Science fiction/fantasy writer Roger Zelazny knew early on that he wanted to be a writer. "[When] I was about six years old…I read stories and decided that I would have done things differently with the characters. One day I realized that 'Hey, I could do this,' so I tried and I've been doing it ever since."
Zelazny first started reading science fiction as an eleven-year-old in Cleveland, Ohio; just a few years later he wrote -- and sold -- his first science fiction story for a writing contest. Zelazny knew then that he wanted to pursue a career in science fiction; he also knew that he needed to live a little more before he would be successful at it. "I decided that as a teenager I really didn't know enough to describe characters well and I was wasting my time. I'd learned as much as I could about storytelling techniques and it wasn't a matter of technique any more. It was a matter of substance…. I'd read [science fiction] steadily from when I was eleven until I started college. When I started college, I said, 'I'm not going to read that while I'm here, I'm going to learn poetry and other things of that sort.'"
When he sold his first story to Amazing Stories in 1962, Zelazny lifted his self-imposed ban on science fiction and voraciously read "ten paperback [science fiction] and fantasy novels, chosen at random. Then I picked up a copy of every [science fiction] magazine being sold at the time." Very methodically, Zelazny began submitting his stories to each of the magazines he had purchased. By the time 1963 rolled around, Zelazny had published seventeen more short stories.
Despite this early success, Zelazny was not quite ready to quit his day job; after receiving his undergraduate degree from Cleveland's Western Reserve University in 1959 and his master's from Columbia University just three years later, Zelazny had taken a job with the Cleveland branch of the U.S. Social Security Administration, which he kept until 1965. At the same time, he was also serving on the Army Reserve, a position which he held until 1966, and which would take him to "the Army's Arts, Monuments, and Archives unit, a department which preserves important historical and cultural landmarks in occupied foreign countries." His experiences in the army would eventually serve as the basis for Zelazny's first novel.
Back in 1965, though, even after winning two Nebula Awards for his stories (from the Science Fiction Writers of America), Zelazny accepted a transfer to the Social Security Administration offices in Baltimore, Maryland. Finally, as he saw his first full-length novel, The Immortal, published in 1969, Zelazny felt his writing career was solid enough to withstand the loss of traditional employment, so he left his government job. Both Immortal and Zelazny's third novel, Lord of Light, published in 1967, won the writer Hugo Awards (which are awarded by fans). Much later in his career, Zelazny would admit that Lord of Light was his favorite novel.
Though some critics opposed his later work, saying things like: "we once had something unique and wonderful, and it is gone, and what we have in its place is only a superior writer of preposterous adventures," Zelazny's career as writer was overall met with much reverence and success; in more than thirty years' time, he would publish more than one hundred fifty short stories and over fifty science fiction and fantasy books, including the popular Amber series. His personal life, unfortunately, paid the toll; though he had married Sharon Steberl in 1964, the pair was divorced just two years later. His second marriage, to Judy Callahan, began just months after the first came to an end; it produced three children and weathered a 1975 move to Santa Fe, New Mexico, but, though it was never formally terminated, must have ended some time before his death. In his obituary, Zelazny is said to be succeeded by, amongst others, "Jane Lindskold, with whom he was living at the time of his death."
Zelazny died from complications of cancer at the age of fifty-eight. Personal issues aside, he left behind him a legacy of science fiction stories and novels that broke all traditional molds and earned him the respect and recognition of science fiction readers, writers, and critics the world over.
Photos of Roger Zelazny provided by Bill Testerman.