Notes on Lord of Light (1967) by Roger Zelazny

The line that is most often quoted from Zelazny’s Lord of Light is that one about people calling him Mahasamatman anf him shortening it to just Sam. I’m guessing this is Zelazny’s way of indicating Sam’s unpretentiousness – which is nice. But as A South Indian, its like nails on chalkboard. It strikes a bit too close to the particularly common American habit of shortening any name ending with -samy or -sami, whether its Kandasamy or Iyyasami, to Sam. I understand that another culture’s names can be hard but it’s the unacknowledged entitlement, the quiet and automatic assumption of one-way compromise that grates.

Another oft-quoted tidbit is the fact that it was the props from the aborted Lord of Light movie that was used in the CIA plot to rescue Americans from Iran during the revolution (recreated in Ben Affleck’s Argo). It is a nice tidbit but definitely irrelevant in any analysis of the book.

There are lots of things about the book that are actually worth discussing. One is the strange structure. The book’s middle is entirely a flashback. This sort of U-shaped story structure – beginning and ending with the present but dipping into the past for the entire middle section – is not very common. Mostly because it doesn’t work very well. Iron Council, which is probably my favourite China Mieville book, has more or less the same structure. Except while Iron Council is extremely easy to keep track of, Lord of Light doesn’t give you any indications of the time jump. You just have to figure it out for yourself. Not something you associate with ‘easy’ genre fiction.

Another is the fact that his use of Indian mythology is actually quite good. Maybe my eye is not seeing things but I probably wouldn’t be able to tell that he wasn’t Indian in a blind test. He mixed science fiction and fantasy elements in a way that is quite tricky to do – most readers don’t like it when a book shifts genre in the middle. Regardless of what genre. But the introduction of futuristic technology to a low-magic setting is one of the harder ones.

There is a kind of weird attitude to the female body and its ‘inherent’ weakness in the book.