1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars deep science fiction
Humanity defeats the native "energy" beings that populated the orb and establishes a colony on the planet with a Hindu like societal order. Using advanced technology, the crew of the ship transfers their minds into a new body when theirs is near death. They also develop other advances that enable them to form a pantheon with god-like powers. Beneath them are the...
Published on May 15 2004 by Harriet Klausner
3.0 out of 5 stars Not to be contrary, but...
This book didn't grab me as much as I had expected. The description I got was of a thought-provoking look at religion from the perspective of technology; gods being simply highly advanced members of the race they subjugated and kept in the dark. But it isn't so. Zelazny's gods are complex, and put a very human spin on mythology, but he doesn't confine them to...
Published on Feb. 15 2004 by Casual reader
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars deep science fiction,
This review is from: Lord Of Light (Paperback)
Humanity defeats the native "energy" beings that populated the orb and establishes a colony on the planet with a Hindu like societal order. Using advanced technology, the crew of the ship transfers their minds into a new body when theirs is near death. They also develop other advances that enable them to form a pantheon with god-like powers. Beneath them are the colonists and even further below in this pyramid of power are the natives. No one bucks the leadership as not only can they technology reincarnate they can convert others into animals.
One of these techno-Gods, preferring to be called Sam rather than Mahasamatman, feels that the mistreatment of others is morally wrong. He thinks that he and his peers should share their technology with the lower strata. His peers insist those beneath them are incapable of dealing with godlike powers and need their hand to guide them. Sam never claimed the mantle and though he hates what he feels he must do, this "fallen angel" leads a revolt against his ruling brothers and sisters as he wants to establish a different world order.
This is a deep science fiction novel with religious and social overtones. The story line is loaded with action, but also takes its time to defend critical arguments set forth by author Roger Zelazny. The cast fosters the concepts of the plot so that development is targeted more towards an idea than a character. Still with all that this is a cerebral tale that will have readers pondering a host of subjects from comparative religions to white man's burden to fostering American style democracy in Iraq, etc. in a clever novel that will require concentration or one will miss a point.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fading Echo,
This turned out to be Zelazny's masterpiece. It wasn't supposed to be that way--Zelazny was the '60s version of the guy who was going to hoist SF into the artistic empyrean. That didn't happen. (It never does--see Varley, John, and Gibson, William.) But he did leave behind "Lord of Light", and a few other works that serve as glowing examples of what can be done within an all-too-often infantile form.
The premise is that an interstellar colony has, so long ago that the events are no more than legend, been turned into an effectively eternal dictatorship by the starship crew, who with the aid of advanced tech have acquired the aspects of the Hindu pantheon to lord it over the poor peasantry. (There's also a dour Calvinist theocracy elsewhere on the planet, but that's another story.) The protagonist is Mahatsamatman, known as "Sam", a man who is not, in fact, the Enlightened One, (though everyone insists otherwise) but is close enough. He decides to overthrow the whole miserable structure, and that's the story in a nutshell. Battles, conspiracies, encounters with alien, and not very advanced, energy beings, betrayals, disasters, and all else follow, in the style of the great Hindu epic the Mahabharata, along with plenty of 20th-century wise-guy prose. (Zelazny was also a student of Chandler.) This is a great roaring monster of a book, of a kind that would have a very hard time getting published today. (It's also *structured* like the Mahabharata, with vast chunks of out-of-sequence narrative--the first chapters occur *after* the ensuing two-hundred-odd pages--which would be guaranteed to drive the current generation of editors out of their minds.)
"Lord of Light" is one of the few novels to take on a basic, and all but ignored, SF thesis--if technology does have the power to make us godlike, then we'd better damn well be ready for the role. Zelaxny shows us the negative aspect--what happens when the process fails. The positive side--which Sam perhaps reaches, and perhaps doesn't--is only hinted at. But it's good to see the concept handled at all by anybody apart from James Blish. Everyone else simply runs away from it in terror.
A final point: this is very much a novel of the '60s, and one of the few reflections of the *real* '60s, the one that didn't make it into the books or documentaries. The major feature of that lost time was, very simply, joy. That's what everyone recalls, and everyone mistakes for something else. After long, bleak decades, the possibilites opened up. For one brief instant, a renaissance beckoned, only to be killed by Nam, and dope, and dirty left-wing politics. The period is truly reflected in very few things--Dylan's pre-accident albums, the Beatles, and in this book, which is suffused by joy, and humor, and hope, on damn near every page. Read it to learn what you missed, and what could still, with luck, come again. I'm sure that Zelazny didn't intend it that way--he was in real life a career bureaucrat for the Social Security administration. But that's how it came out. And that's no bad thing.
