Taste is a strange thing. We all know it, yet it continues to amaze me how different it can be, even in between people who often align. This post collects some thoughts on 3 books that were highly recommended by other bloggers whose tastes at times tend to be similar to mine.

As you can guess, none of the three titles – Terminal Boredom by Izumi Suzuki, This Immortal by Zelazny and The Incal by Jodorowsky and Mœbius – worked for me.

In each case, I advise you follow the links to the other blogs to check out the other reviews – otherwise you might miss out on a book that could be a gem for you.

TERMINAL BOREDOM – Izumi Suzuki (2021)

Terminal Boredom SuzukiAccording to Jesse from Speculiction, this collection of short stories was the best book he read published in 2021, and he gave it 5 stars – which doesn’t happen much on his blog. Also Ola from Re-enchantment was generally impressed, albeit not as much.

Terminal Boredom collects 7 existential science fiction stories written between the mid-70ies and the mid-1980s, before Izumi Suzuki committed suicide in 1986, aged 36. Apparently she is a bit of a countercultural icon in Japan, and she had a tumultuous life, working as keypunch operator, hostess, nude model, and actor – both in pink films as in avant-garde theater.

It is the first time her work appears in English, and the stories were translated by 6 different people: Polly Barton, Sam Bett, David Boyd, Daniel Joseph, Aiko Masubuchi and Helen O’Horan.

It’s interesting that this collection is framed in feminist terms, many reviews stressing the gender content. I think this framing is more dictated by marketing in our own times than the actual foundations of the stories themselves. While gender is a theme, no doubt, I would not say it is Suzuki’s focus, not at all.

Suzuki’s focus seems to be the protagonists of her stories, and most of them are cynical sociopaths: emotionally numb, bored, blunt, fatalist, trying to fit in, acting their roles, detached, doubting happiness, aping others. “Another habit of hers: producing long strings of borrowed thoughts she hasn’t bothered digesting.” & “The performance had just become a part of my personality.”

The characters seem nihilists, but not of the positive, life affirming variant. The knowledge that Suzuki felt the urge to quit her real life made me think of her protagonists as variants of herself.

This collection definitely has merit, and it is without a doubt the best book of the three listed in this post – the others don’t even come close. There is indeed – as Jesse pointed out – a fair amount of psychological meat on the bone. But for me, not enough to overcome the main problem I had with these stories: their monotony, psychologically.

One could look at this repetition as a thorough examination of a certain mental state, observed in different contexts, sure, but it didn’t grab me enough. Maybe that was because I felt the prose to be a bit off at times – hard to explain, again a taste thing, and I’m not sure whether it is due to Suzuki, the translators, or a certain quality of Japanese: I’m guessing a combination of all three factors. Maybe because the writing itself was a bit detached, I didn’t really connect.

Suzuki presents her characters as is, without judgement. Emotions are described, but Suzuki never goes to the root of things: why do these characters feel the way they feel? Or maybe there are no reasons, other than that they were born in a particular way that doesn’t align with the societies they live in. “Different kinds of people belong in different kinds of worlds.”

You can sample a Suzuki story – The Walker, not in this collection – for free here, at the Granta website.

THIS IMMORTAL – Roger Zelazny (1966)

This Immortal ZelaznyThis Immortal was first published as a series under the name of …And Call Me Conrad. Zelazny’s debut garnered a rare 10/10 from Ola on Re-enchantment. Jeroen from A Sky of Books and Movies was generally positive about it, as was Jesse from Speculiction.
But I did not finish it and called it quits at 55%. The writing felt stale, artificial & lifeless. Aliens were just blue humans. The mystery whether Conrad is the Greek god Pan or not didn’t interest me. Characters didn’t feel convincing psychologically. While I can see Zelazny tried to do something original here, parts of the story felt typical – nuclear radiation gave rise to mutated beasts. It had a bit of a random vibe too.

