Friday, October 19, 2012

Lord of Light

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny has been one of my favorite novels since high school. I reread it a few months ago and found that I had forgotten several parts and had new insight on others. I also just discovered that the film adaptation of this novel was the basis for the events in the movie Argo which is about the rescue of several Americans by the CIA during the Iranian hostage crisis.

Zelazny wrote several novels putting mythological creatures in a science fiction setting. This one concerned the Hindu pantheon and the Buddha.

The back story is that a planet was colonized centuries before. When they arrived, the crew discovered that the planet was inhabited by creatures who had once had bodies. These are referred to as demons. The demons are powerful, bored, and amoral. They quickly discovered the delights of possessing the new human colonists.

The crew fought them and, in the process developed mutant abilities to aid them. These abilities made them god-like and eventually they began styling themselves after Hindu gods. When using their abilities, the gods can take on an aspect, sort of an aura that makes you know that this is a god, and attribute, the ability itself. Many of them also have technology which boosts their abilities. For example, the lord of fire can set things on fire with his glance but uses a wand that harnesses the Universal Fire. Using it he can burn anything within sight and he also has powerful telescopic goggles so he can see a very long way.

Reincarnation happens through body banks - bodies grown for this purpose. When you get old you submit to the Lords of Karma who use a probe to examine your life. If you have not been properly reverent to the gods you might be refused reincarnation or reincarnated as a lesser beast such as a monkey.

The gods' abilities follow them from body to body.

The gods live in a high-tech heaven and everyone else lives in low-tech. The gods actively suppress innovations such as the printing press.

The novel begins after most of the action has taken place and much of the action is an extended flashback.

Matasamatman (Sam), one of the original crew and a powerful force in the demon wars declares war on the gods. The novel follows his various attempts at opposing them. Among other things he recreates Buddhism, makes a pact with a group of demons he imprisoned centuries before, and fights the gods on the battlefield.

It is hard to see this as a movie. It is episodic. Each of Sam's attempts is different from the others. Many of the characters change bodies and one even changes genders. There are a couple of big battles that would have been prohibitively expensive to film in the 1970s.

Jack Kirby did some work on visuals for the proposed movie. There is a sample of his artwork in the story I linked to. The look is very "Kirby" and reminiscent of his New Gods comics. I am not sure how well it would mesh with Hindu gods in a movie. Also I hate to think of what 1970s producers would have done to the plot. The one book of his that was adopted, Damnation Alley, was unrecognizable.

If someone were to adapt one of Zelazny's works today I would suggest the HBO do his ten-volume Amber series although I would love to see the Stainless Steel Leech done as an animated short.

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