Friday, September 16, 2011

Review of "Lord of Light" by Roger Zelazny

The scholar Brain Atterbery in his book Strategies of Fantasy writes that works of science fantasy can be divided only one of two ways: the beautiful and the damned.  No middle ground to be had, technology and the supernatural remain relative to the era, and combining them disastrous to the point of comedy or successful to the point of being a mind-opening experience.  Falling into the latter category, Lord of Light, unlike much of Zelazny’s other works of science fantasy, is a flawless blend of the archetypes of science fiction and the mythologies of Hinduism and Buddhism.  The result is simply the peak of imaginative literature.
Working with Indian history, particularly the time of Buddhism’s rise to rival the teachings of Hinduism, Zelazny plays off this opposition to tell the story of Sam, the man who was a god but wasn’t.  One of the original members of a spaceship crew stranded on an unknown planet, Sam rejects the totalitarianist ways of the crew who have made themselves out to be gods, ruling the populace with superior technology while satiating their own desire for worship and power.  Forming alliances with demons and gods, Zelazny brings the Hindu pantheon to life in his fight against it, the Buddhist doctrine of right to life to the masses emphasized in his attempts to crash the gods’ party.  Sam does not always survive the epic battles, but then again reincarnation is just a matter of technology.  The novel divided into several sections that do not follow upon another logically, this cyclical story of Sam’s triumph must be pieced together like mythology itself, the story unable to be told another way.

In short, everything about Lord of Light works.  The vivid imagery, narrative structure, the dialogue, the use of Buddhist and Hindu folklore, character motivation, the colors, the crackle, the connection to culture – everything propels Lord of Light into the highest ranks of science fantasy.  Quite simply, it’s a masterpiece that anyone calling themselves a fan of speculative fiction must read. 

(This review has also been posted at


  1. Dear Jesse,
    I've read the book a few years ago, and I agree with your review. It's definitely one of the best 5 books I've read in my whole life.

    I have a request, however, that you remove the spoilers from the review. You see, I found the book in a used bookstore, bought it and started reading it from the first page completely blind. I hadn't even read the back cover. And the discovery of what actually was happening was a huge joy.

    So, starting your review with what I discovered midway into the story might actually kill the fun of discovering things for oneself, for anyone reading this review before the book.

    That's my opinion anyway.

    Happy reading :)

    1. Every review spoils a book. It's only a question of degree or perspective. Thus, I understand your point about revealing the major plot point of the crew being stranded, etc., but from another perspective, it is merely an overarching premise. The details of the story are entirely more involving and engaging - a fact you indirectly point out by saying about halfway through the knowledge about the crew's origin is revealed. In other words, there is still half a book of wonderful imagination and ideas to enjoy, remaining. Besides, the publisher's blurb provides the same information. ;)