Category Archives: speculative fiction

Lord of Light, by Roger Zelazny

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.


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Super-State: a Novel of a Future Europe by Brian Aldiss

This book imagines a near-future scenario, where there is a united European state.

The story starts with a wedding and introduces a host of characters in the first few pages. The narrative evolves in a light hearted manner, jumping from one interesting scenario to another. Human beings worry about the usual things – family relationships, love and lust and power. Global warming is a reality and the climate is changing, along with the sea levels and the landscape. The politicians argue over whether to go to war against a Moslem nation.  The airwaves are hijacked by mysterious messages from the ‘Insanatics’. The mathmatical formula that will drive the economics of the superstate, and end all its problems, is under development. Meanwhile, the first manned flight to the moons of Jupiter is about to discover alien life.

What I liked about this book:
There are some wonderful comic aspects to the book. The opening wedding is conducted with a proxy robot as a stand-in, when the bride is trapped at her restaurant opening on Mount Everest and is unable attend in person. Robots are barely tolerated and spend most of their time locked in cupboards where they discuss the strange thing called the ‘human condition’ among themselves.  A roving reporter interviews people on the street and the narrative is interspersed with their amusing responses. The entrepid space explorers’ ship is damaged and they face near starvation, but their privations are ignored until they discover alien life and, finally, resort to eating it.

What I didn’t like about this book:
For me, there were too many characters and they were introduced too quickly and with minimal exposition of their personalities. Occasionally, the narrative lingers on one character or situation and, just as you were beginning to care about them, it moves on to something else. I found myself disengaging from the book every time this jump took place.

So, great themes, wonderful scenarios and some very funny parts. But reading this book is a bit like channel hopping without any control. You jump from a soap opera with multiple characters, to a scene with an intimate glimpse into someone’s personal life, to a news broadcast, to an advert, to a series of interviews, to a family saga and then back into the middle of another soap opera. Sadly, although I can appreciate its humour and imagination, it failed to engage me. I expected some connecting event at the end, something to draw all the disparate threads, characters and themes together. It didn’t happen.