To Die in Italbar
by Roger Zelazny

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Doubleday: New York, 1973
182 pages

July 2011

Health and/or creativity

To Die in Italbar is a science fiction novel in which Roger Zelazny calls up aspects of:

  • health and disease
  • plague-carrying and touch-healing
  • artistic creativity via telepathic extraction and embodiment
  • world-building (terraforming)
  • divine attributes as scientific forces
  • war and its aftermath
  • theft and sabotage
  • jealousy and revenge

If you suspect this may be too much for a rather short novel, you're right. The book skips tantalizingly across these subjects, some so quickly that on a first reading we may miss some of them.

The major characters are interesting and various. One whom some readers already may have met is Francis Sandow, protagonist of Isle of the Dead (1969): Earth-born, long-lived, world-builder; and possessor of attributes either god-infused or of super-science, or both. Unfortunately these people aren't given enough on-stage time to allow us to see them whole. The most likable one is a telepathic alien.

Slipping among scenes alternating among characters as well as among worlds or in space, is not made easier by Zelazny's really irritating habit of beginning scenes with pronouns instead of names. This novel certainly has enough real puzzles and switchbacks without adding deliberate stylistic confusion.

If To Die in Italbar had been written to several times its length, both the ideas and the characters could have had sufficient development. As it is, we switch too often among viewpoints to become more than minimally involved with any of the characters. The material deserved more coverage, particularly the complex relation between health and creativity — a Nietzschean theme — at which the novel only hints. There really should have been more here.


© 2011 Robert Wilfred Franson

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