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It's often a bit worrying to return to the scene of one's youthful enthusiasm to see if the magic is still there - particularly in the case of this novel, bearing in mind the recent discussions of cultural appropriation.

It still worked for me. Zelazny's writing in the first place is vigorous and powerful, and funny also on occasion; it is rather easy to get swept along by the characters with superhuman, semi-divine abilities trying to outwit each other without concentrating too much on the plot. His trademark was always the juxtaposition of the mythic and the demotic, and Lord of Light probably is the peak of his powers at novel length.

The plot also stands the test of time. The rulers of the world of Lord of Light have chosen to construct a religion in order to stay in power, and rather than make up their own (as later Zelazny books do) have taken Hinduism off the shelf, as it were, suited as it is to their reincarnation technology. "Accelerationism" (ie modernisation) among the general populace is ruthlessly repressed. Our hero, Sam, is one of the privileged who rebels, and uses methods of terrorism, war and assassination to undermine the power structures, is captured, executed twice, and eventually returned to life (at the start of the book, most of the story being told in flashback) and victory.

It's not terribly clear that Sam is doing this out of an egalitarian or libertarian commitment to oppose tyranny; it seems more that he (along with Zelazny) favours two different types of enlightenment - personal enlightenment in the (explicitly) Buddhist sense, and cultural enlightenment in the sense of eighteenth-century Europe, in both cases implying freedom from religious dogma and control, and so is committed to bringing them about.

To achieve this, he has to do a deal with the indigenous entities of the planet as well, now known as the Rakashas; he exploits them but also possibly liberates them, and their support is crucial to his ultimate success - a subplot with interesting undertones both historically and psychologically. Note also that the explicitly Christian characters are dubious outsiders who are minor but somewhat unreliable allies (leading an army of soulless zombies). Plenty of cultural irony, directed mainly westwards.

Lord of Light won the 1968 Hugo Award for Best Novel. Other shorlisted books that year were The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany, and three books I haven't read: Chthon by Piers Anthony, The Butterfly Kid by Chester Anderson and Thorns by Robert Silverberg. All except the Anderson book (of which I have otherwise not heard) were also shortlisted for the Nebula, which was won by The Einstein Intersection.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 11th, 2009 01:20 pm (UTC)
I love this book to bits. I read it repeatedly as a teenager and returned to it about two years ago, delighted to find it still held its power.
Aug. 11th, 2009 05:31 pm (UTC)
I read this for the first time about five years ago when I undertook my big project to read all of the Hugo/Nebula/WFA best-novel winners. I had a pretty gleeful expression on my face most of the way through. I think this is one of those fortunate books that fires on all cylinders and ages gracefully.
Oct. 6th, 2009 06:50 am (UTC)
It has aged... okay. The sexism is kind of noticeable now. (Three female characters: Stupid Destructive Sexually Aggressive Bitch Kali, kindly uninteresting Ratri, and horrible shrill lesbian Brahma. Two of them try to take on male roles, and end badly. The other is a madame.) The writing is still good-to-excellent, yes, and it's still totally worth rereading.

I think it's useful to look at it as a buddy novel -- the Sam-Yama relationship, not Sam's character arc, is what drives the book. (Sam doesn't really /have/ a character arc. Though Yama does.)

There is the faintest hint of tweaking fandom and some hoary SFnal tropes. A handful of people get overweening power through a combination of innate wonderfulness and highly advanced technology -- and they turn out to be total dicks, socially retarded, irresponsible, and viewing the world as a "combination whorehouse and game preserve". Not exactly the Lensmen, you know?

Doug M.
May. 30th, 2015 10:44 am (UTC)
Yama Drama
Heavens, it's thirty-five years since I read it. Thoroughly enjoyed it, too, but had forgotten the title (hence, backtracking here from a more recent post about the Hugos, following an unfamikiar title).

I doubt that Leicester City Central Library has it now.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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