The book seems to be well loved though, and it was tied with Dune for the Hugo. Some praise its poetic language. I didn’t really see that, even though the prose is not bad. Overall, This Immortal simply never connected with me. I felt the same about Lord of Light, so I guess Zelazny’s mythological brand of SF is not for me.
Conrad is no Corwin – now that was a character I connected with instantly. I think I’m done with Roger Zelazny, everything I’ve read of him fell short of the brilliant first half of the Amber chronicles.

THE INCAL – Alejandro Jodorowsky & Mœbius (1981-88)

The Incal Jodorowsky MoebiusOne more to go, a title that came highly recommended by Jeroen from A Sky of Books and Movies, and a few of my real life friends as well. It is generally considered to be one of the most important and influential comics of all time.

The Incal collects the 6 volumes of the The Incal graphic novel, published between 1981 and 1988 by the infamous Alejandro Jodorowsky and the French artist Jean ‘Mœbius’ Giraud. Jodorowsky continued working in the same universe and published 10 more installments, collected in Before The Incal, After The Incal and Final Incal, and 3 spinoff series as well: Metabarons, The Technopriests and Megalex.

For more background and a taste of what the epic space opera story is about, I refer you to Jeroen’s laudatory review. The Incal has ties to Jodorowsky’s attempt at making a Dune movie, so Herbert fans should definitely check it out.

As for my own thoughts in The Incal, it will not surprise you I thought it was a huge, huge letdown. While there is some truly great & imaginative scenography in this book, it doesn’t redeem the juvenile and at times pompous story, a story that never has any urgency because of its randomness, a randomness which makes it hard to connect and invest in any of the characters – resulting in boredom. On top of that, the dialogue & prose is lifeless, and reeks of artificiality. Jodorowsky’s attempts at spirituality felt ludicrous to me.

The letdown was even enhanced by the fact that I loved the first five or six of The Metabarons series when I read it back in my early twenties. The final installments of Metabarons weren’t as convincing, but still entertaining. Because of my experience with The Incal, I’m now afraid to reread Metabarons, 20 years down the line. Taste evolves, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Consult the author index for my other reviews, or my favorite lists.

Click here for an index of my non-fiction or art book reviews, and here for an index of my longer fiction reviews of a more scholarly & philosophical nature.


24 responses to “TERMINAL BOREDOM: THIS IMMORTAL INCAL (3 short reviews)

  1. I never kept track of what I read back in my omnivorous SF and sometimes F days. Some of it was availability: I had the book of the month subscription, picked what sounded interesting – still have a few of those volumes; my favorite was Leviathan’s Deep, which I tend to reread annually.

    I was in grad school in hard science, had little time, and was mostly random in my other selections. Big ball of fuzzy memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad I started this blog, an excellent way to keep track of my own thoughts about what I read. Goodreads as well.

      Never heard of Leviathan’s Deep. Will look into that.


  2. THank goodness I didn’t recommend any of these. Of course, you and I have our own difference of opinion about various books 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • At least we agree on Dune & McKillip!

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s right, on the Important Ones, we agree 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • How do you fee about Amber btw? (See Ola below.)

          Liked by 1 person

          • I dislike Zelazny immensely. I read the Great Book of Amber and wondered how it came to have the weight it did. It’s overblown tripe in my opinion 😀 and anything else I read by him was even worse….

            And to butt in to your conversation with Ola and your conversation about tastes changing. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the whole point of having a personal collection of reviews. Who cares what other people think of a review from 2004 (just picking a year at random there). But knowing who you were is of utmost importance in knowing who you are NOW.

            Plus, who are the reviews for anyway? This is something I’ve been thinking about and a few other people have touched on it so at some point this year I’ll write up a post on it.

            Liked by 2 people

            • As I haven’t reviewed Amber 1-5, my plan is to reread it someday. Could very well be I will have moved to the tripe camp by then.

              You’re right about the reviews: one of the reasons doing so is to track these things for yourself.

