Lord of Light

Lord of Light

by Roger Zelazny


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“Funny, wise, and infused with a sense of wonder and knowledge….Nobody else made myths real and valuable in the way Roger Zelazny could.”
—Neil Gaiman


Lord of Light is a classic tale of the far future from the incomparable Roger Zelazny. Winner of the Hugo Award—one of six Zelazny received over the course of his legendary career, as well as three Nebula Awards and numerous other honors—Lord of Light stands with Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War and Frank Herbert’s Dune as one of the seminal novels that changed the way readers looked at science fiction. Experience it and you will understand why New York Times bestselling sf author Greg Bear says, “Reading Zelazny is like dropping into a Mozart string quartet as played by Thelonius Monk.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060567231
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/30/2010
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 133,972
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.68(d)

About the Author

Roger Zelazny burst onto the SF scene in the early 1960s with a series of dazzling and groundbreaking short stories. He won his first of six Hugo Awards for Lord of Light, and soon after produced the first book of his enormously popular Amber series, Nine Princes in Amber. In addition to his Hugos, he went on to win three Nebula Awards over the course of a long and distinguished career. He died on June 14, 1995.

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Lord of Light

Chapter One

It is said that fifty-three years after his liberation he returned from the Golden Cloud, to take up once again the gauntlet of Heaven, to oppose the Order of Life and the gods who ordained it so. His followers had prayed for his return, though their prayers were sin. Prayer should not trouble one who has gone on to Nirvana, no matter what the circumstances of his going. The wearers of the saffron robe prayed, however, that He of the Sword, Manjusri, should come again among them. The Boddhisatva is said to have heard ...

He whose desires have been throttled,
who is independent of root,
whose pasture is emptiness --
signless and free --
his path is as unknowable
as that of birds across the heavens.
-- Dhammapada (93)

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.Circumstances being what they were, neither admission could be of any benefit. Silence, though, could.

Therefore, there was mystery about him.

It was in the season of the rains ...

It was well into the time of the great wetness ...

It was in the days of the rains that their prayers went up, not from the fingering of knotted prayer cords or the spinning of prayer wheels, but from the great pray-machine in the monastery of Ratri, goddess of the Night.

The high-frequency prayers were directed upward through the atmosphere and out beyond it, passing into that golden cloud called the Bridge of the Gods, which circles the entire world, is seen as a bronze rainbow at night and is the place where the red sun becomes orange at midday.

Some of the monks doubted the orthodoxy of this prayer technique, but the machine had been built and was operated by Yama-Dharma, fallen, of the Celestial City; and, it was told, he had ages ago built the mighty thunder chariot of Lord Shiva: that engine that fled across the heavens belching gouts of fire in its wake.

Despite his fall from favor, Yama was still deemed mightiest of the artificers, though it was not doubted that the Gods of the City would have him to die the real death were they to learn of the pray-machine. For that matter, though, it was not doubted that they would have him to die the real death without the excuse of the pray-machine, also, were he to come into their custody.How he would settle this matter with the Lords of Karma was his own affair, though none doubted that when the time came he would find a way. He was half as old as the Celestial City itself, and not more than ten of the gods remembered the founding of that abode. He was known to be wiser even than the Lord Kubera in the ways of the Universal Fire. But these were his lesser Attributes. He was best known for another thing, though few men spoke of it. Tall, but not overly so; big, but not heavy; his movements, slow and fluent. He wore red and spoke little.

He tended the pray-machine, and the giant metal lotus he had set atop the monastery roof turned and turned in its sockets.

A light rain was falling upon the building, the lotus and the jungle at the foot of the mountains. For six days he had offered many kilowatts of prayer, but the static kept him from being heard On High. Under his breath, he called upon the more notable of the current fertility deities, invoking them in terms of their most prominent Attributes.

A rumble of thunder answered his petition, and the small ape who assisted him chuckled. "Your prayers and your curses come to the same, Lord Yama," commented the ape. "That is to say, nothing."

"It has taken you seventeen incarnations to arrive at this truth?" said Yama. "I can see then why you are still doing time as an ape."

