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Lord of Light
Roger Zelazny
Orion Millennium, 261 pages

Lord of Light
Roger Zelazny
During his career, Roger Zelazny won 6 Hugos and 3 Nebulas as well as many other major awards in the SF field. Several of his novels and short stories are considered landmarks, including Lord of Light, Creatures of Light and Darkness, "Home is the Hangman," and "A Rose for Ecclesiastes." The 10-volume Chronicles of Amber is regarded as a classic fantasy series. For the last 10 years of his life (he died in 1995), Zelazny lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Donnerjack
Roger Zelazny Tribute Site
Roger Zelazny Tribute Site
Roger Zelazny Tribute Site
Roger Zelazny Obituary
Who's Who in Amber

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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One of the distressing aspects of the current publishing industry is the reduction in publishers' back-lists. It seems harder, these days, to find even the classic SF novels of the past on bookshelves (to say nothing of the solid mid-list novels). For instance, Lord of Light is arguably Roger Zelazny's best novel, and it is a Hugo Award winner. But in recent years it has been out of print, or available only in a specialty press edition. Happily, though, it was reprinted last year in the UK as part of Millennium's SF Masterworks series.

Lord of Light is a wonderful novel, fully worthy of the praise it has garnered. It is set many centuries in the future, after "the death of Urath." On a colony planet, men have battled the previous inhabitants and won, and have established a society. This society is based on technological means of imitating the Hindu religion. Specifically, when the body nears death, it is possible to transfer the "mind" or "soul" to a new body, even the body of an animal. But some of the earliest colonists, including the "First," have additional powers, which give them the status of gods. They also have taken control of the means of reincarnation, and a faction among them is using that means in political ways: punishing their enemies with reincarnation as animals, or with the "true death." The result is a society of humans living in a world in which something resembling Hinduism is literally true. Furthermore, the leading faction of "gods" is using its powers to keep the technological level of human society low enough that their own position cannot be threatened.

The book opens with a renegade "god" at an isolated temple calling the book's hero back from "heaven." As the famous opening lines have it:

"His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the Maha- and the -atman, however, and called himself Sam. He never claimed to be a god. But then, he never claimed not to be a god."
Soon Sam is recalled to his destiny: to battle the ruling gods.

The novel then continues with a long series of flashbacks to Sam's earlier career. Sam starts a new religion, much resembling Buddhism, and finds to his surprise that it might be "true." He interferes with the reincarnation scam. He travels to the depths of the planet to release some "demons" (actually, the energy beings who previously occupied the planet). And finally he takes arms against the ruling gods in a battle we know to be doomed, followed by a final segment back in the novel's present, and yet another battle. All this is both exciting adventure, and ingenious science fantasy. And throughout, the story is carried by Zelazny's always interesting prose: often pretty, and more often clever. (At times clever to a fault, as with his pages long setup for one of the most famous puns in SF history.) Most of all, Lord of Light has a strong theme, and a strong moral centre.

This is definitely worthy of its place among the standard-bearing works of science fiction. Not only does Zelazny pull off the intriguing feat of creating a scientifically plausible world (given some extremely advanced technology, and a fair bit of handwaving) in which a fairly close rendering of the Hindu system of gods, demons, and their powers -- and reincarnation -- is real; he makes that just a nice background to an honest and moving story of a believable man. And his story is grounded on a sound theme. And finally, all the clever background ends up as more than just background: it reinforces the central meaning of the book. Definitely recommended, and it's nice to see that new readers will be getting a chance to encounter this excellent work.

Copyright © 2000 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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