Sunday, January 10, 2010

Book Review: Lord of Light

Lord of LightRoger Zelazny
Awards: Hugo
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ –

This book is a work of art.

On one level it is a beautifully written and - dare I say - spiritual story (which I don’t usually have the patience for). At the same time, behind all the beauty, it is funny and sarcastic. And hard science lies under everything the characters do.

A small group of humans on a colony planet somewhere has figured out how to keep themselves alive indefinitely by changing into new bodies as their old ones wear out. This and their other pieces of superior technology allow them to set themselves up as gods – specifically, Hindu gods. Each god has his or her own Aspect (an aura or presence) and Attribute (the specific power they wield). Yama (the deathgod) and Kali (goddess of destruction) are particularly charismatic and intimidating.

These gods keep the rest of the planet’s inhabitants in abeyance by destroying any human who seems like they're about to re-develop any advanced technology such as a bicycle or a flush toilet.

Mahasamatman (or "Sam"), who was one of the first colonists on the planet and now is one of the gods – or maybe he is the Buddha? Or maybe he is just a human? – thinks this is unfair and has spent many lives trying to bring down the gods to let the masses develop in freedom.

Zelazny’s characters usually use excellent, dramatic language: "Let them come against me now and the heavens will weep upon their bodies and the Vedra run the color of blood!" But then they'll also occasionally slip out something about neutrino emissions. The imagery really is lovely and heavenly and colorful – which makes the lapses into modern content that much more funny.

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