Lord of Light is an epic book set on a planet colonised by human beings – but with a twist. There are also gods on the planet. These gods may be – I don’t know for sure – reasonably accurate representations of Hindu gods. But, like the gods of ancient Greece, they are divine in their Attributes but are all too human in their failings. (The Attributes of the gods are their ‘special powers’. Their failings are many: greed, pride, arrogance, cruelty, lust, etc.)
I have not read books by Roger Zelazny before. He has a terrific reputation as a sci-fi writer. I am not sure if his other books are written in the same style; a complex, god-like style of narration with flowery language, reminiscent of an ancient myth. This is somewhat of an acquired taste.
The ‘hero’ is a resurrected god (don’t ask, you have to read the book). Priests use mind probes to discover whether humans are worthy, from a Karma point of view, of reincarnation. For any particularly tricky problems, the priests can phone Heaven. But the priesthood is corrupt. And the gods deliberately manipulate the planet to keep mankind in a state of perpetual pre-scientific ignorance – intervening to destroy scientific advances such as printing presses and flushing toilets whenever these are re-invented. The resurrected god is keen to deny his godhood and, inadvertently, becomes a famous fake Buddha. Then he sets about trying to destroy Heaven, with the aid of other fallen gods, a host of double-crossing demons and a zombie army.
What I liked about the book: This tale cleverly blends together Hindu and Buddhist mythology, along with a subtext of social commentary and a wonderfully cynical view of religious beliefs and religious hierarchies . The story is not set on Earth (although there is a feel of the middle-ages about it); the flora and fauna are distinctly alien and well portrayed. There is a nice sense of history and past events from this other world are hinted at within the text, without the need to explain everything. This gives added richness to the constructed world within the book. The plot is complex, the action dense, and the dialogue is pacey. In places, the book is very funny indeed. I loved the irrelevant digs at religion and the priesthood. And I liked the ending.
What I didn’t like about the book: I must say, there were too many characters for me to follow and I was confused by the many different gods with similar sounding names. (Knowing a little about Hindu gods might be a big asset and help with a deeper enjoyment of this book; then, again, it might not.) The style in which the book was written became somewhat irritating to me. The language was semi-detached (although the dialogue was great). And I missed the fact that the main part of the book is an extended flashback. The flashback begins with the second chapter and is heralded at the end of the first chapter by the words “Sam stared ahead, remembering.” I missed the significance of this and was thoroughly confused, until I worked out there had been a time shift and I was reading about events that happened before the opening chapter.
I am going to add Roger Zelazny to my list of sci-fi authors who I want to read more of.