4.0 out of 5 stars Dense but Fascinating Exploration of Power,
Zelazny successfully weaves a tale of the far-future in which a form of quasi-immortality is achieved by transferring one's mind to new bodies. The ruling elite utilizes a mindreading technology to review the quality of one's life, and this is used to reward or punish a person with either a better or worse form. In effect, science has discovered the means to mirror the Hindu concepts of karma and reincarnation.
These technologies are used to solidify the power of the Deicrats, the ruling elite of the planet. Morality is secondary to how well one supports their grip on power. Those who oppose the structure are destroyed. Those who are in power, the ones who hoped to style themselves after gods, are driven by the same dark emotions that have powered mankind through history: ambition, jealosy and greed. This story is about Sam, a man forced to choose between joining with this system of power, or rebelling against it.
While this is a relatively short book (by modern science-fiction standards), it is also dense reading. Slogging through the first chapter and a half is necessary before things really start to click along.
This is a novel that is rich with ideas. It demonstrates the harm that can be caused by caste systems borne out technological haves and have-nots. It portrays the classic theme of "absolute power corrupts absolutely," but also shows that goodness exists within a few humans to oppose corruption. It does both of these against a unique, Hindu-inspired backdrop supported by the necessary science.
Your enjoyment of this book will probably be driven by the type of science-fiction reader you are. If you want something heavy on ideas and milieu, you will probably love this. If you want something that is more character-driven, this may not satisfy you as much. Despite its shortness, you may find yourself downshifting your reading-gears: dialogues often consist of a dozen or more lines of unattributed text--and characters don't speak in particularly unique voices. Some characters are known by multiple names, which I found initially confusing. Despite this, I can't imagine that anyone interested in speculative fiction could be fluent in the genre without exposure to this fascinating tale.
5.0 out of 5 stars Sam, the eternal rebel,
This review is from: Lord of Light (Paperback)
I've always considered "Lord of Light" (1967) one of the hardest of Zelazny's SF novels to follow. The story line weaves and doubles back upon itself. Gods and mortals are reborn into new bodies, and it's a bit hard to keep track of who's who, especially at novel's end. Zelazny's hero, Sam has many reincarnations and many names including Mahasamatman, Maitreya ("Lord of Light"), Binder of Demons, Buddha, and Siddhartha.
Sam is part of the original crew from "The Star of India," many of whom borrowed the names, attributes, and aspects from the Hindu pantheon of gods as the new planet was wrested from its original inhabitants. Many of the crew, not unreasonably, discover that they enjoy godhood. They build themselves a heaven and set about ruling the peasants through their priest-mouthpieces. Any signs that the lower classes are re-acquiring their technological heritage, such as the reinvention of the printing press are thoroughly squelched. The gods are in charge of reincarnation, and if someone incurs the displeasure of Heaven in his current life, he may (as one of the gods puts it) find himself reincarnated as a gelded water buffalo.
Sam believes that the lower classes should be given the benefit of technology, and along with a group of like-minded gods called 'accelerationists' sets out to challenge the more conservative deities. There are several wars (which are not told in sequence) and Sam repeatedly incurs the wrath of Heaven. He responds with Promethean defiance, even as he is about to die the true death: "I will hate Heaven with every breath that I draw. If Brahma has me burnt, I will spit into the flames..."
Finally he reinvents an old religion, borrowed from the distant memory of Earth. In order to lessen the influence of the Hindu pantheon, he becomes a monk who is understood by some to be the Buddha.
Sam loses this phase of the war, too, and becomes truly disembodied.
But did he really lose? The beliefs of Buddhism and accelerationism remain and thrive among men. Bifocals are reinvented. When Sam's atman (soul) is reincarnated into one final body by the death god, Yama, he renews his titanic struggle against a weakened Heaven.
Zelazny's writing style tends to vary between the formal when he is deviating from the 'present,' and a livelier tone when he is narrating Sam's current adventures. When the tone is detached and archaic, such as "...This is the story of how the prince did bait the one-armed receiver of devotions before the Temple..." then the reader can assume that Zelazny is abandoning the straight-line narrative for a bit of history essential to the plot.
