Donnerjack H

Donnerjack H

by Roger Zelazny


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In our world, called the Verite, he is a Scottish laird, an engineer, and a master of virtual reality design. In the computer-generated universe of Virtu, created by the crash of the World Net, he is a living legend. Scientist and poet with a warrior's soul, Donnerjack strides like a giant across the virtual landscape he helped to shape. And now he has bargained with Death himself for the return of love.

The Lord of Entropy claimed Ayradyss, Donnerjack's beloved dark-haired lady of Virtu, with no warning, leaving a hole in the Engineer's heart. But Death offered to return her to him for a price: a palace of bones...and their first-born child. Since offspring have never before resulted from any union of the two worlds, Donnerjack accepts Death's conditions—and leads his reborn lover far from the detritus and perpetual twilight of Deep Fields to his ancestral Scottish lands, hoping to build a sanctuary and a self for Ayradyss in the first world.

But there is no escaping, because cataclysmic change is taking place in Virtu. A bizarre new religion is sweeping through this ever-shifting universe where the homely can be virtually beautiful, the lame can walk and the blind can see. Now it's threatening to spill over into Verite. And its credo is a call for a different kind of order. For all the ancient myths still occupy Virtu. And the Great Gods on Mt. Meru are amassing great armies in anticipation of the time when a vast computer system attempts to take over the reality that constructed it.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780380973262
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/01/1997
Pages: 512
Product dimensions: 6.45(w) x 9.59(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Roger Zelazny burst onto the SF scene in the early 1960s with a series of dazzling and groundbreaking short stories. He won his first of six Hugo Awards for Lord of Light, and soon after produced the first book of his enormously popular Amber series, Nine Princes in Amber. In addition to his Hugos, he went on to win three Nebula Awards over the course of a long and distinguished career. He died on June 14, 1995.

Read an Excerpt

Now, another piece of such darkness flapped into existence, black butterfly out of his arbitrary north—perhaps a piece of himself returning from a mission—to dart before him and settle finally upon his extended finger. It closed its wings as he raised it. A moment of cacophony came and went.

Then, "Intruders to the north," it said, its voice high, piping, small dots of moire passing like static outward from it.

"You must have mistaken the activity of a fragment," Death responded, soft as the darkness, low as the dying rumble of creation.

The butterfly let fall its wings and raised them again.

"No," it said.

"No one intrudes here," Death replied.

"They are rifling heaps, searching . . ."

"How many?"


"Show me."

The butterfly rose from his fingertip and skipped off to the north. Death followed to the sound of discord, odd pieces of reality flashing into and out of existence as he passed. The butterfly traveled on and Death mounted the hill, pausing when he had achieved the summit.

In the valley below two manlike forms—no, one was female—had excavated a trench to considerable depth. Now they were passing along its length, the man holding a light while the other removed things from the ground and cast them into a sack. Death, of course, was aware of much that lay in the area.

"What desecration is this?'' Death inquired, raising his arms, his shadow flowing toward them. "You dare to invade my realm?"

The one with the sack straightened and the man dropped the light, which went out instantly. A great babble of voices and strident sounds filled the air as if in synchrony with Death's ire. There came a small golden flicker from within thetrench as his shadow reached it.

Then a gate opened, and the figures passed through it, just before the shadow flooded the trench with blackness.

The fluttering shape approached the hilltop.

"A key," it said. "They had a key."

"I do not give out keys to my realm," Death stated. "I am disturbed. Could you tell where their gate took them?"

"No," it replied.

Death moved his hands to his left, cupped them, opened them as if releasing a wish or an order.

"Hound, hound, out of the ground,' he muttered, and a heap of bone and metal stirred below in the direction he faced. Mismatched bones reared up, along with springs, straps, and struts, to form them selves together into an ungainly skeletal construct, to which pieces of plastic, metal, flesh, glass, and wood flew or slid, turning like puzzle pieces after unlikely congruencies, fitting themselves into such places, to be drenched suddenly by a rain of green ink and superglue, assailed by a blizzard of furniture covering and shag rug samples, dried by bursts of flame which belched from the ground upon all sides. "There is something that needs to be found," Death finished.

The hound sought its master with its red right eye and its green left one, the right an inch higher than the left. It twitched its cable tails and moved forward.

When it reached the top of the hill it lowered itself to its belly and whined like a leaky air valve. Death extended his left hand and stroked its head lightly. Fearlessness, ruthlessness, relentlessness, the laws and ways of the hunt rose from the ground and rushed to wrap it, along with the aura of dread.

"Death's dog, I name you Mizar," he said. "Come with me now to take a scent."

He led him down into the trench where Mizar lowered his head and nosed about.

"I will send you into the higher lands of Virtu to course the worlds and find those who have been here. If you cannot bring them back you must summon me to them."

"How shall I summon you, Death?" Mizar asked.

"You must howl in a special way. I will teach you. Let me hear your howl."

Mizar threw back his head, and the sound of a siren bled into the whistle of a locomotive mixed with the death-wails of a score of accident victims, and, from someplace, the howling of a wolf on a winter's night, and the baying of hounds upon a trail. A legion of broken bodies, servomechs, and discarded environments stirred and flashed in the valley below, amid junk mail, core war casualties, worms, and crashed bulletin boards. It all settled again with a clatter when he lowered his head and the silence took hold of Deep Fields once more.

