Lord of Light
Lord of Light (1967) is an epic science fiction/fantasy novel by Roger Zelazny. Awarded the 1968 Hugo Award for Best Novel, and nominated for a Nebula Award in the same category, it tells of a rebellion on a planet whose original settlers, equipped with powerful abilities and advanced technology, keep most of society at a very primitive level, and rule the world as "gods" based upon the Hindu pantheon. They completely control the technology of re-incarnation which provides the opportunity for near-immortality for most people, but not always in such forms as they themselves would chose, and the rebellious are often re-incarnated in animal form. "Sam" (or "Kalkin" who is known by many names), one of the most powerful of "The First" sets out to change this situation. Parts of an unmade film project for this novel were used as cover to rescue US officials from revolutionary Iran, in a CIA operation known as the Canadian Caper, which is the basis for the film Argo.
- It is said that fifty-three years after his liberation he returned from the Golden Cloud, to take up once again the gauntlet of Heaven, to oppose the Order of Life and the gods who ordained it so. His followers had prayed for his return, though their prayers were sin. Prayer should not trouble one who has gone on to Nirvana, no matter what the circumstances of his going. The wearers of the saffron robe prayed, however, that He of the Sword, Manjusri, should come again among them, The Boddhisatva is said to have heard...
- Chapter introduction
- His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the Maha- and the -atman, and called himself Sam. He never claimed to be a god. But then, he never claimed not to be a god. Circumstances being what they were, neither admission could be of any benefit. Silence, though, could.
- Opening words.
- It was in the days of the rains that their prayers went up, not from the fingering of knotted prayer cords or the spinning of prayer wheels, but from the great pray-machine in the monastery of Ratri, goddess of the Night.
- Despite his fall from favor, Yama was still deemed mightiest of the artificers, though it was not doubted that the Gods of the City would have him to die the real death were they to learn of the pray-machine. For that matter, though, it was not doubted that they would have him to die the real death without the excuse of the pray-machine, also, were he to come into their custody. How he would settle this matter with the Lords of Karma was his own affair, though none doubted that when the time came he would find a way.
- "Your prayers and your curses come to the same, Lord Yama," commented the ape. "That is to say, nothing."
"It has taken you seventeen incarnations to arrive at this truth?" said Yama. "I can see then why you are still doing time as an ape."
- Not by the normal course of events shall we be restored or matters settled, Tak of the Bright Spear. We must beat our own path.
- Ratri to Tak
- When there is no real hope we must mint our own. If the coin be counterfeit it may still be passed.
- Ratri to Tak
- Sam was the greatest charlatan in the memory of god or man. He was also the worthiest opponent Trimurti ever faced.
- Ratri to Tak
- It makes a great deal of difference, you see. It is the difference between the unknown and the unknowable, between science and fantasy—it is a matter of essence. The four points of the compass be logic, knowledge, wisdom and the unknown. Some do bow in that final direction. Others advance upon it. To bow before the one is to lose sight of the three. I may submit to the unknown, but never to the unknowable. The man who bows in that final direction is either a saint or a fool. I have no use for either.
- Yama to Tak
- I have many names, and none of them matter.
- Sam in a sermon to his followers.
- Names are not important... To speak is to name names, but to speak is not important. A thing happens once that has never happened before. Seeing it, a man looks upon reality. He cannot tell others what he has seen. Others wish to know, however, so they question him saying, 'What is it like, this thing you have seen?' So he tries to tell them. Perhaps he has seen the very first fire in the world. He tells them, 'It is red, like a poppy, but through it dance other colors. It has no form, like water, flowing everywhere. It is warm, like the sun of summer, only warmer. It exists for a time upon a piece of wood, and then the wood is gone, as though it were eaten, leaving behind that which is black and can be sifted like sand. When the wood is gone, it too is gone.' Therefore, the hearers must think reality is like a poppy, like water, like the sun, like that which eats and excretes. They think it is like to anything that they are told it is like by the man who has known it. But they have not looked upon fire. They cannot really know it. They can only know of it. But fire comes again into the world, many times. More men look upon fire. After a time, fire is as common as grass and clouds and the air they breathe. They see that, while it is like a poppy, it is not a poppy, while it is like water, it is not water, while it is like the sun, it is not the sun, and while it is like that which eats and passes wastes, it is not that which eats and passes wastes, but something different from each of these apart or all of these together. So they look upon this new thing and they make a new word to call it. They call it 'fire.'
