My first impression of this collection from one of the truly exceptional writers of science fiction was that it was uneven, with a terrific story at the beginning, another at the end and an assortment of odds and ends in between.

But most of the stories in "Frost and Fire" actually do live up to what you'd expect from Roger Zelazny, overshadowed though they might be by the Hugo-winning pair of "Permafrost" and "24 Views of Mt. Fuji, by Hokusai."It's interesting, though, to find out from Zelazny's introductory notes just how many of these stories were written to order: one for a book of "berserker" stories by various authors that Fred Saberhagen was putting together, another for a similar theme collection by Larry Niven, a little piece for a convention booklet, and so on.

These are solid stories - Zelazny, after all, is Zelazny - but it does indicate an odd way in which the demands of celebrity by their very nature could undermine creativity, even for someone as brilliantly original as Zelazny. It's a tribute to his skill that he can venture into Saberhagen's berserker universe, for instance, and produce a story as strong as "Itself Surprised."

This sort of by-request exploitation of other writers' themes and originations seems to be peculiar to sci-fi and fantasy; it's hard to imagine Tom McGuane, say, being prompted to write a story about New York cafe society for a collection compiled by Tama Janowitz.