A Tunnel in the Sky

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A Night in the Lonesome October
by Roger Zelazny

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted October 31, 2023

Out of print but available for Kindle from Amazon. A purchase through our links may earn us a commission. No listing on Bookshop.

Along with a great many other authors, I haven't read as much by Zelazny as I should have. I've heard of this book many times over the years, but until recently never owned it, and can't recall seeing a copy in any bookstore. It is out of print now, but I got it for Kindle. It is a most appropriate book to be reviewing on Halloween. Another blogger I follow had said they intended to read one chapter each night this month, but the majority of them are very short, taking just a couple of minutes for some. Toward the end the chapters lengthen, as the plot thickens as the saying goes. Other than the first chapter, the rest are titled by the day, October 1 through the 31st. I don't know if the illustrations by Gahan Wilson date from the first publication, but they are in the e-book, one for each chapter, plus the cover and what was likely the frontispiece in print.

The story is narrated by a dog, Snuff, but it is clear they were something else before they were summoned to be the companion and assistant to Jack. While it is not stated directly, it is easy to tell he is Jack the Ripper. Other famous characters show up too, most of them fictional, including Sherlock Holmes, who is there to investigate the disappearance of a police officer. He notices the multiple weird things going on, so sticks around to observe more, using several different disguises to do so, but Snuff always knows it is The Great Detective. Others I could identify were the Count (Dracula), the Good Doctor (Victor Frankenstein, although my first guess was Henry Jekyll), and Larry Talbot (the Wolf Man). I am not sure about some of them, but they may be stand-ins for others. Zelazny dedicated the book to: "Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H. P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Albert Payson Terhune, and the makers of a lot of old movies." Terhune was the author of many stories about dogs, Lad: a Dog being the most well known, so maybe Snuff was from one of his. Poe provided the title, from his poem "Ulalume." I already identified the character contributions from Shelley, Stoker, and Doyle, but I'm not sure about Bradbury and Bloch. There is no Norman Bates here for instance. As for Lovecraft, almost all of the plot is about his creations, the Elder Gods.

The titular Night occurs when a full moon falls on October 31, meaning a "blue moon," the second full moon of the month. When that happens, the forces of the Openers and Closers gather to perform a ceremony which will either open the gates and allow the Old Ones to resurface and take over the Earth again, or keep those gates closed. The Closers have won the battle each time so far, but the Openers keep trying. Each of the participants has a companion, a familiar if you will. Snuff is with Jack, the Count has a bat named Needle, the Vicar Roberts an albino raven, Tekela. There is a witch named "Crazy" Jill with a cat named Graymalk. Oddly enough, Snuff and Graymalk become friends, even though their people are on opposite sides of the conflict, Jack being a Closer, Jill an Opener. I'm not sure who Owen is supposed to represent from fiction, but his companion is Cheeter, a squirrel. Rastov may be patterned after Rasputin, but even if not his companion is the snake, Quicklime. I think Morris and MacCab may represent the real life grave robbers Burke and Hare.

All of the animals can communicate with each other, sometimes even sharing information on a quid pro quo basis. Jack can only understand Snuff for one hour each day, midnight to 1AM. All during the month each tries to determine if the others gathering are Closers or Openers, and who has the necessary objects to complete the ceremony. One of Snuff's tasks is to patrol around and inside Jack's house, inside to observe the Thing in the Circle, the Things in the Mirror, and the Thing in the Steamer Trunk. Each of those must be useful for the coming ceremony, or maybe they are being kept from the others so they can't be used. Snuff also calculates where the ceremony will take place, based on patterns of lines he visualizes between the dwellings of all involved. But he also has to figure out if one or more of them are not actual participants, so he has to continally adjust his calculations. He is not sure if the Count or the Good Doctor belong in the pattern, or if they do, are they Openers or Closers. He is also confused about Larry Talbot, who does not have a companion, or as he later learns, may be his own companion.

I won't reveal other details, except one thing that should tell you the outcome. Jill is there for only one reason that makes sense, to provide the closing line of Jack and Jill going down the hill. This was an enjoyable tale I am sure to re-read, maybe often, mostly to figure out who all the characters represent. Recommended.


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Roger Zelazny

August 26, 1993

Winner of:
Italia (in translation)

Finalist for:

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Amazon (Kindle)

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