Even uncle wiki says it: Roger Zelazny’s novels show a tendency for cosmology. This Immortal… uses Greek mythology, Creatures of Light and Darkness Egyptian, Lord of Light Hindu—these and others show a fondness for the belief systems underpinning cultures old and new. While more indirect, Zelazny’s 1973 To Die in Italbar dallies with the Christ myth, just in less successful fashion.
Dropped into the the middle of the action, To Die in Italbar opens on a scene of sabotage. A man named Malacar and his furry, mind-reading, alien companion plant bombs at a warehouse, and as a result destroy innocents as well as a horde of valuable trade goods. Meanwhile on another planet, a man named Hymack stumbles through a forest riddled with diseases. Collapsing near death, a goddess visits and heals him. The next day he wanders into the nearby town and begins performing his own miracles at the local hospital. But a switch somewhere flips, and the healing suddenly turns to infection, and giving life turns to suffering, sometimes death. The townsfolk wanting to kill him as a result, Hymack is forced to flee into the forest. When Malacar learns of Hymack and his power to infect, an idea forms, and he sets out to capture the strangely powered man for his own ill intent. There are still others, however, with different plans in mind for Hymack.
It’s been said that Zelazny’s best works came toward the beginning of his career, and To Die in Italbar appears one of the reasons. This is not to say the novel is overtly bad or poorly written, only that the ideas are relatively weak and not well developed. To Die in Italbar features the classic Zelazny protagonist: male, wise cracking, suave, tobacco smoking, etc. Problem is, multiple times. Malacar the main character, so too do Hymack and the other men who become involved in the story display the same noir/macho characteristics. For as good as Zeleazny’s prose is, the repetition of character gets stale. The novel short, additional content would have helped to flesh out the backdrop, thus giving the characters better motivations, more nuance among the male characters, not ot mention the conclusion better coherence. That being said, Zelazny does bring an Alfred Bester-esque flair to his style that makes the pages turn, renders the colors vivid, and makes the story at least readable—laser pistols, cigarettes, and telepaths not withstanding.