SF Masterwork of the Week: Lord of Light

Roger Zelazny is probably best-remembered for his other-world fantasy sequence, The Chronicles of Amber, but perhaps his finest work – certainly in the field of SF – is Lord of Light, winner of the Hugo Award for best novel.

Imagine a distant world where gods walk as men, but wield vast and hidden powers. Here they have made the stage on which they build a subtle pattern of alliance, love, and deadly enmity. Are they truly immortal? Who are these gods who rule the destiny of a teeming world?

Their names include Brahma, Kali, Krishna and also he who was called Buddha, the Lord of Light, but who now prefers to be known simply as Sam. The gradual unfolding of the story — how the colonization of another planet became a re-enactment of Eastern mythology — is one of the great imaginative feats of modern science fiction


It is, in George R. R. Martin‘s view, ‘one of the best SF novels ever written’ and The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction calls it:

his most sustained single tale, richly conceived and plotted, exhilarating throughout its considerable length. Some of the crew of a human colony ship, which has deposited its settlers on a livable world, have made use of advanced Technology (including Identity Transfer) to ensconce themselves in the role of gods, selecting their role models from the Hindu pantheon, including a fatally attractive She figure. But where Hinduism flourishes, the Buddha – in the shape of the protagonist Sam – must follow; and his liberation of the humans of the planet, who are mortal descendants of the original settlers, takes on aspects of both Prometheus and Coyote the Trickster. At points, Sam may seem just another of Zelazny’s stable of slangy, raunchy, over-loved immortals; but the end effect of the book is liberating, wise, lucid.

And who are we to argue?