travel it. Most travelers seem to have one of two typical agendas: curiosity to see history or a way of making money; like the archaeologist from C-Twenty who regularly goes back to C-Eleven to bury artifacts that he can later dig up. Red begins to believe that the travel on the road is intended for certain people perhaps people like himself or Chadwick but he isn’t sure about the why. And that is the crux of the story and a really fun idea that was probably pretty unique in 1979.
Surprisingly, the book still reads well. There are no serious disconnects between 1979 and now that isn’t easily explained by the storyline. And Zelazny steered clear of most idioms common then. It was a very short story, as was common then; and I think I would’ve like to have seen what he could have done with twice the pages. Since this story was pretty episodic and the end doesn’t preclude further stories or speculations about where Red might travel, I think it will lend itself well to a show series. I hope to see it soon. ~~ Catherine Book
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