Don't get your undies in a bunch, Buckaroo and Jam. I'm not making a statement about Zelazny's Amber novels. I'm not even done with Nine Princes in Amber yet. But the book did provoke some ideas, and those led to the phrase "poorly-written fantasy."
I'm a little more than halfway through Nine Princes, and I've been pleased. The story is characteristic of 1960s fantasy in that Zelazny isn't following a series of expected developments, but is telling a story that surprises--and when it doesn't surprise, it at least wasn't predicted. Too much of what happened in the 1980s led to formulaic stories. The quest starts with an unlikely hero who meets with some companions he has trouble getting along with, and they slowly bond as they struggle along a Quest. The good guys are easily identified, as are the bad guys. The quest inevitably involves finding some ancient artifact or recovering a long-forgotten tradition with which the hero ultimately defeats the villain. The hero is able to succeed because goodness is his essence. There's more of a postmodern, realistic grit to Zelazny (so far).
The formula novels are boring. I like Zelazny's style (even if the story is eerily reminiscent of Heinlein's Glory Road at first) because life isn't predictable and easy like that. We have to think to figure out who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. We can't just look to what's been done in the past, because as times change new solutions are needed to solve emerging problems. Tolkien set the stage, and if you can trust Terry Pratchett (and I do), all of fantasy literature is merely rearranging the furniture in Tolkein's attic. It's the guys like Zelazny, Glen Cook, Steven Brust, Fritz Lieber, and Michael Moorcock who surprise, who deviate and invent. Even Robert Jordan, who was very good at what he did, only modified Tolkien's formula. I need something new--I've seen the old. So Zelazny is a good break.
But as I'm reading Nine Princes, I'm also following the political process, the run-up to the November Presidential election. I know already that I'll vote for either the Democratic candidate or an independent who I agree with almost completely. I won't vote for a Republican because the American conservative political position is morally and intellectually bankrupt. The Republicans drive me crazy with their us-vs.-them oversimplicity, their blind reliance on tradition, and their insufferable self-righteousness.
And then it occurs to me: American political conservatism is a poorly-written fantasy. Conservatives are the "good guys," everyone else is the "bad guys," and these lines are easily identified. They cling to tradition, regardless of changing circumstances, and they have nothing new to offer.
But what they didn't imagine is that in 2008, Sauron would be represented by George W. Bush.