"If they come upon one who still has not seen it and they speak to him of fire, he does not know what they mean. So they, in turn, fall back upon telling him what fire is like. 'As they do so, they know from their own experience that what they are telling him is not the truth, but only a part of it. They know that this man will never know reality from their words, though all the words in the world are theirs to use. He must look upon the fire, smell of it, warm his hands by it, stare into its heart, or remain forever ignorant. Therefore, 'fire' does not matter, 'earth' and 'air' and 'water' do not matter. 'I' do not matter. No word matters. But man forgets reality and remembers words. The more words he remembers, the cleverer do his fellows esteem him. He looks upon the great transformations of the world, but he does not see them as they were seen when man looked upon reality for the first time. Their names come to his lips and he smiles as he tastes them, thinking he knows them in the naming. The thing that has never happened before is still happening. It is still a miracle. The great burning blossom squats, flowing, upon the limb of the world, excreting the ash of the world, and being none of these things I have named and at the same time all of them, and this is reality — the Nameless.
- Sam to his followers.
- I charge you — forget the names you bear, forget the words I speak as soon as they are uttered. Look, rather, upon the Nameless within yourselves, which arises as I address it. It hearkens not to my words, but to the reality within me, of which it is part. This is the atman, which hears me rather than my words. All else is unreal. To define is to lose. The essence of all things is the Nameless. The Nameless is unknowable, mightier even than Brahma. Things pass, but the essence remains. You sit, therefore, in the midst of a dream. Essence dreams it a dream of form. Forms pass, but the essence remains, dreaming new dreams. Man names these dreams and thinks to have captured the essence, not knowing that he invokes the unreal. These stones, these walls, these bodies you see seated about you are poppies and water and the sun. They are the dreams of the Nameless. They are fire, if you like.
- Sam to his followers.
- Occasionally, there may come a dreamer who is aware that he is dreaming. He may control something of the dream-stuff, bending it to his will, or he may awaken into greater self-knowledge. If he chooses the path of self-knowledge, his glory is great and he shall be for all ages like unto a star. If he chooses instead the way of the Tantras, combining Samsara and Nirvana, comprehending the world and continuing to live in it, this one is mighty among dreamers.
- Sam to his followers.
- To dwell within Samsara, however, is to be subject to the works of those who are mighty among dreamers. If they be mighty for good, it is a golden time. If they be mighty for ill, it is a time of darkness. The dream may turn to nightmare.
- Sam to his followers.
- This night the Lord of Illusion passed among you — Mara, mighty among dreamers — mighty for ill. He did come upon another who may work with the stuff of dreams in a different way. He did meet with Dharma, who may expel a dreamer from his dream. They did struggle, and the Lord Mara is no more.
- Sam to his followers, regarding the battle they had witnessed between Mara and Yama.
- To struggle against the dreamers who dream ugliness, be they men or gods, cannot but be the will of the Nameless. This struggle will also bear suffering, and so one's karmic burden will be lightened thereby, just as it would be by enduring the ugliness; but this suffering is productive of a higher end in the light of the eternal values of which the sages so often speak.
- Sam to his followers.
- "For a spur of the moment thing, you came up with a fairly engaging sermon."
"Do you really believe what you preached?"
Sam laughed. "I'm very gullible when it comes to my own words. I believe everything I say, though I know I'm a liar."
