Thursday, February 28, 2019

"Auto-da-Fe" (1967)

Roger Zelazny was just coming into his own in science fiction around the time of the Dangerous Visions collection, but much about his appearance here feels perfunctory, including the story. Ellison's main point in his introduction to the story is that Zelazny comes last in most alphabetical lists. He's not last in this list for a reason Ellison will explain in his introduction to the last story, which is next. Meanwhile, Zelazny's story is a kind of elaboration on a pun. In this future society, entertainment is provided by bullfighter-like contests between a man known as a "mechador," and what appears to be robotically operated cars. At least no one appears to be driving the cars, which are on the order of Pontiacs and Chevrolets. "Auto-da-fe," you see, is a term from the Spanish Inquisition, bringing it full circle back to Spain. It means a punishment of death by burning. As bullfighting in 1967 was still reasonably popular, I'm not sure how all these dots connect, but there's not much to this anyway. It's a description of a bullfight but the bull is a series of cars. I guess bullfighting involves a series of bulls. Whatever. The fight is described. Something untoward happens to the mechador, but as he is no one of any consequence it's just a shrug at plot. I'm not much impressed with this story, but it doesn't mean I'm ruling out Zelazny. I've been aware of him, believe I even met a partisan somewhere once. But this feels pro forma. Editor of anthology to rising writer: "Like to do a story for my book?" Rising writer: "Sure, why not?" It might be interesting to speculate how much this story from 1967 has to do with J.G. Ballard's novel Crash from 1973, given that Ballard is in the Ellison collection too. Probably not much. Ballard's novel was similarly preoccupied with automobiles, but he took it further and in much more interesting directions. Zelazny's story is entertaining—vivid images all plotted out by the terms of the fight and its resolution in terms of the overriding pun. It's made comical partly because in the future society it's possible to bring people back from death. In fact, this is the mechador's third death. So basically no harm no foul. That's the driving principle. Get it?

Dangerous Visions, ed. Harlan Ellison

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