Thursday, July 23, 2009

Books You Haven't Read But Should: Roger Zelazny's Lord Of Light

"His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the Maha- and the -atman, however, and called himself Sam. He never claimed to be a god, but then he never claimed not to be a god."

Lord of Light (1967) is an epic science fiction/fantasy novel by Roger Zelazny. It was awarded the 1968 Hugo Award for Best Novel, and nominated for a Nebula Award in the same category. Two chapters from the novel were published as novelettes in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1967.

The novel is structured as a series of long semi-independent chapters; each a distinct story within a long campaign by the protagonist Sam – a classic trickster character – against the established gods of the world. The stories are not presented chronologically. The first story relates Sam's return from Nirvana to continue the struggle after decades of exile. The next stories are presented as flashbacks as Sam remembers the beginning of his campaign, and the tactics he employed, leading up to the titanic battle of Keenset. In the final chapter the newly returned Sam completes his campaign against the gods, with bittersweet results.

The story of Sam is based partly on the myths that surround the Buddha, the future buddha Maitreya, and Kalki, the coming tenth avatar of Vishnu. Each chapter begins with an extract from a legendary version of the story, and extensive quotes, in English, from Indian literature such as the Sanskrit Vedas and the Buddhist text, the Pali Canon. Several events in the plot are accompanied by dialogue from the Upanishads.

In an intentional match with Hindu and Buddhist mythology and teachings, the first six chapters of the book describe actions which occur in the 'Great Wheel of Life'. These are repetitive actions, and thus the end of chapter six feeds directly into the beginning of chapter one. If read in this way, of course, the book will never end, in exactly the same way as an unenlightened life will never escape the cycle of desire, and be continually reborn. Eventually, an enlightened soul can achieve Nirvana, and release themselves from the action of the Great Wheel.

[And don't forget the weird tale of Lord of Light, Jack Kirby ... and the CIA]


GeorgeH said...

That was the first Science Fiction novel I ever bought in hardback instead of waiting for the paperback to come out. Still one of the best.

M.Christian said...

Agreed! It's one of my favorites as well!