- Yama and Sam
- I just wanted to try another line on the audience. It is difficult to stir rebellion among those to whom all things are good. There is no room for evil in their minds, despite the fact that they suffer it constantly. The slave upon the rack who knows that he will be born again — perhaps as a fat merchant — if he suffers willingly — his outlook is not the same as that of a man with but one life to live. He can bear anything, knowing that great as his present pain may be, his future pleasure will rise higher. If such a one does not choose to believe in good or evil, perhaps then beauty and ugliness can be made to serve him as well. Only the names have been changed.
- Sam to Yama
- "Yama thinks the Golden Cloud to have changed you."
"Perhaps it has."
"He believes it to have softened you, weakened you. You have always posed as a mystic, but now he believes you have become one — to your own undoing, to our undoing."
He shook his head, turned around. But he did not see her. Stood she there invisible, or had she withdrawn? He spoke softly and without inflection:
"I shall tear these stars from out the heavens," he stated, "and hurl them in the faces of the gods, if this be necessary. I shall blaspheme in every Temple throughout the land. I shall take lives as a fisherman takes fish, by the net, if this be necessary. I shall mount me again up to the Celestial City, though every step be a flame or a naked sword and the way be guarded by tigers. One day will the gods look down from Heaven and see me upon the stair, bringing them the gift they fear most. That day will the new Yuga begin.
- Ratri and Sam
- He played tune after forbidden tune, and the professional musicians put professional expressions of scorn upon their faces; but beneath the table several feet were tapping in slow time with the music.
- On a musician who had been instructed by Sam to play The Blue Danube.
- Good luck. No gods be with you!
- The Prince to his men
- It is said that, when the Teacher appeared, those of all castes went to hear his teachings, as well as animals, gods and an occasional saint, to come away improved and uplifted. It was generally conceded that he had received enlightenment, except by those who believed him to be a fraud, sinner, criminal or practical joker. These latter ones were not all to be numbered as his enemies; but, on the other hand, not all of those improved and uplifted could be counted as his friends and supporters. His followers called him Mahasamatman and some said he was a god. So, after it was seen that he had been accepted as a teacher, was looked upon with respect, had many of the wealthy numbered as his supporters and had gained a reputation reaching far across the land, he was referred to as Tathagatha, meaning He Who Has Achieved. It must be noted that while the goddess Kali (sometimes known as Durga in her softer moments) never voiced a formal opinion as to his buddhahood, she did render him the singular honor of dispatching her holy executioner to pay him her tribute, rather than a mere hired assassin....
- The local Brahmins did not approve of the antiritualistic teachings of the Buddha, but his presence filled their coffers to overflowing; so they learned to live in his squat shadow, never voicing the word tirthika—heretic.
- The Buddha, looking imperturbable, returned his attention to the drama. A monk seated nearby noticed he was tapping his fingers on the ground, and he decided that the Enlightened One must be keeping time with the drumbeats, for it was common knowledge that he was above such things as impatience.
- "You may not have this man, oh Death," said the Master of the North, "for he belongs to the world, and we of the world will defend him."
- As you know, the personal strengths and weakness of a leader are no true indication of the merits of his cause.
- Sam to Yama
- Even a mirror will not show you yourself, if you do not wish to see.
- Sam to Yama
- It is told how the Lord of Light descended into the Well of the Demons, to make there a bargain with the chief of the Rakasha. He dealt in good faith, but the Rakasha are the Rakasha. That is to say, they are malefic creatures, possessed of great powers, life-span and the ability to assume nearly any shape. The Rakasha are almost indestructible. Their chiefest lack is a true body; their chiefest virtue, their honor toward their gambling debts. That the Lord of Light went to Hellwell at all serves to show that perhaps he was somewhat distraught concerning the state of the world...
- Hellwell lies at the top of the world and it leads down to its roots.
It is probably as old as the world itself; and if it is not, it should be, because it looks as if it were.
