Lord of Light – Roger Zelazny

2020 has been tough on everyone, a lot of us have lost our outlets and opportunities to socialise. Some of that is slowly coming back and I think there’ll be more appreciation of those situations once we have a bit more freedom. I’m not the most social person, I’m awful at making plans and committing to them and the slightest excuse I’ll snatch and find a reason to cancel. However the book club I’d been part of prior to this pandemic broke this rule, once I got over the hurdle of actually going (and that was a big one) I came to look forward to going and I was reading stuff that I’d probably not have picked up otherwise. 

Then everything got locked down. Book Club went on hiatus just as it was my turn to pick the book. This was another hurdle for me, I hate leading conversation and being the one people look to for that, but it was all part of being with the group that we’d all choose something to read and then be the person who (at least initially) guide opinions on that months book.

My choice could have gone two ways, I was torn between something I’d read and enjoyed before: Koushun Takami’s “Battle Royale” and something that I’d picked up and had on my bookshelf for a while, which turned out to be Roger Zelazny’s “Lord of Light”. I decided to go for the latter, not knowing much of anything about what was to come. Now I started this book a couple of days before our last meeting (which was for Akira vol 2, which I’m yet to re-read), and I didn’t actually finish it until early-August (this has been held in my Drafts until we’ve met up and talked about the book as I like to publish these ones I’ve discussed it in person).

I’m trying to write this the day before we meet, though we’re actually doing so virtually now, via Discord, I finished Lord of Light in August, and am still trying to figure out what was going on.

The general just is that a bunch of dudes colonize a planet and then spend the rest of their days oppressing as many people as they can whilst pretending to be Hindu Gods. What separates them is that “the Gods” were the crew of the ship that brought them to this planet, whilst the rest of the population were the passengers.

However, it never really makes this properly clear and I’ve found myself spending additional time trying to piece all of this together. It’s not an especially long book, but it’s nigh-on impenetrable for the two thirds, then the final third whips along at break neck pace that pretty much rescues it, even if it is a bunch of extravagant set pieces.

Science plays a big role in how the culture on the planet develops and allows the “Gods” the ability to reincarnate, as both humans and animals, though all of the advanced technology isn’t available to the regular people. This brings me to the lead character, Mahasamatman, or Sam to, well, everybody, though he goes by many names throughout the book, which makes it confusing as to who is talking to whom and so on. Sam, who is referred to as a God though he doesn’t regard himself as one, wants to shake things up, he wants the regular people to have access to the technology that the self-titled Gods (and Demi-Gods) have, and takes great efforts to first persuade the Gods to allow the sharing of their technologies in order to advance the civilization. When this doesn’t work he enlists the help of the original inhabitants of the planets (some sort spectral creatures, though they’re regarded as being Demons) to help recruit others to his cause and begin a war against the Gods.

This brings on a kind of end of times, Ragnarok, sort of scenario.

There are two things I found interesting about The Lord of Light, the first, and the one I’m least knowledgable about is how it draws upon Hinduism, with the likes of Yama being key players in the story. This draw upon religion was also something I enjoyed about Vikram Chandra’s “Red Earth and Pouring Rain”

The other is its blend of Fantasy and Science Fiction, arguments can be made that it could be one or the other, but I think it has enough of both to be an actual “Sci-Fi Fantasy” tale. Though I think it possibly leans more towards Sci-Fi purely because of its focus on technology and how the Gods obtain their powers.

To summarise then, my first pick for Book Club is a bit of a mixed bag. I think I enjoyed it overall, but despite it looking fairly short, it took a long, long time for it to actually start developing the story it wanted to tell, instead the majority of the book gets bogged down in confusing dialogue and I never really felt like I understood who was doing what and why. Maybe that was the point? If it was, then it achieved that, but sticking with it, the closing chapters made up for that difficult introduction.

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