Lord of Light, by Roger Zelazny - informal commentary
Author: Amber Michelle K.


I liked it, but I should be slightly more specific, shouldn't I.

Although the author uses concepts of Buddhism and Hindu belief, which I'm not at all familiar with, he does an interesting job integrating certain concepts into the workings of the world - reincarnation, for instance. What really surprised me were the characters' contemplations on the nature of the soul and the individual.

You learn within the first couple of chapters that people in this world can go to a temple and exchange their aging bodies for new ones, assuming their conduct in this life didn't offend the so-called gods; as a result, a large percentage of the population is probably of the "reincarnated" variety, and some of them can trace their lives all the way back to the first colonization of the planet (and they're appropriately called "the First"). Once this fact is firmly fixed in your mind, and the reader is familiar with the process (perhaps two thirds into the book), some of the characters - Tak, notably, and also Yama - discuss what the nature of an individual is, if a person's being isn't linked to the body they're born in. This question occurs throughout the book in various forms such as a god who, in his original life, was born a woman. How the spirit changes the appearance and composition of a body to fit its individuality is also touched on.

Overall, while I can't comment on how well the author integrates Hindu mythology or how faithfully he uses it, nor am I familiar enough with Buddhism to judge his usage of that system, they allow him to explore interesting topics like the above, which are universal to human experience. Theology on the soul is common to most religions, and I think he handled it in a neutral enough manner. No religion remains dominant, and if there's a message at all, it's about dogma as oppression versus personal faith. I don't read much SF anymore, but this seems to be a common theme in the genre.

The story of Sam's rebellion against Heaven and his eventual defeat is book-ended by chapters that take place in the future; the book opens with Yama, god of death, using his machines to gather the remnants of Sam's soul from the electrical field around the planet to reconnect it with a human body so he can finish his fight. The next several chapters are almost self-contained stories in themselves, and start with the incident which led Sam to rebel against the so-called gods in the first place, eventually leading to the end of the conflict, where the book then moves fifty years into the future again to finish the quest. The final battle is actually anti-climactic. The true meat of the story is in the past.

Zelazny's style is very solemn, mythic, and though it tends to follow one point of view at a time, as opposed to using an omniscient viewpoint (more common in fairy tales and older literature, especially in the first half of the century), it jumps quickly from one mind to another, and isn't tethered to Sam, even though he's the most important character - the one everyone else's actions are in reaction to. I'm used to a closer third-person POV. It's effective for the kind of story the author was trying to tell. It's a myth and a fantasy epic with science fiction elements.

Also - I'm so used to epic fantasies that drown me in detail, and epic battles that take three or five chapters to be finished, that it was really refreshing to see a full, "epic" (I use that term ironically and seriously) story arc in a single novel, and a fairly satisfying war in one chapter. It wrapped up nicely too.

I'd recommend it, with one caveat: I can't vouch for the quality or correctness of the mythology, and it may annoy someone more knowledgeable than I am if it's wrong.

This was an interesting prelude to Interpreter of Maladies. More on that later.