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Stick with it,
This review is from: Lord Of Light (S.F. MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
There's a quote from George R.R. Martin on the cover of this book. It says, quite boldly I think, that it is "one of the five best sf novels ever written". This is the first Zelazny novel I've read, so I had no clue whether I'd like his writing style, and I deliberately found out as little as possible about the story beforehand because I like to discover these things for myself. I knew that the Hindu gods were involved but that was about all. When I started it I thought immediately that I wasn't going to like it much. The first chapter is one of the most bewildering things I've ever read. I had to keep reading and re-reading bits to try and make some sense of it.
I got there in the end. Some of it still made no sense to me, but I got the basic idea. I still thought I wasn't going to like it, and even thought it might be one of the rare books that I didn't finish. So what happened after that was a bit of a surprise. The second chapter is one of the most awesome chapters in any book I can remember reading for a long time, and it maintains that level for much of the rest of the book. There's the occasional dip but nothing that breaks the pace too much. The story is one of those that starts at the end, and then goes back in time to tell how the characters reached that point in time. I don't want to spoil it too much, because working out what was going on was part of the fun for me. If I'd known the following it would have made things a bit clearer in the first chapter so, if you'd rather not know, skip the next paragraph.
Far in the future mankind has colonised an alien world. They travelled there on a generation spaceship called The Star of India. The crew decided to keep the technology they took with them to themselves, casting the passengers out to start from scratch. The result is that now, hundreds of years later, a medieval society has grown and the crew have taken on the guises of Hindu gods, using technology to give them powers. This technology has also made the transferring of souls from one body to another possible, resulting in near immortality. Again, the 'gods' have taken this under their control, and dictate who is entitled to it. They have also used drugs to enhance and alter their brains, again resulting in extraordinary powers. Mahasamatman - Sam, or Buddha - is an 'accelerationist', who wants to give the technology back to the people, and leads a revolt against Heaven.
The really clever thing that Zelazny did, I think, is that he walks a very fine line between science fiction and fantasy. He leaves the reader to figure out the powers he's describing. For instance, in one sequence a god is fighting demons (I won't explain that, it's another one of those aspects of the book I really liked) with fire and, although Zelazny writes it in such a way that it seems like some magical power it's fairly obvious that the person is actually using some kind of futuristic flamethrower. But this is how the technology is explained throughout the book - as powers used by the gods - and it worked for me brilliantly.
Is it one of the five best science fiction novels ever written? I don't know. Unlike George R.R. Martin, I haven't read every single sf book out there in order to make the comparison. It is, though, one of the most brilliantly constructed and told stories I've read in the genre for a while - despite that first chapter - and I'm sure there are still multiple layers to it that I haven't even figured out yet. It's not a book that will be going to the charity shop anytime soon.