I wish that I could give this book a higher rating, I do. But as it is, I think that "It was OK" sums it up perfectly for me.
This was my very first Zelazny, and it may not have been the best one to start with. But I just love post-apocalyptic books, and I had wanted to read this one since I heard that it was one. I won't let the fact that this didn't get a higher rating turn me off of Zelazny though. :)
There were a few things that made this book less than great for me.
First, I was under the impression (probably misguided) that this would be a kind of "touring the blasted wasteland of the post-nuclear world with a member of the alien Overlord race, who may or may not be trying to wipe out the survivors -- and Conrad is the only one standing in the way" book. That's what I got from the description on the back of the book, anyway:
What with the Three Days of War and decades of Vegan occupation, Earth isn't doing too well these days. Indeed, all that seems to be left for us is selling off our heritage to the blueskins bit by bit. That's why Conrad Nomikos, Minister of Culture, Arts and Monuments, is tagged to play the part of native guide when one of these superior beings pays a visit to our backwater planet - and finds himself acting as the haughty alien's bodyguard as well.
But should he? He says that the purpose of his visit is to write a travelogue, but it is entirely possible that the real reason the Vegan is here is to write finis to the Human race.
So, I was kind of surprised to find that this is very much in the background for most of the story. It seems that a lot of other, barely related, themes take over the story.
This book is very heavy on the Greek symbolism and mythology (this being one of the themes that I feel took over the story), and perhaps it's just me, but I didn't feel like it was very accessible to someone who is not well-versed in Greek history and mythology. Granted, I know that this is a short-coming on MY part, because I do not expect authors to dumb down or over simplify their work to cater to lazy people who refuse to learn something. But I do have a basic knowledge and understanding of Greek history, and I still did not get a lot of the references. *shrug*
It could still be entertaining to some, even without all the classical references being 100% understood, but probably not in the way it was intended. And this was kind of distracting for me. I feel like I read a book with every other sentence written in invisible ink.
Even the dialogue made me feel that way. I love dialogue. It's great for advancing the story, explaining plot, getting to know the characters... so much can be done with it. If it's done well. But I just had a really hard time with the dialogue in this book.
I can usually follow dialogue pretty easily, but here, the lead-off speaker would be named, and then everything that follows would be sans-speaker. I had to re-read dialogue sometimes two or three times because the same speaker would go twice in a row, or the one whose turn it was wouldn't say anything and the conversation wouldn't make sense because my internal score-keeper was thrown off.
But even aside from that confusion, a lot of the conversation seemed to assume that the reader knew what the character knew. Terms are just thrown out there with no explanation. Cryptic sentence fragments would be answered with even more cryptic monosyllabic replies. There was no history given for a lot of the organizations or political bodies, but the dialogue would continue on as if anyone listening had a full understanding of it.
Moving on, another of those take-over situations occurred in Greece, where a tribe essentially kidnaps the group and says "Hey, we're going to eat you, but since we're reasonable scary cannibals, not only am I going to explain everything right up front like a bad James Bond villain, but I will then, to further my comparison to a bad James Bond villain, offer to let you earn your freedom by fighting our biggest, scariest cannibal dude." Huh? I don't get it. A lot of action takes place afterward, and it was interesting, but I don't really see how it relates to the story. It was funny though.
Conrad, the main character, was too distant and mysterious for me. The only time that he felt really human when he thought that his wife had been killed in an earthquake. I don't know what his motivation is, still. It seems that he is trying to preserve Earth by making it undesirable to the Vegans, but I don't know because he just seems to not give a rat's rear about it one way or the other. Being the Vegan's tour guide/bodyguard, he was nobly trying to prevent any harm from coming to him -- unless and until he could find sufficient incentive not to.
Anyway, it just seemed like there were two or even three stories being told, and I just missed the connection. Since the book seems to get such good reviews from so many people, I am fully prepared to accept the fact that it is probably me that couldn't see the forest for the trees, so to speak. By all accounts, this book is better on second reading, so perhaps I'll give it another shot after earning a degree in Greek History! ;)