Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

It's funny when you read a book and it immediately sends you scurrying to read another book. In this case, finishing Lord of Light made me pause and wonder whether or not I was right that there's a one-line reference to Rild as a personal electronic assistant in Spider Robinson's Starmind. I was pretty sure I was right, and that I knew which character had named their AI Rild, and why that was important in the story, because I've read Starmind only about 20 or 30 times. Of course this meant that I had to pick it up off the shelf and read it again because that's just the way my brain works.

By the way, I was right. I maybe know virtually every word Spider Robinson has written just a little too well.

This has me totally off topic, but indulge me for just one more digression, I promise it is the last. I recently got to start a long-term dream of mine, which was to create a directed reading SF/F group - sort of a book club, but with themes that would carry us through four to six months, reading books that had some common thread, so discussions could gradually build on comparisons between the books.

(My husband will not stop telling me that in some circles, this is called an "English class." As I have no training in English beyond one first-year university course, I ignore him steadfastly.)

It's going really well so far, and I'm having so much fun discussing books and I'm excited to make some proposals for the next theme in a month or two. Why this is relevant to Zelazny's books is because I had a half-done list already called "Old Gods, New Clothes" - books that integrated figures from mythology into their science fiction or fantasy. (Fairy tales are an entirely different list, and that's one is done and ready to go. I am having way too much fun making lists.) I think I tentatively had Lord of Light down as a possibility for this collection of books, and now I'm downright sure it would be included.

Now, can we finally get to the damn book, Megan? ....Fine.

As just alluded to, this is about gods in a science fiction setting, sort of. To be more precise, it's about space-faring settlers with amazing powers, possibly technological, possibly innate/magical, who take on the trappings of godhood and elevate themselves over their descendants. It's also about the responsibilities of the gods to their subjects, with many happy to keep humanity a subservient race, with others arguing that the technologies they enjoy should be available to all.

That was not what I expected, but it's so interesting! The latter is promoted by a man who comes to take on the mantle of the Buddha, offering enlightenment to all. Of course, Sam may be just a conman, or maybe sincere, or maybe actually both. He's killed and dispersed into the ether at least once (or achieves Nirvana, see what they did there?) and brought back for one last showdown.

The book bounces around in time a little disconcertingly, and that feels like it's not always under the author's best control. We start as Sam is reincarnated for the most recent/last time, but then go back for most of the book to another life, and the distinction is perhaps not always as clear as I'd like.

Zelazny also almost, almost gets close to doing something interesting with gender and the idea that people can change gender at will, but unfortunately does not really stick the landing here. It's about this close to being something more than a reaffirmation of gender roles, but falls a little flat.

There are demons - the planet's original inhabitants, and that is almost mostly very interesting, although without a lot of deep thought. For all that this is about the clash of philosophies and religions, it's not one with long passages arguing the relative merits of each.

But for what it is, it's very interesting, and I would love to read it and then compare it with other people to American Gods or Brown Girl in the Ring, or if I wanted to extend it to fictional gods, City of Stairs. (The list is actually over 10 books long and would need to be pared down.) Some day!

In other words, this is a book that made me think of other books, and how it compares to/relates to other books, and that's not at all a bad thing.

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