I’ve decided I’m just crazy enough to try to read every book that’s ever won the Hugo Award for Best Novel…and, of course, that I want to share this insane experience with all of you. This should have been up last week, but I was on a well-earned vacation reading things requiring less brainpower than Hugos. This week the Great Wheel of Life brings us to an unknown planet far in the future in the second of Roger Zelazny’s Hugo-winners. Our journey through sixty-odd posts of science fiction, speculation and social justice continues!
Lord of Light
published in 1967
Long after Earth has faded, the human race survives on a distant colony world. Advanced technology has made possible many things, including reincarnation and godlike superpowers. Some have claimed godhood for themselves and resurrected the Hindu caste system to control the rest of humanity, who are only allowed a medieval level of technology. Of course, there will always be trouble in paradise, and this time its name is Sam…
Warning! Mild spoilers ahead!
Hmmm…Buddha…….zzzz….Vishnu….zzzz….Kali…zzzzzzzk! Ah! What? Oh, I must have dozed off again…
Maybe it was a function of reading this on vacation, but I had a heck of a time keeping my eyes open while reading Lord of Light. Which is not to say that it’s boring; it’s just hard to keep track of if you’re not very familiar with Hindu and Buddhist mythology. Since I know woefully little about either of them, reading a book where characters were as often referred to by their Attributes or as “one of the Lokapāla” as by
their actual one of their many names was not exactly easy.
It’s a style that works for the book, with its lyrical (and occasionally over-flowered) prose and division into seven shorter, interrelated stories very consciously mimicking the style of great epic stories like the Sanskrit Vedas or the Norse Eddas. This book would be wonderful to listen to, read aloud around a campfire over the course of seven nights. Preferably after a semester-long course in Hindu deities and Hindu and Buddhist cosmology.
But to read it…I don’t know, maybe I’m just frustrated by the fact that it was such a beautiful book and I could not get into it at all. It felt like trying to look at a Botticelli through those thick glass blocks they use to build walls around pools and bathrooms.
And it was such a cool idea, with technology melting into mythology and providing a tangible framework for deities and reincarnation and karma…I was reminded of some of Sheri S. Tepper’s works (I feel like that should be the official THP drinking game; chug whenever Myriad mentions Tepper…), particularly The Visitor. Except I never fell asleep reading The Visitor.
Moving right along to the social review…
Race: Well…the entire book could be read as a story of cultural appropriation, depending on what ethnicity you attribute to the people who chose to set up the caste system and make themselves gods. Some of them are, judging by their names, almost certainly White Europeans. On the other hand, everybody’s swapped bodies so often, and so many of them are brown, that at this point race no longer seems to be a valid concept. The same person may present the full spectrum of physical racial attributes within just a few lifetimes.
Gender/Sexuality: Various casual remarks made by Sam and others reveal the view that Men and Women are Different, and Men are better than Women. On the other hand, more than one god was originally a woman – notably Brahma, who was once Madeline. Then again, Brahma is portrayed as weak because s/he is always concerned s/he is not manly enough…and never do we hear of a goddess who was originally a man. The closest we get is Nirriti, who is a goddess out here in the real world, but in the book is always referred to as a god with a male body and male pronouns.
Other: Then again, I’m not sure Nirriti’s story would have worked as well had he been female, especially within the polarized gender framework of the book. I am very clearly Not Qualified to discuss the religious nature of the story, but I will say I found the irony of Nirriti delightful. Silly Christians…
OVERALL RANKING: 6 out of 10 (rankings subject to change as my sample size increases).
Perhaps this book and I were just not meant to be. Or maybe I just need to find someone with a sexy voice to read it to me…
Remember to stop back next Monday for my take on John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar!