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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on January 27, 2012
This story is one of my favourites from way long ago when it first came out and I was a hipppie college student who had graduated after doping out dropping acid and flashing back.

It holds up astonishingly well.

I read it again with great pleasure as various people inhabiting the aspects and powers of ancient Hindu gods struggle in a revolution against Heaven.

And Heaven ain't all that heavenly either.

Build up your Karma account and read this one, O you of the 99 percent.

Then revolt against this version of the far future that just might become possible.

Good Karma, this book.
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on June 15, 2004
Sorry but I just can't quite jump on the bandwagon behind this novel. I know I shouldn't be second-guessing a "classic" - and this book does deserve this consideration because Zelazny was a truly visionary writer and the setting and characterizations of this book are very unique. However, the problem here is a style of writing and plot development that is very much a product of its time, and is not really that different from much of what was being cranked out by the sci-fi intelligentsia of the late 60's. Here style has taken on a little too much importance. Because of this, it is difficult to decipher what this novel is really about through the reading of it, unless you already know beforehand - through the reviews of those who have read it many times, or the publishers' descriptions which become more like clarifications than summaries.
The true plot of this novel is certainly what you've read about - human colonists on an alien world have made use of advanced technology to give themselves godlike powers, have created a society based on Hindu mythology, and the new "gods" have oppressed both their fellow humans and the world's original inhabitants. Religion, godliness, and life itself have been reduced to technological determinism and have also been politicized and bureaucratized. This leads to many possible insights into these issues in our modern world. Unfortunately, these fantastic and creative plot elements are not spelled out adequately for the reader, instead being trickled out only in passing, usually through the conversations of the new demigods, who speak either in hip small talk or gigantic theological speechifying. The plot elements are consequently fighting for air beneath a story that is mostly action and movement, with repetitive battle scenes that I suspect were inspired by the scriptural tomes of the East (which Zelazny was surely familiar with, to his credit). This neglect of plot development and explanation, which must be implausibly inferred by the reader, makes this novel less readable than it is awesomely creative. [~doomsdayer520~]
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on May 29, 2004
Zelasny walked the thin line between Fantasy and SF probably better that any one. This book shows this like no other.
I cant believe i spent all this years and never read his master piece.
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on May 15, 2004
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.
Harriet Klausner
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on April 29, 2004
Lord of Light is without a doubt, one of the best things I've read (and I've read a LOT, believe me).

I highly recommend this great masterpiece to every serious Sci-Fi/Fantasy fan out there, along with Gibson's Neuromancer, Orwell's 1984, Herbert's Dune (1-6), Harrison's The Hammer and The Cross trilogy - ones of the best novels ever written.
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on April 11, 2004
The other reviewers pretty much said it all about this book, which justly deserves its 5 out of 5 stars.
The one small contribution I can make to the collection of rave reviews of this book is:
You know how some books are pretty good but they lose their appeal after the first read? This book has an extremely high re-read value. It's like Neuromancer: I must have read this book 4 or 5 times over the past 15 years, and it remains as good today as it did the first time. The book is so complex and the characters are so rich, that it'll keep your interest on the 2nd reading and beyond.
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on April 4, 2004
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.
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on March 25, 2004
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.
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on March 8, 2004
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.
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on February 15, 2004
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.
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