Lord of Light: The peak of imaginative literature

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsscience fiction book reviews Roger Zelazny Lord of LightLord of Light by Roger Zelazny

The scholar Brian Attebery in his book Strategies of Fantasy writes that works of science fantasy can be divided into two categories: the beautiful and the damned. No middle ground to be had, technology and the supernatural remain relative to the era, and combining them is disastrous to the point of comedy or successful to the point of being a mind-opening experience. Falling into the latter category, Lord of Light, unlike many of Zelazny’s other works of science fantasy, is a flawless blend of the archetypes of science fiction and the mythologies of Hinduism and Buddhism. The result is simply the peak of imaginative literature.

Working with Indian history, particularly the time of Buddhism’s rise to rival the teachings of Hinduism, Zelazny plays off this opposition to tell the story of Sam, the man who was a god but wasn’t. One of the original members of a spaceship crew stranded on an unknown planet, Sam rejects the totalitarian ways of the crew who have made themselves out to be gods, ruling the populace with superior technology while satiating their own desires for worship and power. Forming alliances with demons and gods, Sam brings the Hindu pantheon to life in his fight against it, the Buddhist doctrine of right to life for the masses emphasized in his attempts to crash the gods’ party. Sam does not always survive the epic battles, but then again reincarnation is just a matter of technology. The novel is divided into several sections that do not follow upon another logically; this cyclical story of Sam’s triumph must be pieced together like mythology itself, the story unable to be told another way.

In short, everything about Lord of Lightworks. The vivid imagery, the narrative structure, the dialogue, the use of Buddhist and Hindu folklore, the character motivations, the colors, the crackle, the connection to culture — everything propels Lord of Light into the highest ranks of science fantasy. Quite simply, it’s a masterpiece that anyone calling themselves a fan of speculative fiction must read.

Lord of Light — (1967) Publisher: Earth is long since dead. On a colony planet, a band of men has gained control of technology, made themselves immortal, and now rules their world as the gods of the Hindu pantheon. Only one dares oppose them: he who was once Siddhartha and is now Mahasamatman. Binder of Demons. Lord of Light.

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JESSE HUDSON, one of our guest reviewers, reads in most fields. He lives in Poland where he works for a big corporation by day and escapes into reading by night. He posts a blog which acts as a healthy vent for not only his bibliophilia, but also his love of culture and travel: Speculiction.

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  1. A moving review! Thank you, Jesse.

  2. Yes, this is moving up my list! I love Zelazny, so I’ve been planning to read this, but your compelling review has me convinced that I need to read it soon!

  3. I didn’t like this when I first read it, but that was a long, long time ago (probably a good 30 years or more) and I’m a different person now. I think it’s time to try it again.

  4. Very well done review. It says a lot in just a few paragraphs. I appreciate that in a review.

  5. Thanks team for the comments! I forgot to mention that one of the best aspects of ‘Lord of Light’ is that it is eminently re-readable due to its rather unique structure. Hope you enjoy it, and again, and again… ;)

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