"Lord of Light" is sometimes confusing, but this Hugo-award-winning novel is bursting with inventive detail and thought-provoking ideas on the necessity for reinventing religions. Above all it has Sam: Zelazny's eternal rebel against everything that smacks of conservatism and oppression.
3.0 out of 5 stars Not to be contrary, but...,
This book didn't grab me as much as I had expected. The description I got was of a thought-provoking look at religion from the perspective of technology; gods being simply highly advanced members of the race they subjugated and kept in the dark. But it isn't so. Zelazny's gods are complex, and put a very human spin on mythology, but he doesn't confine them to technology and mortality. Magic abounds, much is left unexplained, and he invokes the mysticism of actual mythology.
You may say there's nothing wrong with that approach. But the problem is, if I want mythology, I read real mythology. Any of the great traditions of myth - Greek, Norse, Hindu, Celt, Buddhist, etc. have a depth and subtle beauty that benefits from hundreds of years of retelling and refining, something one author can't match, particularly when trying to meld it with sci-fi.
There are good elements. Siddartha, as the rebel of the old Hindu pantheon, is a perfect confidence man. Other gods (Kali, and particularly Nirriti the Black) have character, but Zelazny makes many disposable, and utterly omits noteworthy mortals, a sin for any book of myth.
The best that I can say is that this book makes me want to review Hindu and Buddhist myth in the future. But what I expected from the reviews was a scathing interpretation of old religion as power plays and intrigue. If you are looking, as I was, for "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!", look elsewhere.
5.0 out of 5 stars Difficult but incredibly rewarding classic,
This Hugo award-winning science fiction classic turns the usual technological approach to the genre on its head. "Lord of Light" reads much more like fantasy than science fiction, and like Frank Herbert's classic "Dune," it's a rare example of a science-fiction novel deeply concerned with spirituality and metaphysics.
It is also a difficult novel. Readers more interested in adventure or hard science fiction will find Zelazny's dense, intricate style tricky to maneuver or concentrate on. The cast is huge, and most characters either go by multiple names, or switch names and bodies as they are reincarnated. This is the sort of novel that requires focus and attention to appreciate. Those who give it the time it deserves will discover a true classic, and a strange experience unique among science-fiction books-even for Zelazny, who lead the field of the new-wave authors of the 1960s.
The story follows the inhabitants of an Earth-colonized planet long after Earth has ceased to exist. The colonial leaders have developed the technology to turn themselves into god-like figures, based on Hinduism, and rule the lesser people in a metaphysical tyranny. The hero, Sam (only one of his many names, such a Buddah) returns from banishment to lead the struggle to free the people and spread technology to make everyone "gods." He finds strange allies along the road, including the original alien inhabitants of the planet, known as Rakashas (demons) in the pseudo-religion invented by the rulers. In a short space, a great deal happens and Sam wages both war and peace against the "gods."
"Lord of Light" is definitely a trip...and milestone in science fiction, but it isn't for the casual fan. People interested in religion and veteran science-fiction readers will get the most out of it, and should definitely get themselves a copy. For somewhat more accessible Zelazny books to start with, try "Damnation Alley" or his large fantasy series, "The Books of Amber"-but you'll need to visit "Lord of Light" eventually; it's his best novel.
2.0 out of 5 stars poorly written and confusing,
This book has an interesting premise. People have become Hindu gods. They can re-incarnate themselves. They are ruling a planet inhabited by their descendants, whom they keep in the stone age.
The problem is that it's almost incomprehensible. Most of the book is apparently a flashback, but the transition to the past is confusing, and there are references to an even further past, so you can never tell what time period you are in. It appears that only the first and last chapters are the present time.
Most of the characters are confusing, too. They appear without introduction or development and it's hard to remember who is who or why they relate to each other. A lot of these characters have super powers, but the powers are not well explained, so when they have battles it's hard to figure out who is doing what or why.
There are quotes at the beginning of each chapter. Some of them purport to be out of Hindu or possibly Buddhist scriptures. I wondered whether they really were scriptures. If so, why does the story parallel real scriptures? The description of the book on the cover says that these are people who came from a long-vanished Earth; BUT the book doesn't say that at all. You wonder whether instead the book is hypothesizing a science fiction explanation for the Hindu religion here on earth.
