I just finished my book review of Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light, which is part of my project to read all Hugo and Nebula Award winning novels. The review is below and will be archived in the Short Stories and Articles section of the blog.
Roger Zelazny – Lord of Light
By Shawn Grimsley
Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light won the Hugo Award in 1968 and it is not hard to see why. The novel has perhaps on of the best opening hooks in SF:
His followers called him Mahasamatan and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the Maha- and the –atman, however, and called himself Sam. He never claimed to be a god. But then, he never claimed not to be a god.
And so begins Zelanzy’s interesting, thought provoking, and beautifully written tale about Sam (just one of many his names), Lord of Light (just one of his many titles).
Lord of Light takes place far in the future on a distant planet. Sam is one of the “First” who arrived on the planet long ago. After displacing some “demons” that were the dominant intelligence on the planet, Sam and the other humans colonized the planet. They developed a culture around the Hindu tradition and mythology. Utilizing advance technology, the colonists are able to “reincarnate” through transferring their “atman”—minds/souls into fresh human bodies. The colonists eventually take on the mantel of various gods of the Hindu pantheon and even develop supernatural “attributes.” The regular human population is under the indirect control of the gods and their priests. The gods prevent the development of technology and decide whether their progeny will be entitled to reincarnation as a means of control. The story revolves around Sam who has rejected godhood and leads an effort to overthrow the gods and allow their descendents to advance as a civilization.
The novel consists of seven long chapters. Be warned: chapters two through six are loosely related flashbacks telling of Sam’s journey leading to the final confrontation with the gods that is told in the first and final chapters of the book. If you are not careful when reading the end of the first chapter, you may miss the transition.
Lord of Light is worth the effort. It is not only entertaining, but beautifully written. It is always nice to read a science fiction novel that takes care with the written word. And Zelazny does take his craft seriously. It was not the easiest book to read but much of the effort was due to my unfamiliarity with Hinduism and Buddhism.
The book should appeal to a wide range of readers of speculative fiction. Given the premise of the story and the mix of technology and religion, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the current “Ancient Astronaut Theorists” borrowed some of their ideas from this book. If not, they certainly would enjoy reading it. In any event, the story offers some important discussions of topics involving religion, class, and social control. The story may also appeal to readers of fantasy as the novel does straddle the line between fantasy and science fiction.
For a downloadable version, please click here.