- Describing the prison of the demons (The Rakasha, the planet's native energy-beings)..
- There is a huge, burnished metal door, erected by the First, that is heavy as sin, three times the height of a man and half that distance in width. It is a full cubit thick and bears a head-sized ring of brass, a complicated pressure-plate lock and an inscription that reads, roughly, "Go away. This is not a place to be. If you do try to enter here, you will fail and also be cursed. If somehow you succeed, then do not complain that you entered unwarned, nor bother us with your deathbed prayers." Signed, "The Gods."
- Describing the sealed entrance of Hellwell
- Very few feet have ever trod the trail that leads to Hellwell. Of those who visited, most came only to look, to see whether the great door really existed; and when they returned home and told of having seen it, they were generally mocked.
- Think not, oh Siddhartha, that because you wear a different body you go now unrecognized. I look upon the flows of energy which are your real being — not the flesh that masks them.
- Taraka to Sam
- A facility with oaths is not the most reassuring quality in a bargainer. And your strength is also your weakness in any bargaining at all. You are so strong as to be unable to grant to another the power to control you. You have no gods to swear by. The only thing you will honor is a gambling debt, and there are no grounds for gaming here.
- Sam to Taraka
- "It is a difficult problem," said Taraka. "I should give anything I have to be free — but then, all that I have is power — pure power, in essence uncommittable. A greater force might subdue it, but that is not the answer. I do not really know how to give you satisfactory assurance that my promise will be kept. If I were you, I certainly would not trust me."
- Taraka to Sam
- "What is your power, Siddhartha? How do you do what you do?" it asked him.
"Call it electrodirection," said the other, "mind over energy. It is as good a term as any. But whatever you call it, do not seek to cross it again. I can kill you with it, though no weapon formed of matter may be laid upon you. Go now!"
- Taraka and Sam after Sam has released Taraka.
- "I came to Hellwell, the wrath of the gods swarming and buzzing at my back. Now sixty-six demons are loose in the world. Very soon, your presence will be felt. The gods will know who has done this thing, and they will take steps against us. The element of surprise will be lost."
"We fought the gods in the days of old . . ."
"And these are not the days of old, Taraka. The gods are stronger now, much stronger. Long have you been bound, and their might has grown over the ages. Even if you command the first army of Rakasha in history, and backing them in battle I raise me up a mighty army of men — even then, will the final result be a thing uncertain. To delay now is to throw everything away."
- Sam trying to convince Taraka not to delay in preparing for battle against the gods.
- From Hellwell to Heaven he went, there to commune with the gods. The Celestial City holds many mysteries, including some of the keys to his own past. Not all that transpired during the time he dwelled there is known. It is known, however, that he petitioned the gods on behalf of the world, obtaining the sympathy of some, the enmity of others. Had he chosen to betray humanity and accept the proffers of the gods, it is said by some that he might have dwelled forever as a Lord of the City and not have met his death beneath the claws of the phantom cats of Kaniburrha...
- Vishnu, in his wisdom, had seen that there must be a balance between the metropolis and the wilderness. While wilderness can exist independent of cities, that which dwells within a city requires more than the tamed plants of a pleasance. If the world were all city, he had reasoned, the dwellers within it would turn a portion of it into a wilderness, for there is that within them all which desires that somewhere there be an end to order and a beginning of chaos. So, within his mind there had grown up a forest, pumping forth streams and the smells of growth and decay, uttering the cries of the uncitied creatures who dwelled within its shadows, shrugging in the wind and glistening in the rain, falling down and growing up again.
- "I knew him a long time ago," said Rudra.
"He wasn't then. Wasn't much of anything, politically. He was one of the First, though, one of those who had looked upon Urath."
"He distinguished himself in the wars against the People-of-the-Sea and against the Mothers of the Terrible Glow." Here, Rudra made a sign in the air. "Later," he continued, "this was remembered, and he was given charge of the northern marches in the wars against the demons. He was known as Kalkin in those days, and it was there that he came to be called Binder. He developed an Attribute which he could use against the demons. With it, he destroyed most of the Yakshas and bound the Rakasha. When Yama and Kali captured him at Hellwell in Malwa, he had already succeeded in freeing these latter. Thus, the Rakasha are again abroad in the world."
- "You fertility deities are worse than Marxists," he said. "You think that's all that goes on between people. We were just friends for a time, but she is too hard on her friends and so loses them."
- Rudra about Kali, to Murugan
- As there is a time for everything, there is a time also for the end of anything. This is an age for the consolidation of man’s gains upon this world. This is a time for the sharing of knowledge, not the crossing of blades.
- Sam to Kali
- You are a fool to speak of last great battles, Sam, for the last great battle is always the next one.
- Kali to Sam
- Doubt, Lady, is the chastity of the mind, and I bear its seal upon my own.
- Sam to Kali
- I do not have the time to give you more than my contempt.
- Kali to Sam
- Ganesha the god-maker regarded the jungle about him. Though he walked through the realm of the phantom cats, he feared no evil. For the Lord of Chaos walked by his side, and the Trident of Destruction comforted him.
- "Are you not Maitreya, Lord of Light, for whom the world has waited, lo, these many years — he whose coming I prophesied long ago in a poem?"
"No, my name is Sam," he replied, "and I am about to depart the world, not enter into it. Who are you?"
"I am a bird who was once a poet. All morning have I flown, since the yawp of Garuda opened the day. I was flying about the ways of Heaven looking for Lord Rudra, hoping to befoul him with my droppings, when I felt the power of a weird come over the land. I have flown far, and I have seen many things, Lord of Light"
- "I have seen all-colored Mara atop the spire of the highest tower, and I have felt the power of the weird he lays — for I have seen the phantom cats troubled within the wood, then hurrying in this direction. I have seen the tears of a man and of a woman. I have heard the laughter of a goddess. I have seen a bright spear uplifted against the morning, and I have heard an oath spoken. I have seen the Lord of Light at last, of whom I wrote, long ago:
- Always dying, never dead;
Ever ending, never ended;
Loathed in darkness,
Clothed in light,
He comes, to end a world,
As morning ends the night.
These lines were writ
By Morgan, free,
Who shall, the day he dies,
See this prophecy."
- Always dying, never dead;
- The bird ruffled his feathers then and was still.
"I am pleased, bird, that you have had a chance to see many things," said Sam, "and that within the fiction of your metaphor you have achieved a certain satisfaction. Unfortunately, poetic truth differs considerably from that which surrounds most of the business of life."
"Hail, Lord of Light!" said the bird, and sprang into the air. As he rose, he was pierced through by an arrow shot from a nearby window by one who hated jackbirds.
Sam hurried on.
- During the time that followed the death of Brahma, there came upon the Celestial City a period of turmoil. Several among the gods were even expelled from Heaven. It was a time when just about everyone feared being considered an Accelerationist; and, as fate would have it, at some point or other during this period, just about everyone was considered an Accelerationist. Though Great-Souled Sam was dead, his spirit was said to live on, mocking. Then, in the days of disaffection and intrigue that led up to the Great Battle, it was rumored that more than his spirit might have lived on.
- I am but young, as gods go, but I have heard it said that in the early days of the world the hero with whom you rode — Kalkin — was the same as the one called Sam. If you had reason to hate your ancient Lord, and Sam was truly he, then could I see their enlisting you against this thing he had started. Might this be true?
- Yama to Kali
- "Revenge is part of the illusion of self. How can a man kill that which neither lives nor dies truly, but which exists only as a reflection of the Absolute?"
"You did a pretty good job of it, though, even if, as you say, it was only a rearrangement."