"Not so," said the ape,whose name was Tak. "My fall, while less spectacular than your own, nevertheless involved elements of personal malice on the part of -- "

"Enough!" said Yama, turning his back to him.

Tak realized then that he might have touched upon a sore spot. In an attempt to find another subject for conversation, he crossed to the window, leapt onto its wide sill and stared upward.

"There is a break in the cloud cover, to the west," he said.

Yama approached, followed the direction of his gaze, frowned and nodded.

"Aye," he said. "Stay where you are and advise me."

He moved to a bank of controls.

Overhead, the lotus halted in its turning, then faced the patch of bare sky.

"Very good," he said. "We're getting something."

His hand moved across a separate control panel, throwing a series of switches and adjusting two dials.

Below them, in the cavernous cellars of the monastery, the signal was received and other preparations were begun: the host was made ready.

"The clouds are coming together again!" cried Tak.

"No matter, now," said the other. "We've hooked our fish. Out of Nirvana and into the lotus, he comes."

There was more thunder, and the rain came down with a sound like hail upon the lotus. Snakes of blue lightning coiled, hissing, about the mountaintops.

Yama sealed a final circuit.

"How do you think he will take to wearing the flesh again?" asked Tak.

"Go peel bananas with your feet!"

Tak chose to consider this a dismissal and departed the chamber, leaving Yama to close down the machinery.He made his way along a corridor and down a wide flight of stairs.He reached the landing, and as he stood there he heard the sound of voices and the shuffling of sandals coming in his direction from out a side hall.

Without hesitating, he climbed the wall, using a series of carved panthers and an opposing row of elephants as handholds.Mounting a rafter, he drew back into a well of shadow and waited, unmoving.

