The following review is the 10th post in my series searching for “SF short stories that are critical in some capacity of space agencies, astronauts, and the culture which produced them.” Some stories I’ll review in this series might not fit. And that is okay. I relish the act of literary archaeology.
As always, feel free to join the conversation!
Today: Roger Zelazny’s “Halfjack” in the June 1979 issue of Omni, ed. Don Dixon. You can read it online here.
Roger Zelazny’s “Halfjack” first appeared in the June 1979 issue of Omni, ed. Don Dixon. You can read it online here. I read the story in the The Last Defender of Camelot (1980).
Exploring adjacent territory to Frederik Pohl’s “The Hated” (1958) and Samuel R. Delany’s “Aye, and Gomorrah” (1967), Roger Zelazny’s “Halfjack” speculates on the sexual allure cyborg spacemen hold on the planet-bound and the eternal restlessness of their souls. In vignette form, Zelazny constructs an effective mood piece as a cyborg named Jack lands on a planet in the “backwater limb of the galaxy” (275). He encounters Kathi, and after almost three months together reveals his secret–beneath his flesh bodyglove and hairpiece a “dark metal and plastic, precision-machined, with various openings and protuberances, some gleaming, some dusky” transformed body lies (276). In their lovemaking, Kathi begs him to remove his skin: “It really does something for me” (276). The modifications, a lateral hemicorporectomy, were Jack’s choice so he could hook himself into a special kind of spacecraft. While almost all of his biological self could be removed, Jack chose to keep his “stomach and balls and lungs, because I have to screw and breath to feel human” (277).
The last phrase—“to feel human”—forms the crux of the story as Jack struggles to create meaningful connections to other humans. Before he leaves Kathi for Morgana, his spaceship, he tells her that he is possessed by a wanderlust that triumphs over his deep attraction to her (277). Did the modifications create the wanderlust and desire for his ship’s company over that of the planet-bound? Or did the same desire to wander cause him to undergo the transformation in the first place? Did it change him at all?
It’s a polished and slick story that leaves just enough open to interpretation to tantalize. That said, “Halfjack” (1979) clocks in far from Zelazny’s best. Recommended for fans of SF on 70s visions of post-humanism and Zelazny completists.
On the site I’ve written positively about “The Keys to December” (1966), The Dream Master (1966), and “For A Breath I Tarry” (1966). Pre-site, I consumed with relish Zelazny’s classics This Immortal (variant title: And Call Me Conrad….) (1966) and Lord of Light (1967). Jack of Shadows (1971), Damnation Alley (1969), and Nine Princes in Amber (1970) have faired less well. Thinking back through his bibliography for this review, I realized that I never restarted Isle of the Dead (1969) after the spine of my copy split 60 pages in. Perhaps due for a reread?
Do you know any other stories of Zelazny’s short fictions that might fit the parameters of this project? Let me know in the comments.
For book reviews consult the INDEX
For cover art posts consult the INDEX
For TV and film reviews consult the INDEX