- Sam and Kubera
- "I decided that mankind could live better without gods. If I disposed of them all, people could start having can openers and cans to open again, and things like that, without fearing the wrath of Heaven. We've stepped on these poor fools enough. I wanted to give them a chance to be free, to build what they wanted."
"But they live, and they live and they live."
"Sometimes, and sometimes not. So do the gods."
"You were about the last Accelerationist left in the world, Sam. No one would have thought you were also the deadliest."
- Sam and Kubera
- "The gods are strong — stronger than they have ever been before."
"But tell me who is coming to aid us."
"Lord Nirriti the Black, who hates all things, hates the Gods of the City most of all. So he is sending a thousand unliving ones to fight on the plains beside the Vedra. He said that, after the battle, we of the Rakasha may take our choice from the bodies which yet remain among the mindless ones he has grown."
"I do not relish aid from the Black One, but I am in no position to discriminate..."
- Taraka and Sam
- It is said that each day recapitulates the history of the world, coming up out of darkness and cold into confused light and beginning warmth, consciousness blinking its eyes somewhere in midmorning, awakening thoughts a jumble of illogic and unattached emotion, and all speeding together toward the order of noontide, the slow, poignant decline of dusk, the mystical vision of twilight, the end of entropy that is night once more.
- "There are only demigods and men upon the field," said Death. "They are still testing our strength. There are very few who remember the full power of Kalkin."
"The full power of Kalkin?" asked Sam. "That has never been released, oh Death. Not in all the ages of the world.
- Yama and Sam
- Overhead, the thunder chariot passed once again. Sam raised his lance and pyrotechnic hell broke loose about the passing vessel.
"You should not have let them know you could do that! Not yet!"
- Yama to Sam
- "The Buddha has gone to nirvana," said Brahma. "Preach it in the Temples! Sing it in the streets'. Glorious was his passing! He has reformed the old religion, and we are better now than ever before! Let all who would think otherwise remember Keenset!"
- Brahma, (formerly Kali) at the second funeral of Sam.
- Another name by which he is sometimes called is Maitreya, meaning Lord of Light. After his return from the Golden Cloud, he journeyed to the Palace of Kama at Khaipur, where he planned and built his strength against the Day of the Yuga. A sage once said that one never sees the Day of the Yuga, but only knows it when it is past. For it dawns like any other day and passes in the same wise, recapitulating the history of the world.
- "Men no longer fear Heaven so much as they used to. They are more willing to defend themselves; and now that they are better equipped, the gods are less willing to face them."
"Then Sam is winning. Across the years, he is beating them."
- Jan Olvegg and Nirriti
- Taraka of the Rakasha was uneasy. Flitting above the clouds that moved through the middle of the day, he thought upon the ways of power. He had once been mightiest. In the days before the binding there had been none who could stand against him. Then Siddhartha the Binder had come. He had known of him earlier, known of him as Kalkin and had known him to be strong. Sooner or later, he had realized, they would have to meet, that he might test the power of that Attribute which Kalkin was said to have raised up. When they had come together, on that mighty, gone day when the mountaintops had flared with their fury, on that day the Binder had won. And in their second encounter, ages afterward, he had somehow beaten him even more fully. But he had been the only one, and now he was gone from out the world. Of all creatures, only the Binder had bested the Lord of Hellwell. Then the gods had come to challenge his power. They had been puny in the early days, struggling to discipline their mutant powers with drugs, hypnosis, meditation, neurosurgery — forging them into Attributes — and across the ages, those powers had grown. Four of them had entered Hellwell, only four, and his legions had not been able to repel them. The one called Shiva was strong, but the Binder had later slain him. This was as it should be, for Taraka recognized the Binder as a peer.
- I know my power is returning. I can feel it. Many things are returning now. During the weeks we have dwelled here in Ratri's palace I have meditated upon my past lives. They were not all failures, deathgod. I have decided this today. Though Heaven has beaten me at every turn, each victory has cost them much.
