For a Breath I Tarry by Roger Zelazny - Book Review

Write on: Tue, 21 Sep 2021 by  in Assaph's Reviews Read 528

Every so often I like to read something from the classic grandmasters of SFF, and Zelazny has always been a favourite of mine. This came up during a conversation with a friend, so I just jumped on it.

What to Expect

After the extinction of man, the machines he has set in place are trying to rebuild and maintain the earth. They have differing opinions, though, on what man might have wanted.

In the midst of this, one of them becomes obsessed with understanding man, and how those who created logic were superior to it. In a true Zelazny fashion, even though this is a novelette you can read in an evening, it's packed with layers of meaning and complexity: on the nature of art, of experience vs knowledge, of trying to understand and quantify our world, and human nature in general.

What I liked

Zelazny is truly a grandmaster, and this very quick read shows that. It's dense, yet extremely readable; it makes you think, while enjoying and caring about machines.

What to be aware of

It is a product of the time it was written (the 60's), with views about machines and artificial intelligence that might seem dated. Some readers, I'm sure, might also object to the use of 'man' for humankind.

But going beyond these, the themes are timeless just as human nature and its pursuit of art are.

Felix's Review

Felix, I'm sad to say, didn't get this. I guess abstract works of meta-literature are a bit beyond him, and perhaps I should leave him with the comedies and detective stories.


If you haven't read this or if it's been a few years, and if you enjoy the more philosophical type of SFF, this is definitely a novella worth a try (like most of Zelazny's works).

Enjoying the reviews, but wondering who the heck is that Felix fellow? Glad you asked! He's the protagonist of the Togas, Daggers, and Magic series, an historical-fantasy blend of a paranormal detective on the background of ancient Rome.


Assaph has been a bibliophile since he learnt to read at the age of five, and a Romanophile ever since he first got his hands on Asterix, way back in elementary school. This exacerbated when his parents took him on a trip to Rome and Italy - he whinged horribly when they dragged him to "yet another church with baby angels on the ceiling", yet was happy to skip all day around ancient ruins and museums for Etruscan art. 

He has since been feeding his addiction for books with stories of mystery and fantasy of all kinds. A few years ago he randomly picked a copy of a Lindsay Davis' Marcus Didius Falco novel in a used book fair, and fell in love with Rome all over again, this time from the view-point of a cynical adult. His main influences in writing are Steven Saylor, Lindsey Davis, Barry Hughart and Boris Akunin. 

Assaph now lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife, kids, cats, and - this being Australia - assorted spiders. By day he is a software product manager, bridging the gap between developers and users, and by night he's writing - he seems to do his best writing after midnight.



Twitter: @assaphmehr