Scrolls reviews – Lord Of Light

Lord of Light  by Roger Zelazny (ISBN 9780060567231)

A lot of mythologies have a trickster character – a sharp, canny little git rumbling around at the edges of heaven making mischief for the other gods.  Examples include Loki (Norse), Coyote or Raven (Native American) and Anansi (West Africa and pan-Atlantic black culture.)

But Buddha?

As this book starts

“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.”

Spoilers await.

Of course it does help if heaven is a portion of a colonised planet where the selected few of the original ships crew and their chosen acolytes have set themselves up as the Hindu pantheon.  In the mean time they keep technology to themselves in order to maintain their power base the descendents of the colonists left as a medieval state of development.  They also control reincarnation and so can use their view of Karma as an effective social control tool.  And if all that fails they have behind-kicking mutant powers.

So what cunning stunt would it be in that context to use Buddhism as a way to undermine the Gods as part of an agenda to free technology and progress for the non-Divine?

Of course it’s not enough on its own and he has to make a bargain with the Devil (or at least the what the Gods have decreed as Demons in colonising the world) – and something worse as part of his ‘accelerationist’ agenda… as well as fighting the odd war along the way.

On that path Sam almost accidentally has a spiritual journey himself.

The first six portions of the book can be effectively read cyclically reflecting the wheel of life, death and renewal common in both Hinduism and Buddhism.  The writing generally is really good.  Zelazny has an ear for dialogue and is able to juxtapose the background of the Gods with the developed culture of the planet to intrigue the reader.

Given intrigue at the level of both human and holy society the story enjoys effective and frequent actions scenes (Zelazny was a martial artist himself and it comes across in the writing.) There is a murder mystery along the way as well as a sacred slight of hand and it all combines to make a captivating story.

The characters are well drawn – having Divine archetypes to pull on certainly helped, but these are subverted and humanised in the interactions between the gods.  While Sam may be a crafty little beggar the nobleness of his goal and his charm in executing it make him a great protagonist.

Blasphemy could be an issue in this book.  However the fact that it is clear that this is not earth and that the ‘Gods’ have co-opted the imagery of Hinduism for their own cynical purposes does I think escape this.  It is the supposed ‘Gods’ who are the blasphemers.

Coming in a little under 300 pages with an easy going style I would recommend this book as a stimulating commuter read.  It’s not hard SF but it is thinking SF that doesn’t lose the need for a plot and adventure on the road.  It’s also really nice to immerse oneself in a version of a culture that many are dimly aware of but largely unfamiliar with.

Because, you know, learning is fun.

It’s just a shame that the Jack Kirby concept-art-based Movie never came off (although I suspect a mini-series could do more justice to the book anyway.)

Review by Kehaar

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