Sunday, 20 May 2007

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

When I was reading the first chapter of Lord of Light, I wondered whether it was really a science fiction and fantasy novel. It seemed like Robert Zelazny, in a fit of madness, decided to dump a mish-mash of characters with Indian names any old how into a confusing story filled with Hindu and Buddhist terminology.

With Brahma, Ratri, Karma, Mahasamatman, Nirvana, etc. featured in stilted English, like the way old Hindu and Buddhist religious texts are translated, you'd be forgiven if you thought the book is about religion or mythology. You won't be alone. Many others who have read this book have the same sentiment.

But come Chapter two, things become clearer. As you read on, you'd find that the first chapter is the present with the story taking a sequential narrative of flashbacks in the subsequent chapters, leading up to the final scene, which brings you back to the present.

Lord of Light was read for the Mythology category in the Once Upon A Time Challenge. Basically, the story of Lord of Light, without revealing too much, is about Sam, who goes by many other names like Siddhartha and Mahasamatman. He is one of the original colonists who populated a planet and subjugated the masses by making themselves gods. The colonists have a technology which allows them to be immortal through tranferring their "minds" from one body to another. They also have the technology to allow themselves to possess supernatural powers. They keep free use of these technologies exclusive to themselves and make them available in a limited fashion to the rest of the population. Sam is a rebel who wants to make this techonology freely and completely available for the masses and stages war against the gods.

It is science fiction because of the technology and fantasy because it is written like an epic journey. I feel that with the way the story is executed, it becomes all the more interesting and satisfying, though it makes for harder reading. I really needed to use my brains to keep up with the twists and turns, and also had to keep track of the various body changes and names that the characters go through.

Roger Zelazny used many literary devices to convey subterfuge just like the way religion was used as for deception in the planet. One could write a thesis about that clever style of writing. Overall, this is a book that bears numerous readings and is worthy of the cult status that it has been honoured with, though it might take some getting used to, because it is not the typical science fiction or fantasy that one might be familiar with.


Nymeth said...

It took me a while to get into this book at first, but once I did, it was a very rewarding read.

Kim said...

For some reason I've always thought this was set in Amber (having never read the book flap or blurbs about it).

Sounds interesting. I've liked the story of Siddhartha since I read the Hesse rendition of his story.

Carl V. said...

This is one I have heard so much about, specifically from Neil Gaiman, and I really want to read it sometime. I have a close friend who is reading it now and I look forward to his assessement. Great review!