              Looking forward to that post.

              Liked by 1 person

  3. Haha oh boy. What you saw as randomness in The Incal I saw as continuous raising of the stakes, continuous escalation at a rapid pace, and that made it totally gripping for me. A rollercoaster ride going up and up and up. The artwork and the variety and craziness of the ideas were just cherries on top of that. But I can understand your experience as well. It is rather extreme in what it does.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I agree that you could consider it that way too. And I agree that their imagination is wild and something to behold. The more I think about it, the more I think it might be the dialogue that ultimately killed it for me. If it had been more realistic, the characters would have felt more real too. That, and the juvenile sex jokes.


  4. LOL, I guess you can shake hands with Bookstooge on Zelazny 😀

    I was struck by what you said at the end, Bart: that tastes change. I feel exactly the same and I look at some of my early reviews more like a “moment in time” thing – I don’t think I’d rate these books the same today, as my experiences have vastly grown and changed me as a person. But there is also something more ephemeral in how we approach books and movies and all that stuff, I feel – and it’s just the mood of the moment and the context in which we are exposed to them. I feel like had I read certain books at a different time (and I’m not talking years, but rather weeks or even days) I would have judged them a bit differently. I would put more emphasis on different aspects of the art work, and I could have been more lenient or more strict with some of them. So, I guess, I’m trying to say that my ratings are at best an approximation of a range, say about 2 points on a scale, and that the points on the scale itself change meaning with time. Which is of course only a further proof that we are not as immutable as we like to think 😉

    Still, I’m glad you gave these a chance! Hopefully my next recommendations will work better! 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    • Does Bookstooge like the first Amber cycle so much too? Then again, indeed, could very well be that I wouldn’t like that anymore either if I would reread it today.

      I sometimes consider removing some of my older/early reviews. I was inexperienced as a SF reader and as a review writer, and indeed, my tastes have changed quite a lot, so I’m not sure about some of them anymore. On the other hand, they form a kind of reading diary for myself, so that’s the reason I keep ’em around, but readers of this blog should be aware that the guy reviewing today is not the same guy as the one that started the blog.

      You are also right about moment and context: even a few days could make a slight difference in how I judge a book.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nope, he rather hates Zelazny.. I was thinking about your reaction to the convoluted storyline and Zelazny’s penchant for using language to obfuscate the plot 😉

        I say, keep all reviews! Though the date of writing should be somewhere there too 😉 The old ones are still interesting and worthwhile, and there’s no rule that says that tastes can’t change. Plus, these previous readings of books did influence you and helped form who you are now.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Are you implying I like Zelazny? Shaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaame on you Ola! Shaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaame I say again.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Different strokes for different folks. At least you gave Terminal Boredom a shot. I had no clue about the author’s non-writing activities. Seems quite a dynamic life – no regrets about missing out on something when older. 🙂

    Zelazny is a writer for whom I wish I had an erase button every time I read one of his stories – not because I think they’re bad (though the Amber series does have some incredibly cheesy moments), rather because that seems the only method to circumvent his one-note protagonists. Seemingly every book/story has a world-weary, cigarette smoking, emotionally distant man. In other words, I’m curious if I would have been as high on This Immortal if I had known then what I know now.

    I’m in the middle of The Forgotten Beasts of Eld – pushed over the edge by your recommendation. So far it’s another rare 5 stars.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wikipedia has it that Suzuki had a child with a avant-garde saxophonist which she didn’t really raise as she only went living with the guy after a couple of years. I can only imagine Japan in the 70ies and 80ies being more conservative as it is now, and that’s saying something as Japan is extremely conservative on the family & marriage front, if I have to believe what I have read about it. In the English language “quite dynamic” seems like an apt description for such a life 🙂

      I’m glad I read Terminal Boredom, I thought it was okay (maybe I’ve should have stressed that in the review), it’s just that I’m not raving about it. Pairing it with the Incal & Zelazny maybe was a bit of a disservice to the book.

