|In the days of darkness Man's only ray of hope was the Lord of Light...|
in 1967 it won the Hugo Award for best SF novel of that year. Sales
continued for 32 printings and over 2 million copies until 1992. In
March, 2000, due to popular demand and continued high ranking on best
SF Lists around the world, Avon brought out an unprecidented new edition
garnering more critical praise and delight to international fans new
and old. Zelazny's Lord of Light and The Amber Series are considered
amongst the best SF novels ever written.
The Novel itself starts off as a flashback, after Sam is brought back to life by Yama-Dharma, Lord of Death, to return to fight the Hosts of Heaven a final time and save the world from tyranical destruction. [It is noted that the Film adaption restructures the book to follow a linear plot line]
Zelazny was a very bright shooting star when he first appeared on the fantasy/SF radar some 35 years ago, a new writer of power, originality, insight, and depth. Lord of Light was his third novel, and it exemplifies all these qualities in grand style. Combining the Hindu/Buddhist mythos/religion with the science-fictional concepts of true re-incarnation via technology-enabled body swaps, set on world dominated by those who have access to the technology, and are thereby effectively real gods, this book is a powerful statement of character, philosophy, and morality.
Mahasamatman, or Sam as he prefers to be called, is our protagonist for this trip through heaven, hell, and meditation, one of the original colonizing crew who has, over the centuries, fallen out of favor with the ruling coterie, who now style themselves as actually being the Hindu deities. Sam, seeing the inequitable treatment of the colonist's descendents, the forcible holding back of their attempts at technological progress, the sometimes total denigration of these people as mere objects and the cynical attitude of the ruling group towards them, decides to become a one-man army to change the status-quo by preaching the heretical philosophies of Buddha. But he finds his preaching has some unlooked-for consequences: he attracts a fanatical following and he finds it near impossible to not actually become the modern incarnation of the ancient philosopher, even though he does not totally subscribe to Buddha's philosophical outlook himself. As we delve deeper into Sam's battle with Shiva, Kali, Brahma and the rest of ruling pantheon, we are given looks at the original battle to colonize the planet, when all the crew had to develop Attributes to fight the native denizens (almost literal demons) of the planet, Attributes now part of their chosen godly character. In seeing this early period (which is highlighted by some very powerful and exciting battle descriptions), we get to see that none of these people are either totally evil or saintly, but are very human, with engaging foibles and distinctive characteristics. This is one of the main strengths of this book, as we have a large set of fully realized characters, each with their own motivations and desires, whose interactions form a complex weave of happenstance and emotional intertwinings, that give the novel a unique order and flow, and are sure to evoke multiple responses in the reader.
The prose style is more than adequate to the task here, sometimes brilliantly, almost poetically descriptive, at other points understated, leaving items just slightly nebulous, ready for the reader's imagination to complete. And the religious statements will burrow into your mind, forcing little cracks of enlightenment and quiet meditation. The story is not told in linear order, which some may find a little confusing, but as each piece of the story is unfolded and wrapped into the whole, it forms a mosaic that layers in your mind, building a tightly interlocked edifice of strength and stature.
Zelazny here has managed
to create an archetype, a legend for modern times, with real relevance
to the reader's everyday life, with a great promotion of life philosophies
without preaching. Sadly, Roger is no longer with us, there will be
no more of these brilliant tour-de-forces, but this will stand as one
of his finest gifts to the world. A gift that everyone can enjoy and
Overview & Commentary:
And we see the change brought on in the world by Sam’s actions. He must be a force of destruction in order to restore the proper rhythm to men’s lives. Sam himself evolves throughout the course of the story. His immortality grants him the length of time necessary for such personal change. Each of his many names reflects a different person he has become, even to the point that he says, about the Buddha, "‘I don’t recall any longer whether I was really that one, or whether it was another. But I am gone away from that one now’." Needless to say, this doesn't make his lifelong mate, Kali, very happy and she does everything in her power as Death Goddess to thwart him.
At first, he takes a Machiavellian approach to it all, doing whatever he deems necessary to achieve his goals. Though he spends years as the Buddha, he doesn’t believe a word of his own teaching; he is still willing to murder Brahma and Shiva in the city of Heaven (which he does). Though he and Kali love each other still, they are both willing to fight to the Death and he goes to battle against the gods anyway. And though his battles lay the foundation for the demise of Heaven's grip on the world he still loses, because he has failed to integrate all the creative and destructive forces within himself. But by the end of the story, Sam has become all of the men/gods he once was, and in a final battle, his side prevails. A new world of mankind living without the rule of the Gods is born.
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