Lord of Light. Copyright © by Roger Zelazny. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Lord of Light 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 49 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is difficult to read and demands that it be read carefully. Each character has multiple names and some are only used once; the primary character has at least six different names. Lord of Light has the most jarring flashback I've experienced reading. There is no noticeable hint that starting with Chapter ii, nearly the rest of the book is history. Other reviewers have mentioned they became hopelessly lost by this until reading the book through a second time. Myself, I have time enough only for one read-through of any given book, no matter how magnificent. Anyone starting this book should be warned. That out of the way, Zelazny is remarkably successful in creating a believable world where some men have become gods through technology and use their power to keep control over civilization. The cast of characters is large, but each is well-enough written that, even though the name changes often, you know who is being discussed. As a reader not familiar with Buddhist ideology, I was able to follow the book without a problem - which was what I was concerned with, initially. Action-packed is an understatement. In this little novel of a few hundred pages we see larger and more magnificent battles than I could imagine. Zelazny is truly a master at telling these epic stories while keeping track of a single character, throughout. Though the book is over 30 years old, it holds up perfectly. Even in the midst of current events, there are some interesting parallels. This is an excellent book, but I feel that it was unneccessarily difficult to read primarily due to the flashback, which should have been more clearly presented. The characters and battles and political in-fighting makes Lord of Light compelling to read and show signs of tales to come in Zelazny's most popular stories of Amber.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The best from one of the original minds of the 20th century. True Zelazny in its contradictions. Simple yet complex. An engaging story with many truths about human nature. The hero, an enigma, is neither perfect nor has the pretense of perfection that his adversaries do. A book that once read will stay on your shelf for many future re-readings.
felius on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A powerful idea, well executed. One of those books that sticks in your mind afterwards.
Anonymous 8 months ago
I first read Lord of Light during my freshman year of college—long, long ago With its mix of mythology, religion and technology, it dramatically changed my idea of what science-fiction could be. I continue to revisit it every few years.
joe_saltears on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I generally am a Zelazny fan, but this one is my very favourite. It captured my attention with the opening sentences and withheld it for the whole time I've been reading it and the many many rereadings.I had a rare fortune of reading a book on Indian (ugh, Like in India) mythology and this book was the one I read immediately after. And I highly recommend to follow in my footsteps.
isabelx on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A science-fiction story which has taken on the aspect of a fantasy about the Hindu pantheon. I have wanted to read this book for ages, but somehow every time I picked it up in the book-shop I ended up putting it down again, so I was happy to get a copy via Book Crossing. It took me ages to get into it, as the first chapter or so is quite slow and heavy-going (which is probably why I had never got round to buying it). But once I was past the first chapter or so, it picked up pace and became a lot more exciting.
VVilliam on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fascinating look at Hinduism and Buddhism in a world where magic is indistinguishable from technology. I particularly enjoyed how everyday-reincarnation was baked into the novel. I'll be chewing on the ideas in this book for a while. The adventure and epic nature of the book was also very well done.
briandarvell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Was looking forward to reading this after so long but it wasn't close to meeting my expectations. I found the experimental style of the story extremely confusing and the nature of the Hindu/Buddhist mysticism was mostly lost on me. Perhaps this book would make much more sense upon rereading it. I would also suggest to anyone beginning this story to invest time in preparing for it by reading a plot summary synopsis - that way you do not become as confused as I with the non-linear narrative.
bluesalamanders on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It was...a bit confusing and rather odd, but I liked it.
nesum on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A stunning and wonderful book; one I'll not soon forget. Zelazny weaves an amazing amount of history into this short novel, but does so in such a way that it drives the plot forward. There are scores of detailed characters, each with his own motive, in a conflict that seems centuries old.The premise may be difficult to explain. In this futuristic world, the technology has been created to transfer a person's being into another body, rendering them practically immortal, as long as they can find bodies before they actually die. Some of the original settlers have set themselves up as gods, forbidding most technology. Sam, another of the first, opposes them on the grounds that the people should be allowed to have that technology.This fight between them is not often all out war, but rather subtle plots that take lifetimes to see fulfilled. But they have lifetimes to fight, and so they do.A must for science fiction fans.
utsusemia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
