A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Don’t let the cover illustration mislead you into thinking that Lord of Light is about the life of the Buddha. It is most definitely not the SF version of Siddhartha. I suppose you can’t blame the publisher. It must be an awfully hard book to market. There’s really three very different, maybe even competing novels all packed into one here:
1.)It’s an SF novel about planetary colonizers from earth who set up shop on a very distant planet. The colonizers have made themselves immortal through a process of implanting their minds in newly grown bodies. “The First,” or the first generation of Earth born colonizers, are keeping the newer inhabitants of the planet, their actual offspring, in a state of barbarism, discouraging their technological and political development until they are ready to run the planet on their own.
2.) It’s a kind of literary send-up of myths, legends, and religion. “The First” very much resemble pantheistic gods. The process of their rebirth very much resembles reincarnation. Zelazny uses names and characters from Hindu and Buddhist religion and peppers the text with quotes from actual scripture.
3.) It’s also a fantasy quest novel that follows Mahasamatman, or Sam, a vaguely Buddha-like character. Sam travels about the planet mixing with both gods and men. He builds an army, leads a rebellion, fights both physical as well as spiritual battles, and cleverly navigates a corrupt political and religious landscape.
None of these three elements is really strong enough to stand up on it’s own. Together they make for a complex and highly imaginative read.
Zelazny wisely avoids all the exposition and heavy handed world building that would seem necessary. He lets the characters and their actions slowly reveal the strange world they inhabit. Yes, it can be frustrating as you try to piece together exactly what’s going on. Don’t worry, it’s worth it. There’s a compelling plot, a hero to root for, and a lot of humor. Sam’s a rich character with layers and the folks around him are the broad, bold characters of myth. There’s also a few pretty heavy themes to keep you thinking. Besides the more obvious religious element, Lord of Light also has much to say about the political value of technology. Most importantly, though, it’s just a novel that will stick with you. There’s nothing else quite like it.
Review by Matthew