"Not bad," Death observed. "Let me teach you to modulate it for a summoning.

Immediately, the air was rent by a series of shrieks, wails, and howls which brought a stirring to all of Deep Fields with its pulsing pattern and which resulted in an inundation of new forms, falling, striding, shuffling, sliding into the realm, stirring the dark dust to haze the air through which new cacophonies traveled.

"That I will hear and recognize wheresoever you shall be," Death stated, "and I will come to you when so summoned."

A patch of blackness landed upon Mizar's nose, and his lopsided eyes were crossed as he regarded the butterfly.

"I am Alioth, a messenger," it told him. "I just wanted to say hello. You have a fine voice.

"Hello," Mizar answered. "Thank you."

Alioth darted away.

"Come with me now," Death said, and he moved to descend the trench.

An inky monkey-shape swung round a twisted beam to hang and watch them.

Entering the trench, Death led Mizar to the place where the two intruders had worked, and whence they had departed.

"Take their scents," he said, "that you may follow them anywhere."

Mizar lowered his head.

"I have them," he said.

"I will open a series of ports. Do not pass through them. Sniff, rather, at each, and see whether any bear traces of these scents. Tell me if one does."

The monkey-shape scuttled, approaching the trench's side, and crouched there, watching.

Death raised his right arm, and his cloak hung down to the ground, curtain of absolute blackness, before the hound. Without preliminary lightening, it became a gateway to a bright cityscape built as within a sphere or tube, buildings dependent from all visible surfaces. It was gone in an instant to be replaced by a flashing city of slim towers and improbable minarets, connected by countless bridges and walkways, clouds drifting among them, no sign of ground anywhere.

Then meadows flashed by, and long corridors of innumerable door ways, both lighted and dark, opened and closed, the interior of an Escher-angled grotto, tube cities beneath a sea, slow-wheeling satellites, a Dyson-sphered realm whose inhabitants sailed from world to world in open vessels. Yet Mizar remained still, watching, sniffing. The pace in creased, scenes flashing beneath Death's arm with a rapidity that no normal eye might follow. Alioth skipped before prospects of live flowers, both mechanical and organic.

'Death halted the process, freezing on the scene of a classical ruin—broken pillars, fallen walls, crashed pediment—upon a grassy and flower-dotted hilltop, flooded with golden light beneath a painfully blue sky. Gulls passed, calling. The shadows were all hard-edged, and a touch of sea-smell drifted through the gate.

"Anything at all? Death asked.

"No," Mizar replied, as Alioth darted through the gate to settle upon a flower which immediately began to droop.

"I have tried the likeliest choices for the glimpse I had. We will look somewhere more distant, someplace almost impossibly hard to reach. Bide."

The scene vanished, to be replaced by that blackness which had prevailed earlier. A little later, a light appeared. It brightened steadily, casting illumination far down the trench and beyond it. The black, spiderish monkey-form crouched on the trench's edge drew back as the brightening continued, as coils of colored light and random-seeming geometric forms drifted within to the accompaniment of an electrical sizzling sound. Trails like lightning came and went. Then darkness ensued of an instant, inverting the values of the various brightnesses. A negative quality came over the crackling prospect.

Mizar stirred.

"Yes," he said then, the spikes of his teeth gleaming metallically in the glow. "There is something similar here."

"Find them if you can," Death said. "Call to me if you do."

The hound threw back his head and howled. Then he sprang forward through Death's port into the dark-bright abstract world beyond, sustained by wings of moire. Death lowered his cloak and the gate was folded and put away.

"You may never see him again," said the monkey. "It is a very high realm to which you have sent him—perhaps beyond your reach."

Death turned his head, showing his teeth.

"It is true that it could take a long while, Dubhe," he said. "Yet all patience is but an imitation of my ways, and even in the highest realms I am not unknown."

Dubhe sprang to his shoulder and settled there as Death rose up out of the trench.

"I believe that someone has just begun a game," Death said as he headed across Deep Fields through a meadow of blackest grass, black poppies swaying at the passage of his cloak, "and, next to music, they have invoked a pastime for which I have the highest regard. It is long, Dubhe, since I have been given a good game. I shall respond to their opening as none might expect, and we will try each others' patience. Then, one day, they will learn that I am always in the right place at the proper time."

"I once felt that way, the monkey replied, "till a branch I was reaching for wasn't there."

The cacophony that followed might have been their laughter, or only the random bleats of entropy. Same thing.

Copyright ) 1993 by Roger Zelazny and Jane Lindskold


The challenge of Donnerjack was to do something completely different, something utterly un-cyberpunk, with virtual reality. So we created Virtù, the greatest artifact of the human race. It's a place where scientific problems argue with their postulators, programs go rogue, and legends come to life. The novel has several plot threads, but the title is taken from one in particular.

When John D'Arcy Donnerjack, a cool man of science, makes a seemingly impossible bargain with Death for the return of his beloved wife Ayradyss, he doesn't consider that nothing is impossible in Virtu. His son, Jay, must deal with the results of his father's incautious oath. To do so, Jay is forced to embrace the very powers his father denied: ghosts, gods, "aions" and some really old time religion.

—Jane Lindskold

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