Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'm delving deeply into this book in one of my groups which is doing nothing to clarify my own thinking -- or maybe it is. Hard to tell on a stormy morning with chores ahead and a headache hovering behind a wall of caffeine.
So, let's see. First, this is my second Zelazny book, and -- shock of shocks -- the first I've liked. I enjoyed this one once I caught on to what was happening. So now I feel compelled to go back and read those damned Amber books with a different eye.
As to the book itself -- I think this is an example of Clark's Third Law turned sideways and maybe backwards. Any advanced technology that is forgotten is indistinguishable from magic and cloaked in mysticism.
<spoiler> So what happens when a group of technologically advanced humans seek to colonize a newly discovered world? How do they view themselves as they fight strange new life forms, carve out cities, create what they need to survive and thrive? And how to their descendants see and remember them?
What if those first colonists could be "reborn" into a new body as they wished? What if they could cultivate new abilities beyond their current technological levels? How would they see them selves?
Those are the questions this book poses and then sets about answering. In this world, those space colonists become Gods, adapting the Hindu pantheon as a model, and then set about keeping the world they've inhabited and conquered as their own version of paradise -- for themselves, not for their descendants.
And then, what happens when one of those first colonists, one of those would-be gods, decides the whole thing is a bad idea and he needs to fight it so that humankind can develop on their own, inheriting what they should have inherited in knowledge and ability? What happens when a man decides to kill the gods? </spoiler>
I wasn't initially interested in the book. It took some 50 pages or so before I got a handle on the structure (which is a looping frame -- the book starts at a point that chronologically connects to just before the ending, then jumps back to a new beginning to explain how things got to the point at the beginning of the book and then moves forward again. Also, it is helpful to have some background in Hindu mythology ( a few minutes with Wikipedia should be enough), The language has the somewhat stilted yet lyrical qualities we often associate with old myths and ancient tales, which juxtaposed nicely with the talk of technology-as-magic. The protagonist, Sam, is a full and complex character, faulty and flawed yet determined and capable of bouncing back from everything thrown at him. He learns and changes some, too, as the story progresses, although his original ideas and his determination to carry them out does not waver. He's adaptable, his goals being more important than his methods (ends justify the means, in his world).
It's a complex novel, but not a big one. Zelazny is sparing with description, hints rather than tells, indicates more than shows, and leaves much in the mind of the reader to be done. It's a book that yields to a lot of discussion.
A final note -- while the book is ostensibly science fiction and a good argument can be made to classify it as such, in my opinion it is a fantasy. We are TOLD that the various miraculous things we see are technologically based, that they are machines made by men (or entities who once were men), but their action, appearance, and how they are regarded tallies closely with how devices of mystical and unknown or unexplained properties are regarded in works of fantasy. We are told there is science, but we are not shown it, and even those who use this technology, who build it and understand it discuss it in terms nearly identical to those used by others who regard them as purely magical. So, per Clark's third law and the general understanding of the word "Fantasy" as a literary genre, I classify this book as a fantasy.
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