Lord of Light is Roger Zelazny’s 1967 part science fiction, part fantasy novel, set in a world that brings together modern western characters with Hinduism and Buddhism. It is perhaps Zelazny’s most famous novel, and it was nominated both for the Nebula and the Hugo Awards, winning the latter.
I came across this book through my dissertation on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Martin often recommends Zelazny’s work on his blog and in his interviews, and indeed uses the phrase ‘Lord of Light’ in his own series. Thus, I thought it would be important for me to read this novel as background reading for A Song of Ice and Fire. As it turned out, Lord of Light was not particularly useful for that, but man am I glad that I read it.
This book is simply compulsively readable. I had to read it at breakneck speed, and I was happy that I could (mostly) justify the time spent on it as being productive for my dissertation. The first half of the book hooks you with the mystery of what this strange world: who are these characters, and how is it that these ancient gods are alive. By about the halfway point, the answers to these questions have been provided (and they are fantastic answers, and perhaps make for one of the most awesome concepts for a book I have come across in fantasy and science fiction), but by that point you’re completely hooked on finding out whether the main character succeeds in his very grand plans.
Zelazny often mentioned that he intentionally wrote the novel so that it could stand either as science fiction or as fantasy. The fantastic execution of this idea adds to how awesome I find the concept of this book to be. While reading the story, there is a definite mystery concerning whether certain elements of the story are science or fantasy. Having finished the book, I personally feel that ultimately the various parts of the book exist quite strictly in one or the other side of that divide. This is perhaps a point against the execution of Zelazny’s idea; however, the fact that the book as a whole cannot (even after having finished it) be simply categorised as either science fiction or fantasy, does make up for that.
Finally, I have to mention The Pun in the middle of the book (you’ll see it if you read it; if not, it’s simple enough to google). It’s said that that pun is Zelazny’s original idea for this novel, and the reason that he wrote it: a fact that is about as wonderfully ridiculous as the pun itself.
Lord of Light is a classic of both science fiction and fantasy, and deservedly so. It brilliantly executes on a wonderful concept, making it impossible to put down while reading. I highly recommend that fans of either genre (and especially fans of both genres) pick this one up: you won’t be disappointed.