I'm currently behind on reviews, so don't be surprised if the recent reviews are a bit sparse.

Lord of Light

Cover of Lord of Light.

Lord of Light is hard to describe without spoilers up to the last third of the book, so I won’t even try. You have been warned: hic sunt ~~dracones~~ spoilers. Even adding this book to my “space monks” list is technically a spoiler.

Lord of Light is Hindu and Buddhist mythology, in space, with advanced technology, dialled up to 11. Sounds good? Sounds good.

You get to piece together the worldbuilding yourself. Zelazny is good at giving you enough details to allow you to make out a confusing picture, and then validating your guesses. A sci-fi staple, but I like feeling smart, so I won’t complain. Said worldbuilding comes down to this: Some humans, in the far-out future, can develop god-like psychic (but very real and technical) powers. This takes a ton of time and everybody can learn at most one of those, and then good luck figuring out how to use it well.

Humans travelled to a new planet. Here they had tons of descendents and nuked/imprisoned all native life forms. Then they went “oops, we shouldn’t give our dirty native children nukes to play with” and installed themselves as gods. Because religion is hard or they were lazy, they went with the Hindu pantheon – enough space for everybody and some variation. Also useful to keep everybody in check by using the whole reincarnation (which everybody gets, state-mandated, once they turn 60) thing as a way to keep dissidents in check (place them in a lower caste). They also suppress new technology like the printing press.

Some of the original travelers are not amused. Our protagonist is introduced thus: “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 uses Buddhism (because he knows how to use it with and against Hinduism) to get people to resist their technologically advanced gods, and leads a war against heaven. That’s it, that’s the story. It’s well-told, it’s fun, and it has aged well. The only really sketchy bit is how everybody is still straight and hung up on their birth gender (if they switched), but that’s still way ahead of its time and could also be written today – and at least Zelazny considered the question of gender swaps and reasonable reactions at all. Way ahead of his time.

What I found really interesting is that this is a take on cultural appropriation – after all, both parties just grab a convenient culture and use it to their own ends. I kept wondering if this book would have been published today, and if public reaction would’ve managed to see it as a commentary on cultural appropriation instead of appropriation in its own right. I’d like to think so, but then, I’m an optimist.


Man forgets reality and remembers words.


To define is to lose.


Good luck. No gods be with you!


A man is a thing of many divisions, not a pure, clear flame such as you once were. His intellect often wars with his emotions, his will with his desires… his ideals are at odds with his environment, and if he follows them, he knows keenly the loss of that which was old-but if he does not follow them, he feels the pain of having forsaken a new and noble dream. Whatever he does represents both a gain and a loss, an arrival and a departure. Always he mourns that which is gone and fears some part of that which is new. Reason opposes tradition.


“Mortals call you Buddha.” – “That is only because they are afflicted with language and ignorance.”