Saturday, November 4, 2017

Roger Zelanzy’s Alien Speedway, a series that went off the track

I just finished Roger Zelazny’s Alien Speedway Trillogy, which wasn’t actually written by Roger Zelazny. He wrote the same introductions but I don’t know how much he had to do with the setting or plots.! It’s sort of been on my radar for years since, well, Roger Zelazny. But I never really heard anything about it, one way or the other. It apparently made that little an impact. But I finally got around to reading it.

And, to be honest, what I read justified their non-impact.

In short, it’s about how Mike, an orphan from Earth, breaks into the space racing world. 

The whole racing setup is kind of weird. The racers fly around in spaceships but not in space. Instead, they race in what are basically  hyperspace tubes built around a solar system at near light speeds. 

It feels too small and too big at the same time. On the one hand, spaceships flying in tubes seems so confining. I mean, they’re spaceships. On the other hand, the speeds they are going at are kind of insane. Particularly since the ships sometimes scrape against each other without destroying each other instantly.

I know the whole point of the exercise is to have car racing in space with all the fighting over lanes and drifting in turns and such. But the extent the writers had to go to justify that messes with my suspension of disbelief. And that’s kind of impressive.

The first book was written by Jeffrey A. Carver and the second two books were written by Thomas Wylde. And there’s a serious disconnect between their styles. The first book is basically your underdog sports story where the unknown rookie manages to prove that he has the hidden talent to be a star. The second two books are practically noir, with the characters suddenly flawed and desperate with lots of crime and corruption. 

I got the impression that the series was supposed to last longer than three books but got canceled. The last book feels like they crammed at least two books worth of plot into it. One supporting character drops into self-destruction without any warning. Alien artifacts almost unmentioned become major plot points and revise the setting. A dead character comes back, albeit in a well-justified way. A big bad in the form of a crime boss is suddenly introduced. If nothing else, it was a wild ride to end the series.

I found myself comparing the series to another series that came out around the same time, Isaac Asimov’s Robot City. Another series that wasn’t written by the guy who’s name was the biggest on the cover. Those books had clunky writing but the overall plot held together. In comparison, Alien Speedway had better writing but the plot was all over the place. The Robot City books ran their whole course and even got a sequel, basically because they were much better edited.

There were good parts in the books. However, even the two books written by Thomas Wilde felt they were written for different series. Add to that the fact that the space ship racing seemed so contrived and you end up with a series of books where the most memorable thing is Roger Zelanzy’s name on the cover.

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