A book by Roger Zelazny. Considered to be one of the best books he ever wrote (others include This Immortal and the Amber series).

The book is set on a colony planet (no longer in contact with Earth for reasons not specified) where the crew of the colony ship have set themselves up as Gods (Hindu gods, to be exact), using advanced technology to make themselves effectively immortal (they can change bodies) and ruling over the colonists. Gradually the colonists have forgotten their origins and revert to a dark age, treating technology as magic.

One of the few who oppose the Gods is (in the best Zelazny style) known by many names which include Siddhartha, Binder of Demons, Lord of Light, Mahasamatman, Great-Souled Sam (but he prefers just Sam). The book chronicles Sam's opposition to the Gods and their principles, and the war that is fought along the way.

The following excerpt from Lord of Light provides a flavor of the rich imagery of Roger Zelazny. I read this book in a high school science fiction literature class. The rich mythology of the Indian sub-continent lent itself very well to the magic implied in advanced technology.

This is one of the few books I return to every once in a while to submerge myself in the humid, overcrowded, orchid-strewn scenery. If ever a time comes when I will be called upon to memorize a book - to become the book - as in Fahrenheit 451, then Lord of Light will be my incarnation.

In the story Kali, the goddess of death, and Yama, the god of death are to be married. Kali is actually the latest avatar, or incarnation, of one of the original starship's crew (referred to as 'the First'). She had many lives and centuries earlier carved an empire out of this untamed world with Kalkin, who now is known as Siddhartha and the story's protagonist. He also was one of the original ship's crew. Yama is a "snot-nosed", third generation scientific and inventive genius who was gravely hurt in an accident as a teenager and was transferred into an aged body in the emergency. He became enamored with the concept of death - he had lived as an old man before he knew what it was like to be young.

These two, Kali and Yama are part of the antagonist side of the conflict over who should rule and how much power those who do rule should have over the masses. Siddhartha and others oppose the 'will of Heaven' with a populist, democratic philosophy. But they use the power of religion and myth to fight their battles. What follows is a description of the gods and demigods arriving for the wedding feast.

Excerpt from Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny, Avon Books, New York, 1967, pp. 216-217


The Marriage of Kali and Yama

They came.
Out of the sky, riding on the polar winds, across the seas and the land, over the burning snow, and under it and through it,
they came.

The shape-shifters drifted across the fields of white,
and the sky-walkers

fell
down
like
leaves;

trumpets sounded over the wastes, and the chariots of the snows thundered forward, light leaping like spears from their burnished sides; cloaks of fur afire, white plumes of massively breathed air trailing above and behind them, golden-gauntleted and sun-eyed, clanking and skidding, rushing and whirling,

they came,

in
bright baldric,
wer-mask,
fire-scarf,
devil-shoe,
frost-greaves and
power-helm,
they came;

and across the world that lay at their back, there was rejoicing in the Temples, with much singing and the making of offerings, and processions and prayers, sacrifices and dispensations, pageantry and color.

For the much feared goddess was to be wedded with Death, and it was hoped that this would serve to soften both their dispositions.

A festive spirit had also infected Heaven, and with the gathering of the gods and the demigods, the heroes and the nobles, the high priests and the favored rajahs and high-ranking Brahmins, this spirit obtained force and momentum and spun like an all-colored whirlwind, thundering in the heads of the First and latest alike.

So they came to the Celestial City, riding on the backs of the cousins of the Garuda Bird, spinning down in sky gondolas, rising up through arteries of the mountains, blazing across the snow-soaked, ice-tracked wastes, to make Milehigh Spire to ring with their song, to laugh through a spell of brief and inexplicable darkness that descended and dispersed again, shortly; and in the days and nights of their coming, it was said by the poet Adasay that they resembled at least six different things (he was always lavish with his similes):

  • a migration of birds, bright birds, across a waveless ocean of milk;

  • a procession of musical notes through the head of a slightly mad composer;

  • a school of those deep swimming fish whose bodies are whorls and runnels of light, circling about some phosphorescent plant within a cold a sea-deep pit;

  • the Spiral Nebula, suddenly collapsing upon its center;

  • a storm, each drop of which becomes a feather, songbird or jewel; and

  • (perhaps most cogent) a Temple full of terrible and highly decorated statues, suddenly animated and singing, suddenly rushing forth across the world, bright banners playing in the wind, shaking palaces, and toppling towers, to meet at the center of everything, to kindle and enormous fire and dance about it, with the ever-present possibility of either the fire or the dance going completely out of control.

They came.

end of excerpt

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