      I haven’t read any Zelazny stories. In my edition of This Immortal there was a long laudatory essay from Silverberg, praising Zelazny as a writer’s writer. That only made my disappointment bigger. From what I can gather, you are right about his characters, but on the other hand, it does make me curious to reread Amber 1-5, and see if I can still discern why I liked that so much years ago.

      As for McKillip’s debut: I thought that book became stronger throughout, so if you’re already willing to grant it 5 stars after half of it, I’d be surprised if you’d knock off 1 or 2 stars when you finish it – but indeed, different strokes, who knows? Either way: looking forward to your thoughts on it.


  6. Mark Pontin

    I wouldn’t bother with re-reading the Amber books. They’re when the rot set in with Zelazny.

    The man had a period from about 1963 to ’67, when he produced a series of short stories and novelettes that in terms of demonstrating literary elan seemed a cut above what almost every other American SF writer except Alfred Bester had done. They’re the stories–either wholly or almost entirely written before Zelazny became a full-time writer–which Samuel R. Delany, who wasn’t alone in being influenced by them, recently picked for this retrospective collection —

    ‘The Magic: (October 1961-October 1967) Ten Tales by Roger Zelazny’
    – edited by Samuel R. Delany

    Once Zelazny became a full-time professional turning out product to publishers’ contracts, he rapidly went downhill. The first Amber book was the turning point, although over the years there’d continue to be frustratingly promising pieces of Zelazny short fiction here and there amid all the subsequent Amber product, and his other tedious S&S and science-fantasy entries, indicating it wasn’t his mind or his talent that had gone missing but only his ambition. Apparently, he hated to do second drafts or revisions.

    Of the short fiction in THE MAGIC: TEN TALES BY ROGER ZELAZNY, at least half still impress (me, anyway), notably ‘For a Breath I Tarry,’ ‘The Ides of Octember’ (aka HE WHO SHAPES, the original magazine novella version of what became the rather less splendid novel, THE DREAM MASTER) and ‘The Graveyard Heart.’

    Regarding Zelazny’s novels, I agree that THIS IMMORTAL doesn’t stand up. LORD OF LIGHT did for me when I last read it (but was originally written as a series of novellas in F&SF before he went pro); patches of the writing in ISLE OF THE DEAD are brilliant enough that one can overlook the creaking plotting and technology; and CREATURES OF LIGHT AND DARKNESS may not be good exactly, but it sure is a fascinating experiment.

    YMMV, of course

    And as regards THE INCAL, surely complaining about Jodorowsky’s scripts is as irrelevant as complaining about the uniforms the Beatles wore for the Sergeant Pepper cover (to maintain the antiquated allusions)? Just as one listens only for the music, one comes to THE INCAL looking only for the glorious Mœbius art.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s interesting on Zelazny, thanks. I will keep an eye out for his early short stories in the second hand shops.

      As for rereading Amber: that would be more about learning about myself and my evolution as a reader than it would be to get a better grip in Zelazny.

      Re: The Incal, I can’t compartmentalize like that. For me, that work is a whole – I don’t think the Beatles comparison holds up. Better to take into account the lyrics than their uniforms, but even such a comparison isn’t fully apt as the story drives the visuals and vice versa, in a stronger way than lyrics influence music. But I agree that there is some great scenery in the book, as I wrote in the review. On the other hand, I think Mœbius treatment of the human form, especially faces, is often crude and even crappy, hindering the translation of emotions, because it often just looks so untrue. Even Difool’s face is often drawn clumsily. I also think his color choices aren’t always successful either, but that’s more a matter of taste obviously. Anyhow, again there are brilliant sets in the book, but I would hesitate to call the art glorious.


  7. I read Terminal Boredom last year and, unfortunately, the title was a very good description of my overall feelings. I could see substance worth exploring in the stories but they just didn’t engage me. So you’re not alone with that one.

    Liked by 1 person

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