“Lord of Light” by Roger Zelazny

In the far future, on a colony world, some people have developed mutant powers…which they use (along with technology) to impersonate the gods of the Hindu pantheon and rule over the planet of their descendants.

And that’s as sci-fi as this story gets. It’s not at all a spaceships-and-lasers story…it’s a fantasy epic, imitating all the conventions of religious myth from symbolic repetition to deliberate ambiguity.

The story follows Siddhartha, AKA Maitreya (“Lord of Light”), AKA Mahasamatman, AKA the Buddha, AKA just Sam. Some view him as a god, others as the friend of demons. He views himself as a charlatan, using the tools at his disposal in a political crusade. The story suggests they are all right – just as it deftly synthesizes a culture built on veneration of the Hindu pantheon (and depending on their approval for reincarnation in a new body) and advanced technology (including the technology that makes this body-transfer possible).

Lord of Light is a story of ideas…a raw, unidealized look at humanity – and the darkness inside of them…a tale of atmosphere, ancient legends, and towering personalities…all set in a rich, layered world drawn from Indian culture and religion – perfect for those fantasy aficionados tired of the “bland European” fantasy setting.

Characters

Mr. Zelazny excels at making characters that are…not exactly “huggable,” but sympathetic. They may not be people you trust, and they sometimes do distasteful things…but you can always understand what’s going on in their heads. They are always intensely human characters.

This goes for our main character Sam, too. While his peers are strutting around in gorgeous bodies and play-acting gods, he’s living as a simple human prince among the commoners (who must watch their political and religious sympathies, lest they be denied a reincarnation when their current body wears out).

Once Sam decides to take on the oppressive oligarchy of Heaven, he does it with subtlety, with trying to break the people’s blind reverence for them…with the (uncontrollable) power of local aliens…with human mistakes, partial victories, set-backs and failures. While we might disagree with some of his choices, and question some of his methods, there’s no denying Sam is a realistic, three-dimensional human character.

Ideas

Speaking of humans…they are pretty dark creatures. And Mr. Zelazny doesn’t shy away from that fact.

The city of the gods where the “Heavenly” bureaucracy lives is basically a great big “garden of delights”…where they spend their days banging each other (and their interchangeable concubines), getting drunk, eating delicacies…and occasionally, indulging even darker passions like violence.

There was more sex than in Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber, but each instance was still tamer than Robert Ludlum’s style. A good author doesn’t need to give medical definitions for the readers’ skin to crawl…perhaps there’s a reason “debauchery” is such a gross-sounding word without even knowing what it means?

All of which paints the message loud and clear: no matter what humans achieve – even if they invent a technology that lets them side-step death! – they will still be fallen creatures, and sooner or later they will use it to oppress and exploit each other.

Body swapping

Speaking of the honest exploration of ideas, a central element of Lord of Light is the technology that lets people transfer their “atman” or soul from one body to another.

While no one ever brings up the issue of how they created human bodies without a “person” already living in it, they do discuss the complications of family ties where people are constantly renewing their bodies. What does it mean to say this or that person is your “father” – when he’s now in a new body, and so are you, and so the two of you have no genetic material in common at all…yet he (and your mother) still contributed to the birth of your spirit into the world. Complicated, no?

Add to that the fact that male and female bodies are now interchangeable, and I’m honestly surprised the whole society hasn’t devolved in a fiery collapse because of the total fragmentation of the nuclear family. Perhaps humans are more resilient than I assumed…or rather, perhaps Mr. Zelazny views humans as more resilient than I would.

Myths and legends

Part of the fun of Lord of Light is the depth of the world Mr. Zelazny has created. We really get a sense that exciting, unusual things have happened a lot in the past – that, in fact, the characters’ lives were stuffed full of strange and interesting things – but that we only see through hints and barely mentioned memories. Extending the world beyond the story at hand makes it immensely bigger.

I think the author was trying to do the same thing with some of his ambiguities… Like an old wives’ tale that teaches you about the world by beginning, “Some say…” – while still leaving room for interpretation. This narrative style perfectly captured the ambiance of an oral culture, infused with the rejection of “material reality” that underlies Buddhism. After all, the goal of a Buddhist is to disconnect from physical reality so much that you reach Nirvanna – a state beyond existence.

It fit the story Mr. Zelazny was telling like a hand in a glove…and yet…

Complaints

And yet Jesus said, “I Am the way.” He said, “I am the Truth.”

The gods of the Celestial City rule by indoctrination…by denying their opponents reincarnation…by insisting on the pre-ordained roster of “Heaven.” When a god or goddess dies, their place must be taken by someone else – another of the mutant oligarchs takes on their name and primary attributes (male, fire-wielding, etc.). They essentially ret-con history to maintain their narrative.