- Sam to Yama
- Taraka screamed as Siddhartha rode toward him upon a white horse, the air crackling and smelling of ozone:
"No, Binder! Hold your power! My death belongs to Yama . . ."
"Oh foolish demon!" said Sam. "It need not have been..."
- "You? You rose again?"
"It doesn't count," said Sam. "I didn't do it the hard way."
Tears filled the Black One's eyes. "It means you'll win, though," he gasped. "I can't understand why He permitted it..."
- Sam and Renfrew (Nirriti)
- Though Heaven has beaten me at every turn, each victory has cost them much.
- I shall return to being a man, and I shall let the people keep the Buddha who is in their hearts. Whatever the source, the message was pure, believe me. That is the only reason it took root and grew.
- Sam to Renfrew
- “Something always manages to draw me near the tree that lightning is about to fall upon.”
“Rather an accidental social conscience and some right mistake-making, I fear.”
- Sam and Tak
- The spoon came alive with spoon-ness and the ball with ball-ness and the block with block-ness, and the girl laughed. Even the puppy seemed to study the objects.
- Description of Kubera beginning to help Yama teach lessons to Murga
- Death and Light are everywhere, always, and they begin, end, strive, attend, into and upon the Dream of the Nameless that is the world, burning words within Samsara, perhaps to create a thing of beauty.
Quotes about Lord of Light
- I was pleased to get a copy of Roger Zelazny's novel Lord of Light the other day. It's one of my favourite books (I think the first thing author Steve Brust ever said to me was "Let's have an argument. Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light is the best book anyone's ever written." "Ah," I said, "If you make it best SF book of the 1960s, I'll go along with it." "Oh. Fair enough." It was the first of a long line of failed arguments.) It's got a blurb from me on it, which I hope sells many copies.
- Tricky and brilliant and heartfelt and dangerous.
- Neil Gaiman, blurb on the cover of the 2004 edition of Lord of Light.
- It's fantasy, or it's science fiction, or it's a retelling of the tales of the Hindu gods, as they encounter Mahasamatman, who may be Buddha and may just be a guy called Sam. It's a book I reread every few decades, and love.
- Lord Of Light is a novel about a future world after the destruction of Earth, conquered by men who, through ultratechnology, give themselves godlike powers and set themselves up as the old 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."
- Barry Ira Geller, writer of the screenplay for Lord of Light, in a summary of Lord of Light
- "Colonists from another planet conquer Earth and become the historic Hindu Gods until they turn against each other for control of the world. From this heralds the return of the Buddha, magic, spirituality, unification of all forces, and a new generation of mankind" … The international best-selling Hugo Award winning novel of science fantasy by: Roger Zelazny Lord of Light is … A metaphysical action adventure love story where the crew of a space ship colonize an ancient planet, their passengers become the populace, and they use their technology to turn themselves into powerful gods and goddesses. One man stands alone to fight his old colleagues and free mankind. … Sam is the dreamer and master schemer. He is the strategist and cosmic trickster who becomes Siddhartha and then the Buddha to ward off the iron grasp of Heaven. Sam is the ancient renegade god Kalkin whose powers become ever-more revealed to him as he fights to change the course of an entire civilization — and upon whose shoulders rests the future of the entire world.
In the end he will be recognized by history as the true leader, the Binder of Destiny, The Lord of Light…
- Barry Ira Geller, in a summary of Lord of Light
- Lord of Light is a wonderful novel, fully worthy of the praise it has garnered. It is set many centuries in the future, after "the death of Urath." On a colony planet, men have battled the previous inhabitants and won, and have established a society. This society is based on technological means of imitating the Hindu religion. Specifically, when the body nears death, it is possible to transfer the "mind" or "soul" to a new body, even the body of an animal. But some of the earliest colonists, including the "First," have additional powers, which give them the status of gods. They also have taken control of the means of reincarnation, and a faction among them is using that means in political ways: punishing their enemies with reincarnation as animals, or with the "true death." The result is a society of humans living in a world in which something resembling Hinduism is literally true. Furthermore, the leading faction of "gods" is using its powers to keep the technological level of human society low enough that their own position cannot be threatened.