So, notwithstanding certain caveats about old-school gender politics (detailed on my blog, for the curious), I thought this was a really excellent book. I liked it because it seemed to play around with the fantasy genre in a way completely different from the modern batch of New Weird writers, but with an equal amount of self-awareness and intelligence. I suppose you might chalk up some of my admiration to my general ignorance of the New Wave SF from the sixties, and I¿m certainly going to find some more of it. In some ways, I think this is one of the most subtly subversive SF novels I¿ve read, because of the way it plays around with the structure of its narrative. I¿ve read critiques online that argue even though Zelazny took his mythos and pantheon from the East (Hinduism and Buddhism), his characters and story are essentially Western. I take the point. It¿s disconcerting for characters who have decided to reincarnate themselves as Hindu gods make references to ¿It¿s a long way to Tipperary.¿. It was never really explained why these obviously white Westerners picked the Hindu pantheon for their planetary subjugation¿just because they happened to be on a ship called ¿The Star of India¿ and it seemd like a good idea at the time? And incidentally, this lack of explanation makes the Christian-Hindu battle of the frame story seem like an utter non-sequitur.BUT, all of this attention to the characters misses the fact that the structure of the story itself is extremely Eastern and subverts all sorts of subtle conventions of heroic fiction. For one, the frame story is strangely incidental to the plot, and yet reveals its resolution in the first thirty pages. The whole business with the reluctant, trickster hero is very Western, but he¿s not much of a hero. His callousness in the face of mass death belies his protestations of ordinary humanity. He tramples on humans like a god, even when he professes that his entire object is to ¿accelerate¿ (read: uplift) them to his own status. And if I take a further step back, the Eastern influences are more obvious: there are hints of stories within stories never told (his mother weeping over his death is mentioned in a parenthetical). His first dramatic demise is told not as a heroic battle, but as an afterthought to a wedding party never explicitly described. The battle the reader is led to believe from the beginning will be the final, major confrontation is a deliberate anti-climax that barely matters in the juggernaut of history. Sam¿s ultimate fate is cloudy¿ there are other, perhaps self-contradictory, epics waiting to be told, but don¿t we already know them? Haven¿t we heard the story of Mahatsamatman, Tagaratha, Siddartha, Kalkin, Sam a thousand times by our fires? And that of the cat that hunted him, and his mother who wept and the witches with whom she or he might or might not have shared another adventure? Lord of Light is vaguely science fictional in its technology, but its literary aims are mythological.Which is to say: really great. Worth reading, without equivocation.
alexdallymacfarlane on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A surprisingly good book, given its inherently problematic nature: a group of white people pretend to be Hindu gods on another planet. Yet Zelazny appears to have done his research, creating a rich world and using the character of Siddhartha to skillfully question the ways of the "gods". The world rang true, to my admittedly limited experience of Asia, but that's more than some books about Asia manage. /Lord of Light/ is a book that wears its problematic nature on its sleeve, and opens itself for the attendant discussion. Also, it tells a good story.
LastCall on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Zelazny at his best. This book is a masterpiece.
jimmaclachlan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Typically, the whole story emerges slowly & somewhat confusingly on the first read, but we soon realize that a starship from Earth colonizes an alien planet. Fantasy meets SF as Psi powers, often enhanced by technology, allow the crew to impersonate a mutated version of the Hindu gods, lording it over the passengers. Mind-swapping & cloning allow the old crew to become almost immortal, while the passengers are fruitful & multiply, spreading across the planet & forgetting their roots & technology. The story centers on Sam, one of the crew, retired god & hero. He doesn't like the new gods & fights heaven through fair & foul means. Even in defeat & death, he wins & returns, as a thorn in the heavenly side. He recreates Buddhism, with himself as the Buddha. He makes pacts with demons, the original inhabitants of the planet who found a different path to immortality than body swapping. He even allies himself with the blackest demon of all, a Christian!Zelazny's mix of science, religion, mysticism & politics is fantastic & unique, as always. His hero, Sam, is insightful, mocking & manipulating. He subtly guides people & events to his advantage, while starting from a huge disadvantage to topple the gods from their heaven. The story isn't told in a straightforward manner (big shock) but as flashbacks for over half of it. It's almost disappointing when the story flows linearly, but the action is too intense & the politics too murky to confuse it through further time jumping.I've read some criticisms of his take on the Eastern religions but, I don't think he made any mistakes. He wasn't trying to recreate the religions of today, but show them in a far-flung future where they were setup by a bunch power hungry people for their own base purposes. He was using them as a vehicle to make his point & felt justified changing them to fit.I've worn out two copies of this book. It's fantastic. He's one of my favorite authors & this is possibly my favorite book.
revslick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It is a shame that the literary yahoos don't give Science Fiction and Fantasy its true accolades because this would be classified as a top classic Science Fiction novel. Roger re imagines a world in which the Hindu gods are a reality thanks to technology that enables a select few to transfer abilities and energy to achieve immortality until one takes the journey to take them out. He mixes philosophy and religious debates with Hindu and Buddhist mythology. Be warned some of the chapters are not exactly in chronological order. Definitely worth a read again.
MrsTalksTooMuch on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Right from the beginning, I felt like this was follow up on a story I was already supposed to know and the further in you got, it never got any better.
Shmuel510 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Zelazny's masterpiece.I'm tempted to say a few words about the plot, but it's probably best left figured out by the reader. And I do mean "figured out," not "discovered"; by the end of the first time through the book, one has gotten enough of an idea of what's going on so that the second time through makes more sense. I've reread the thing about a hundred times now, and every time I notice details that had escaped me previously.
NogDog on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An amazing book by an amazing author. It's science fiction that reads like fantasy, or maybe vice versa. If you're tired of scifi/fantasy books that turn into multi-book series, here's a stand-alone classic with no sequels: what a rarity!
