Book Cover
Title Lord of Light
Series ---
Author Roger Zelazny
Cover Art ---
Publisher Avon Books - 1971
First Printing 1965
Category Science Fiction
Warnings None

Main Characters

Sam, Yama, Kali

Main Elements Gods, demons
Website ---

His followers called him Mahasamatman, and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the maha and atman however, and called himself Sam. He never claimed to be a god, but then, he never claimed not to be...

It is long after the death of Earth. A band of men on a colony planet have gained control of technology. With it, they have given themselves immortality and godlike powers, and they rule their world as the gods of the Hindu pantheon.

Kali, Goddess of Destruction; Yama, Lord of Death; Krishna, God of Lust; all are opposed by him who was Siddhartha, who is now Mahasamatman, Binder of Demons, Lord of Light.

This book was a bit of a challenge to read. As I struggled through the first chapter I had to wonder how this book managed to win a Hugo award. Then the second chapter came around and I was totally lost till I realized it was a flashback, make sure you don't miss the "and then Sam remembered" at the end of the first chapter. And as flashback goes, it's pretty much the bulk of the novel. However, once I got the timelines sorted out, and the action picked up, and the little hints and tidbits Zelazny stingingly dribbles out about how the world works start to build up, I found myself unable to put the book down.

See, you might think a book about the Hindu pantheon might be a fantasy, along the lines of Percy Jackson, though perhaps a bit more violent since there are gods associated with Destruction, Death, Lust, Fire, and basically more scary overall. Now when I started reading I didn't know much of Hinduism nor Budhism and I worried that might affect my understanding of the story, but I think I agree with what others have written. That this is a story about a group of spacefaring humans, the originals of which, though various technologies including a reincarnation machine, decided to play the role of the Hindu pantheon. But they are not in fact gods and they could change whatever parts of scripture they so chose to suit their needs. This is driven home when another of the First calls them by their original human names.

Another difficulty is the way it was written, as if it were a religious text. It's not filled with thee's and thou's but it is definitely more formal and the dialog more stilted. But it's appropriate given the subject matter.

It is a book with amazing worldbuilding (like the unimportant, but still fascinating shadow cats that wander through the Celestial City without seeing it, but are themselves seen by the divine residents), and some interestingly dysfunctinal group of main characters. Who go from lovers to rivals, switch between male and female, even going from one god to the next (for they can die and one can't leave a position unfilled) over the course of centuries. And not everyone is Hindu, some Catholics pop up now and then to shake things up a bit. And of course the demons, incorporeal beings that are the actual alien natives of the world but were captured and bound by Sam when the First arrived and laid claim to the planet.

It reminds us that a technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic. We know the gods use tech, but the people of the world, well, believe they are gods. How could they not? And the gods ensure it stays that way, not even allowing flush toilets or any other technology to be rediscovered naturally (let alone shared) until Sam decides he doesn't agree with that. And so, in a war of gods, can the Lord of Light prevail?

Needless to say, I'll be reading this one again some day, I'm sure I missed as much as I got out of it. And yeah, I can see why it won a Hugo.

Posted: September 2017


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