The connections between chapters are also confusing, so that the story line is even harder to follow.
It's also hard to follow the motivations of the main character, Sam. This is possibly because it's never clear which when he is in.
You have to wonder what happened to the concept of editors.
5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Work of Science Fiction,
This book is the finest example of what Roger Zelazny did best: synthesize fantasy and reality into something truly breathtaking in scope. Any science fiction fan MUST read all of his works, including the popular Amber series, and especially his short stories. Zelazny even 'co-wrote' a book with Alfred Bester- 'Psychoshop.'
But standing as his crowing achievement is 'Lord Of Light.' I have read it over and over across the years and take something new from it each time. My most recent read left me impressed with his intentionally sketchy description of how 'attributes' and 'aspects' were developed by the colonists. So is this a novel of science fiction or fantasy? Both? It depends on how you interpret the concepts presented.
The religious imagery and references are also compelling. By presenting the sole 'christian' as a fanatic dressed all in black, and casting 'demons' as allies (sometimes) of the protagonist, one is left to ponder Zelazny's own views on religion. And, of course, the casting of the Hindu religion's gods and pantheon as supremely powerful high-tech immortal mutants is a stroke of genius. You will never forget Yama, Brahma, Kali, Tak the ape, and of course Mahasamatman.
This book always causes me to think about life, death, 'life after death', and the possibilities of science, both good and bad. What will humans be like in the future? Will they continue to repeat the mistakes of the past?
The truth is that Zelazny presents these future humans as just that: human. Throughout the chronicles of Sam we see the workings of the more emotional aspects of human consciousness-- such as love, lust, duty, jealousy, anger, and the power of a single human will. And by the end of the book it is clear that these are the things that truly matter; much more so than high-tech weaponry and amazing mutant psychic powers.
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and thought-provoking,
In brief: Science fiction meets Hinduism in one of the most surprising, intriguing and enjoyable books I've come across in a while. Highly recommended.
The story centres on an off-Earth colony which has come to be utterly dominated by its founders, who rule with the names, personalities and even the attributes of Hindu gods. With the injection of SF technology, social and political control pivot upon Hindu tenets with a futuristic twist. Reincarnation functions through personality-storage and cloning, allowing effective immortality for the gods, and some very bad karma for any who oppose them. The populace is held in a permanent low-tech state to ensure it continues to need its gods; innovations that might benefit mortals, such as the printing press, are swiftly eradicated.
Stylistically, too, it is brilliant. The whole thing takes the form of a Hindu epic, in terms of both language and structure. The hero, Sam, rebels against the gods by (literally and figuratively) taking on the Buddha role, preaching against the priesthood and the oppressive rituals and strictures which bind society. And through this, Zelazny brings out some of the most interesting implications of his blend of SF and myth, exploring how the 'gods' have merged with their masks to truly _become_ their mythic roles.
Finally, and importantly, _Lord of Light_ also contrives to be a truly entertaining read. Deservedly a classic.
3.0 out of 5 stars Where is the SCIENCE in this science fiction?,
By A Customer
This book isn't really science fiction. It is actually a fantasy book (a rather good one) but it's being marketed as science fiction. The technology they employ is totally unbelievable and besides it isn't the focus of the story.
The focus of the story is some superficial character interaction, some VERY basic theology (the kind used by those who don't actually study it), and some cool powers. It has no science or even a neat hypothesis, then why is it science fiction?
It's fun, but let's not pretend it's deep. It's a quick read, but let's not pretend it's new; the whole idea of the Gods being humans with high tech was done over and over, but usually with Greek mythology. The whole incredible twist here is the use of Hinduism and Buddhism instead. Let's not say it takes a genius for that. Even the idea of the alien life being the demons in the world is hardly used and glossed over (and was probably the most interesting idea in the whole book).
If you like fantasy and finds ultra-powered battles fun by all means read this book, but if you are expecting an original idea based on science or at least a rational insight you are not going to find it in here. The occasional use of a pseudo-technical term doesn't make it SCIENCE fiction, it takes a storyline that is based on a rational exploration of an idea. Julio Verne was wrong in much of his science, but he had the originality to propose something new and build a somewhat rational story around it. Asimov wrote in Foundation about sociology and even added some cool twists to the story. Zelazny only has the cool nomenclature of Hinduism and Buddhism.
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Lord Of Light by Roger Zelazny (Paperback - April 29 2004)
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