Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Review of Eye of Cat by Roger Zelazny

Roger Zelazny is a hit or miss writer. When he's on, he's on—a multi-layered, colorful pleasure to read. When he's off, it's an awkward, disappointing experience that seems like it could have been more. There were also ups and downs in his career—success early on, followed by periods of struggle to achieve the same success. Some books achieved kudos from critics, and others sold serious copy. But through it all, there were three common motifs to Zelazny's fiction: myth, psychology, and the gruff, cigarette smoking, tough-skinned man. In 1982's Eye of the Cat, Zelazny takes this formula through far future Navajo.

The gruff, cigarette smoking, tough-skinned man this time around is Billy Singer. Humans have gone to the stars, but Billy, a Navajo Indian, is one of few people to have been raised apart from technology and society. As a result, he has a special set of skills as tracker and hunter, skills which allowed him to capture one of the most dangerous aliens humanity has come in contact with, the shapeshifting, evil Cat. But when an extra-terrestrial terrorist threatens to assassinate a leading political figure, Billy is called into action again.  Trouble is, he may need Cat's help to take down the assassin.

Appropriately, Eye of Cat is a very mystical novel. There are the obvious elements, like Navajo myth, Billy's heritage, and Cat himself. Billy spends some of his time in a shamanic journey, and there are several chunks of poetry and myth which cement the ethereal mood. The showdown with Cat all the more mysterious and epic for it, this is a case where style and meaning combine nicely.

Eye of Cat is also a very personal novel. To list all of the reasons is to spoil the novel, but what can be said is that a good chunk of the novel is spent in Billy's head. Stream of consciousness is a major part of the novel's mode. So too is the symbolism inherent to Billy's world and 'adventure'. ('Journey' is the more appropriate word regarding Billy, but in the context of the novel at large, 'adventure' is more accurate.) Jung at work, things are wholly focused on Billy for as much as the scenes and action occur in other places.

Readers of this blog will know it goes hard on telepathy. Most often a cheap, outdated plot device that has little business in fiction, in Eye of Cat it rears its head. To be fair, however, it's primary usage is less a plot device and more one of the tools digging at the novel's theme. Telepathy happens, and its presentation is cheesy, but its underlying purpose is not sensawunda. To say precisely what type of communication it facilitates is to spoil the novel. All I can is that it is entirely bearable understanding how Zelazny is putting it to use.

Eye of Cat was a pleasant surprise. I thought I'd already uncovered the best of Zelazny's ouevre (This Immortal..., Lord of Light, and Dream Master), but Eye of Cat is not far behind. It's short, tight, mystical, and ultimately proves its Jungian symbolism true via Navajo myth. Nice. Readers of Hermann Hesse's Journey to the East or Ursula Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea will find something extremely familiar in the novel's moral, but that's the only similarity. All else is Zelazny—mythology, psychology, and gruff, cigarette-smoking, tough-skinned male included.

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