© Roger Zelazny estate.
I was already an avid Roger Zelazny fan when I bought this book in 1969. I’d even read two of the seven sections of it in “Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine,” and been quite impressed with those. After my first reading of this complete novel I put the author on a par with my two other favorites, J.R.R. Tolkien and Robert Heinlein. But while I’ve reread many of their works many times, I don’t think I’d reread this one until now, so I was interested to see how it would seem to me.
Remembering back, one of the things that seemed freshest about “Lord of Light” is its use of the culture and religions of India, something I had no knowledge of. I had vague ideas about some of the Hindu gods, but here they walk the earth, brandishing power, talking and plotting, seducing and playing, battling and conniving, and opposing them is the main character, Sam, representing Buddha, just as in history Buddhism was a main alternative to Hinduism. Yet, they are often very down to earth and real, having modern interests and knowledge, in a way that makes them work even better as characters. Sam is a rebel, trying to topple the controlling hierarchy to bring freedom to the common people, always a popular theme, and he’s clever and brave about it.
All this is overlayed on another story, a science fictional one, that gradually peers from between the pages as you read. This world is not our Earth, it’s a planet colonized by a ship from there millennia ago. The Earth colonists found this place full of dangerous beings they called Demons, and they contrived ways to take on great power themselves to carve a place in it. That power made some of them the gods of this world, now ruling patronistically over their myriad human progeny, but keeping most of them poor and ignorant to make control easier. That’s what Sam, one of those first colonists, who have stayed alive by moving from ageing bodies to young ones, is trying to end. And his war on Heaven is an epic battle full of great moments, from one-on-one combat, to ever-shifting alliances, even with the dreaded Demons, to full-on armageddon.
The story path of the book is a bit confusing, beginning near the end, with the resurrection of a fallen Sam, then going back to show how he rose and eventually fell, and there is no clear timeline. Essentially it’s meant to represent an eternal struggle that keeps going on, I think, almost circular in some ways. The language and characters are wonderful, and much of the story is exciting, despite that slight confusion of who is on whose side and when.
Later I became enamored of Zelazny’s “Amber” books, and put them, or at least the first two, ahead of this one as favorites, but there’s much here to enjoy and admire. Perhaps the setting is not as novel now as it seemed when the book was first published, as fantasy and science fiction now ranges through many cultures and backgrounds, but this is still a great read, and one I highly recommend.