Katong on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Still reads as very fresh.
rboyechko on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book seems to be a response to Arthur C. Clarke's saying: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Zelazny has managed to weave technology and magic seamlessly into one. Drawing upon Hindu pantheon and mythology, he created a world that seems wholly believable and possible, yet full of magic that resurrects the power of myth. The book is now among my favorites, and definitely worth a read for any science fiction or fantasy fans.
kd9 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book used to be my number one favorite science fiction novel. I haven't read it in over a decade, so when I was looking for something comfortable to read, I picked it up again.It may not be the best novel considering that other science fiction writers have written novels with more convincing characters and more all encompassing plots, but it still has power to charm and envelop you. The reluctant rebel is a strong archetype The conceit of writing a hard science fiction, political story in the style of fantasy is still compelling. And the bittersweet ending still brings a tear to my eye. Yes, Roger Zelazny creates characters who you love and respect, even if many of them end up wandering and alone.
clong on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I guess I'd have to say that I was a little disappointed in this book, which many consider to be one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time. It certainly starts with a superb concept: a group of technologically advanced refugees from a long dead Earth have colonized a plant, vanquished its native species, and developed a form of immortality through controlled reincarnation. These original colonists rule over their descendents as gods, each having taken the aspect of one of the traditional deities of Indian mythology, until one of their own decides that their rule is corrupt and fights to end it. I guess that I had several problems with the book. Most importantly, I never developed much empathy for the protagonist Sam or any of the other leading characters. For most of the book his history and motivations remained hidden, and by the time it all came out I just found that I didn't really care much about what happened to him. The character I liked the most was probably Tak, who has been reincarneted as an ape as punishment for an early transgression against the gods. But, after playing an important role in a couple of early chapters, he then disappears for most of the book. Also, one of the characters who plays a key role in the final resolution seemed like an afterthought. I found that this is one of those science fiction books where the science is really just technologically justified "magic." And finally the narrative style was overly choppy, at times it was hard to know what was a flashback and what was the current storyline. Still the plot was reasonably engaging and I am glad to have read it, but it doesn't join my list of all time science fiction greats.
ytfenderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very interesting take on a futuristic colonized world with a techno-elite setting themselves up as the Hindu gods to rule over the world. I found this book a little difficult to get into at the beginning, but by the end I was hooked enough that I intend to read again now that I know the structure of the book.
Bob_Firth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the greatest imaginative feats in the realm of SF, and also great literature which sustains repeated reading. An entire world is depicted - sometime after its colonisation - where an elite class of immortals reigns indolently over the rest of the population, who exist in a technological vacuum. The story relates how one of these "Gods" tries to change the status quo, using revolutionary methods and with mixed results. The depiction is very non-linear, full of flashbacks, which I would normally dislike but the quality of the narrative carries this tale way above the level of the average "page turner". Beware: when you've finally read the last page you'll probably experience an undefinable feeling of loss on "leaving". And I was truly gutted when I heard Roger Zelazny had died, because then it was clear there would never be a sequel.
storyjunkie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It took me nearly a chapter and a half to figure out that the setting was a non-Earth planet, and that (most of) the characters were the crew of a colonization expedition. As part of the colonization process (or growing out of it?), the crew took on the names of Hindu gods, to go along with powers produced by a cultivated combination of biological mutation and technology. The story starts late in a great fight over the self-proclaimed gods' dominion over technology, and their hording of knowledge from the people of the planet (their own descendants? or a new mix? since the planet had home-grown sentient inhabitants when the Earthlings arrived). The gods hold sway over all applications of technology, including the high-tech version of reincarnation which allows consciousness to be transferred from one body to another ... if you pass a mental probe and the gods don't disapprove of anything that you've done.The protagonist is the focal point of the opposition, choosing his methods, and strategy of optimum effect. He is identified as Buddha early on in the narrative, having taken up the gods' own tricks to thwart them.In a setting rendered with only broad strokes - we don't know the history of the planet, or how the crew from Earth came to be there, and only a vague guess as to who all the members of that original crew were. The histories of the people are likewise vague, with details showing up in conversation, and their reactions to one another rather than from the third-person narrator. The style is very much that of an oral storyteller, with speaking rhythms and a feeling of telling only what is important to the story, rather than what is important to the storyteller. The great mystery was to parse out what exactly all these people were fighting about, and how their knowledge from Earth was influencing their performances without providing answers as to "why".I suspect that the "why" of it all is that, even in this new place, using the names of gods from a dead planet, these powerful humans are still essentially human: great, awesome, petty, small, and loving.