The book opens with a renegade "god" at an isolated temple calling the book's hero back from "heaven."
- Mendez said he needed a movie script for a scheme that he had concocted to rescue six U.S. diplomatic personnel from the Canadian embassy in Iran where they were hiding.
The agent had planned to travel to Iran under the guise of a movie producer and fool Iranian officials into believing that the six Americans were actors and members of his production team.
Fortunately for Mendez, Chambers had the perfect script.
In December 1979, Chambers gave Mendez Geller's Lord of Light script and Kirby's storyboards, which had remained in Chambers' possession since the plug was pulled on the film's production.
Chambers and Mendez changed the name of the production from Lord of Light to Argo and the rest of the story became history, as the plan was successful and all six Americans made it home safely.
Geller said he didn't learn that his script had been used for the top secret mission until 2001.
- Hayley Peterson, reporting on how the screenplay for a cancelled Lord of Light film became a significant prop in the C.I.A operation dramatized in the film Argo, in "Revealed: The actual screenplay drawings behind 'Argo' that helped American hostages escape Iran in 1980" in Daily Mail (21 February 2013)
- In 1979, Geller penned Lord of Light, an adaptation of Roger Zelazny's Hugo Award-winning sci-fi novel. The title morphed into Argo when the CIA evacuated six US diplomats from Iran by turning them into a film crew. But contrary to how Affleck's film portrays it, the script wasn't just some jokey, throwaway nonsense a hack writer shat out. It was the opening salvo for a dream that would change the world.
With assistance from sci-fi visionaries Ray Bradbury, Paolo Solari, and artist Jack Kirby, Geller was using the script to help fund a science-fiction theme park named, appropriately enough, Science Fiction Land. Science Fiction Land would have been a place for top scientists to show off their gadgets to the public. In other words, something that's way more exciting than the movie Argo. (My friend described the situation best by saying, “Maybe this makes me a bad person, but I want to live in the alternate universe where a couple of Americans died in Iran and this theme park exists.”)
While the park's long dead, an Oscar-based jolt of enthusiasm has Geller kicking the tires on finally seeing his original script turned into a film, and he's the subject of a forthcoming documentary called Science Fiction Land.
- While few of the characters have much depth, they manage to be both human and, when they take on their Aspects and wield their Attributes, embodiments of fundamental forces. Sam himself is a crotchety old-timer and a con-man and a trickster — but also an embodiment of military prowess and defiance against odds. ... Myth and religion never actually break free from the scientific scaffolding, but they manage to make it irrelevant — one could almost consider Lord of Light a demonstration that their symbolic power does not rest on their metaphysical claims. ... Somehow all the disparate components of Lord of Light — humour and epic, science and religion, action and philosophy — come together in a successful novel. The result is my favourite Zelazny work and indeed one of my favourite science fiction novels of all time. Though it won the Hugo award in 1968, it has I think been relatively neglected; it can bear comparison with the much better known Dune (and there are parallels with Herbert's use of Sufism in that work).
- Lord of Light was intentionally written so that it could be taken as a science fiction or a fantasy novel. On the one hand, I attempted to provide some justifications for what went on in the way of the bizarre; on the other, I employed a style I associate with fantasy in the telling of the story. I wrote it that way on purpose, leaving some intentional ambiguity, because I wanted it to lie somewhat between both camps and not entirely in either. I did this because I did not see much stuff being written at that time which fit that description; because I wanted to see whether I could do it; and because I was curious as to how such a book would be received.
- Roger Zelazny, as quoted in "'…And Call Me Roger' : The Literary Life of Roger Zelazny", Part 2, by Christopher S. Kovacs, in The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny (2009), Vol. 2