20 May 2012

Lord of Light

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny
1968 Hugo Award Winner
Got it from: Our Library
296 Pages

Imagine you are one of the first settlers of an interstellar colony.  You could have free reign over how you’d structure society.  You could do anything.  Who wouldn’t at least entertain the thought of taking over all technology and couching your entire existence is Eastern religious beliefs?

When we enter Lord of Light, it has been many lifetimes since just such a thing happened and now, one of those firsts is uncomfortable with the treatment the gods have been giving the rest of the colony.  His name(s): Buddha, Siddartha, Mahasamatman, Sam, the Lord of Light, the Binder of demons.  His mission: Sack Heaven.

Who the… What the…
When I began LoL, I didn’t totally understand what was going on and though everything made sense internally, I needed to place it within some context and forced myself to read a little about the book earlier than I would have.  But it was still mysterious how they gained these powers and exactly how they exercised their attributes.  Even if we never got anything more than the back cover copy, I would have loved to learn more about the technology the gods controlled.  Instead, it was just a fact of existence and because it wasn’t ever talked about, it made the mystery even more excruciating.

Their technology was undeniably cool and they could control elements and the minutest physical properties of the world.  I just kept thinking, “when is he going to explain all this?!”  As we learned more and the gods’ abilities continued to just be treated as a normal fact of life, the mystery of exactly who the Firsts were and the history of the creation of this planet was too much for me.  I was practically laughing with excitement when it was told one of the gods was named Madeline; I just wish there was more.  With so much happening and gods constantly switching bodies and names, it sure would have made it a little easier to make sense of all the busyness too.

Especially in the case of Sam, I think a little more information would have been very helpful.  He’s been called the trickster character, but I’m not sure that I agree.  I think Sam has a very specific goal of undoing social injustice.  Sure he is breaking normal rules and kind of acting a fool generally, but I don’t think he is simply mischievous; he has made his own decision to change things and isn’t limited to just inducing others to action.  He is consciously making this choice to tear down the social structures he originally worked to put in place.  But then there are also a lot of things about him that fit the model of Trickster perfectly.  I don’t know, I guess I could be convinced either way.  Anyone wanna chime in?

I also wonder how anyone with little or no understanding of Hindu thought and culture would be able to make sense of the vague backgrounds Zelazny leaves us with and then the references to other minor characters and gods and rituals that are peppered throughout.  This has to be without a doubt, the most dizzying of the Hugo’s thus far.  Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

With that being said, I think this is exactly what people enjoy about Zelazny.  It happened in This Immortal as well.  Zelazny just throws his reader in the middle of not just some kind of action, but an entirely different world with different natural laws and complex, foreign social arrangements.  It is a bit disorienting at first, but once you find your place, his worlds are so completely satisfying and detailed that you can’t help but get sucked in.  It also makes me wonder if the re-read value of these books would be extra high?  I suspect so.

Agni, The Beast
I only took one course in college on Hinduism and it was one that I didn’t really get much out of.  I do seem to remember that that I may have written a paper about fire rituals and Agni was surely the most interesting to me.  This Agni did not let me down.  His outfit could have been something out of David Bowie concert, or maybe also Kanye?  Regardless, he looks and fights pretty BA and if after reading this, you aren’t jumping all over this book, I don’t know how to help you.

“He stands very tall,” said the demon, “and he wears black breeches and boots.  Above the waist he has on him a strange garment.  It is like a seamless white glove, upon his right hand only, which extends all the way up his arm and across his shoulders, wrapping his neck and rising tight and smooth about his entire head.  Only the lower part of his face is visible, for he wears over his eyes large black lenses which extend half a span outward from his face.  At his belt he wears a short sheath of the same white material as the garment—not containing a dagger, however, but a wand.  Beneath the material of his garment, where it crosses his shoulders and comes up upon his neck, there is a hump, as if he wears there a small pack.”
“Lord Agni!” said Siddhartha.  “You have described the god of Fire!”
“Aye, this must be,” said the Rakasha.  “For as I looked beyond his flesh, to see the colors of his true being, I saw there a blaze like unto the heart of the sun.  If there be a god of Fire, then this indeed is he.”
“Now we must flee,” said Siddhartha, “for there is about to be a great burning.  We cannot fight with this one, so let us go quickly.”
Chapter 4

So in the movie it sounds like Agni would be played by Elton John, no?  Well whatever… the point is that Zelazny’s characters in both This Immortal, and (but especially) LoL have been thoroughly entertaining.  My only complaint this time around is that they were too interesting not to give us more!

This one is a real test of its readers.  It is definitely well worth the energy but you need to be prepared to give it just that.  Don’t do something stupid and try to finish this as fast as you can in a week ;-)  Be prepared for quite a lot of mystery about characters that you just want to know everything about.  For me, I really loved the people and the places but I was kinda hoping for something more from the actual telling of the story.  I know!  It was like a wine with a great mid-palate and no finish!  There is a whole lot there to love but in the end it falls a little short of expectations.  I’m not sure I was able to give it a fair shakedown though.  I would normally love all this mystery and vagueness; I’m not sure why it was a problem for me this week.  I was so busy this week that I had to read the final 100 pages yesterday, so I think I need to put this right back on to my TBR pile now.  Maybe I’ll go for the audiobook if it exists.


Universe 4/5 (Loved the secret hideouts and gods running amuck around heaven)
Social/Political Climate 3/5 (a little confusing, a lot mysterious)
Dialogue 2/5
Scientific Wonders 5/5
Characters 4/5

Overall 18/25

This week’s book is The Way Station by Clifford D. Simak.  The fact that this is set in the past has got me drooling with delight.  Oh wait, that’s just because I need a nap.

Next week’s book is Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner.  Yet another new author for me.  I’ve been racking up the new authors this decade.  Also, this is the last book of the 1960’s so very soon there will be the flood of awards – gravity well, another M of the P, all the wrap up’s, what else is there again?

1 comment:

  1. My favorite Zelazny, and I agree with your sentiment. This is not a book to rush through.

    It opens up more if one has an understanding of Hindu-Buddhist mythology. It's quite the metaphysical adventure, making a lot more sense if you view the world that was colonized as Earth, conquered by the colonists, who become the historic Hindu Gods until they turn against each other for control of the world. From this heralds the return of the Buddha, magic, spirituality, unification of all forces, and a new generation of mankind. As a "companion" to this, I suggest you read Hermann Hesse's "Siddhartha". If will assist with the understanding of the Buddhist references, at least, with Zelazny invoking it to challenge the old Hindu gods. For me this is better than "The Immortal."


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