I’m going according to my own personal order of precedence: Lord of Light is in my opinion perhaps not the best, but certainly the coolest, thing next to Dune. It’s by far the best of the few Zelazny works I have read (although “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” is similar enough), and top-drawer among far-reaching, ambitious science fiction.
Lord of Light takes place on a colony world that has all but forgotten the existence of “vanished Urath”–but much of culture we would recognize does persist. Specifically, the conflict between Hinduism and Buddhism. The technology that (long before the era of the story) has set the plot in motion is a “reincarnation” device that allows rich or powerful enough people to transfer to new bodies, but as a technology this barely plays a part. The real kick-start to the story is that those who control this technology have by now lived long enough to have discovered and developed within themselves certain psychic abilities … and that they declare themselves the gods of the planet, based on the Hindu pantheon. They are opposed by an original settler of the world, Sam, who plays out the Buddha’s role, speaking for the oppressed against the status quo.
I read Lord of Light long before I knew anything significant about Eastern religions, and it blew my mind. I have since studied Hinduism academically, and Lord of Light loses nothing with increased familiarity. I referred earlier to this book as being simply cool. Read this:
Being a god is the quality of being able to be yourself to such an extent that your passions correspond with the forces of the universe….
It’s all the better when I tell you that this, my favorite speech in the novel, comes from Yama, the Deathgod. But then it’s better still when you reflect that this is not inconsistent with the teachings of all sorts of religious cosmologies. There is a natural law, which one can access by digging deep enough within oneself. Or, in slightly more Hindu terms, the universe is one. It gives me courage.
Courage, however, is not why I read Lord of Light. There’s a couple of awesomely written scenes. There’s some wry characters. There’s some to be learned, and far more to consider. And, as in many of my favorites, there are no easy answers.