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Roger Zelazny
During his career, Roger Zelazny won 6 Hugos and 3 Nebulas as well as many other major awards in the SF field. Several of his novels and short stories are considered landmarks, including Lord of Light, Creatures of Light and Darkness, "Home is the Hangman," and "A Rose for Ecclesiastes." The 10-volume Chronicles of Amber is regarded as a classic fantasy series. For the last 10 years of his life (he died in 1995), Zelazny lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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Lord of Light

Roger Zelazny

This is a novel about a world conquered by Earth men who, through ultratechnology, give themselves godlike powers and set themselves up as the Hindu gods to rule the common people. Called The First, they have achieved a kind of immortality by transferring their identities from old bodies to new ones. These deicrats (as Zelazny calls them) through centuries of "divine" rule, have become corrupt, and only one among them will openly oppose their tyranny. He is the hero, "…who was variously known as Mahasamatman, Kalkin, Manjusri, Siddhartha, Tathagatha, Binder, Maitreya, the Enlight-ened One, Buddha and Sam" (Lord 16). Sam, in looking for an ideal way to oppose the Hindu "gods," takes on the personification of the Buddha and teaches the Way of Enlightenment. Preaching Accelerationism, "the belief that the Hindu pantheon should share their technological knowledge with the other people of the planet" (Krulik 70), Sam liberates the minds of the people and turns some of them away from the laws of Karma and the gods. He then assumes his old identity as Siddhartha, the Binder, and releases the old energy beings that once ruled the planet to raise an army against the city of Heaven. Though he gains allies among the First and costs the forces of Heaven dearly in the battle of Keenset, he is defeated, and his atman or soul is scattered into the magnetic cloud surrounding the planet.

During his absence of some 50 years, the gods, severely weakened, are unable to stop the spread of Acceleration and Buddhism. They no longer have control over the entire population of men. Another of the First called Nirriti, who was the crew’s chaplain and who left Heaven of his own will, decides to take advantage of the situation and wage a Christian holy war to destroy utterly the Hindu religion. At about the same time, Yama-Dharma, Lord of Death, one of Sam’s early allies, manages to collect his atman and reincarnate him to lead them again in their fight against Heaven. But Sam and his forces finally end up joining the Hindu gods against their greater enemy, Nirriti. After this second great battle at Khaipur, Sam’s side is the true winner: Nirriti is destroyed, and the old gods are weakened sufficiently that men are free to live as they choose; only Vishnu, the Preserver, reigns in Heaven.

There are direct parallels to be drawn between the interaction of Hinduism and Buddhism and Zelazny’s form and chaos theory. Yoke writes:

In the relationship between Hinduism and Buddhism, Zelazny found a perfect metaphor for his own doctrine. The parallels between the historical relationship of the two great religions and the novel are obvious. Buddha found Hinduism to be static and corrupt, weighed down by its own dead and meaningless ritual, insensitive to the common man, and too complex to be understood by him. Sam …found the Hindu system of the novel …to be the same. Buddha’s mission on Earth was to reform the old religion, not to start a new one. Sam’s mission…is identical, to reform the old religion through Accelerationism. Both men are instruments of change (Reader’s Guide 61).

And we see the change brought on in the world by Sam’s actions. He must be a force of destruction in order to restore the proper rhythm to men’s lives. Sam himself evolves throughout the course of the story. His immortality grants him the length of time necessary for such personal change. Each of his many names reflects a different person he has become, even to the point that he says, about the Buddha, "‘I don’t recall any longer whether I was really that one, or whether it was another. But I am gone away from that one now’" (Lord 311). At first, he takes a Machiavellian approach to it all, doing whatever he deems necessary to achieve his goals. Though he spends years as the Buddha, he doesn’t believe a word of his own teaching; he is still willing to murder Brahma and Shiva in the city of Heaven; he still goes to battle against the gods. And he loses, because he is flawed: he has failed to integrate all the creative and destructive forces within himself. But by the end of the story, Sam has become all of the men/gods he once was, and his side prevails. He has managed to attain true enlightenment.