Very clever as a story ploy…but, well, modern America has a bad habit of thinking it can make a thing so just by yelling it louder. Which, now that I think about it, makes Zelazny’s villains all the more believable. But…

But ideas have consequences. And when we tell ourselves (even in stories) that real historical events don’t matter (“some say this, but others say that…”) it erodes our grip on reality – God’s reality. Which happens to be very insistent.

Am I saying the novel Lord of Light will destroy your psychological grip on cause-and-effect? Only if you are a pathetically weak, ungrounded person. But I am saying we must be aware of the ideas we come into contact with…fore-warned is fore-armed.

(Also, it’s kinda weird that this universe’s master-of-zombies is the one guy who spouts vaguely Biblical references and claims a vague Christian ecclesiastical affiliation. Even weirder than Ultron’s habit of Biblical/apocalyptic literary reference in Avengers: Age of Ultron.)

Spoilers for Authors

My other complaint is because I watch too much Writer Youtube.

The entire novel builds up the conflict of Sam versus the fake gods…Every scene somehow ties into their clash of ideas: oppress and exploit the common people, or allow them to (re)discover and enjoy the same tech advances that have given the “gods” their comfortable lives. Every battle, conversation, and set-back is somehow laced with the conflict.

Then, in the last chapter, everything peaks – only Sam doesn’t fight the gods. Instead, he teams up with the gods who are left (the ones he, or various others, haven’t killed yet) to fight some third party who’s barely been mentioned.

This mysterious “new challenger” popped up in conversation once or twice before, as one of these hinted past conflicts that made the world feel bigger. But he certainly didn’t get enough development to be the end boss of the entire book. It’s not quite an official “Martha Moment“…but it’s also not entirely satisfying.

(In a “Martha Moment,” something causes one of the opposing teams – often the winning side – to abandon their goal so that the two sides can unite in the third act. Instead, Sam joins the gods because he figures he has already won the culture war — once people no longer view the gods as inviolable, their power will be basically broken. It’s still less satisfying though.)

Conclusion

It’s fun when authors know what style they’re aiming for, and then go whole-hog in nailing that style in the bull’s-eye.

Lord of Light is an evocative, atmospheric fantasy (glossed with scientific explanations)…The manipulation of philosophy for political ends was a clever plot device, and the ideas raised by the technology were honestly explored.

What with the “questionable” scenes, and the worldview implications, I would recommend this for mature readers who are ready to intellectually confront the ideas presented to them.

You’ll also get a part-epic, part-character-piece that melds battles, adventure, and intrigue.


Lord of Light is available on Amazon.

“Space Station ICE-3” by Bruce Coville

In revisiting old reads, I picked up this sci fi tween mystery (the protagonist is sixteen, so I’d call it YA…except that it’s much closer to a Hardy Boys than a Hunger Games).

Young Rusty has discovered a dead body in the disposal vat on the colony space station…but no one believes him except his earth-bound grandpa, and his grandpa’s “old friend” – the legendary genius scientist who basically invented most of the space station.

Dead bodies…space…check, check. I enjoyed it as a tween/teen, and I enjoyed it now…though I also noticed more of the author’s secular, exploratory worldview peeking through.

Rusty: Teen, Researcher, Detective…Talking Point

The first thing that struck me about our teen protagonist is something I missed when I was a teen myself.

The voice is masterfully done – actually sounding like a real sixteen-year-old might – and the first-person perspective acts like he’s recording these events for posterity. Continue reading

“Eight Cousins” by Louisa May Alcott

"Eight Cousins" by Louisa May Alcott — Kimia Wood My tattered paperback attests that this simple classic was my absolute favorite book at the age of twelve.

Revisiting it a full fifteen years later not only brings fresh perspective on the situations and characters I once adored, but confirms that this “Young Adult” novel is one for the ages!

Seven Boys and a Girl

Rose Campbell has recently lost her father, and so is forced to move in with her great-aunts on the “Aunt Hill,” where the whole of her large extended family is eager to meet her.

But all seven of her cousins are boys! Oh, what is a poor, sheltered little flower to do?

Worst of all, when her new guardian – her uncle Dr. Alec – shows up, he turns out to be so eccentric that he wants her to run (the un-lady-like horror)…to wear loose-fitting scarves and dresses of bright colors (not the belt that held in her petite waist)…to eat plenty of healthy, wholesome food…to work with her hands…and overall to fill out her small frame, rosy up her cheeks, and draw her out of herself so that she can become the healthy, confident, caring young woman she was meant to be. Continue reading

“The Sunday Philosophy Club” by Alexander McCall Smith

"The Sunday Philosophy Club" by Alexander McCall Smith The back cover copy introduces us to Isabel Dalhousie: middle-aged spinster who’s “too inquisitive”…and when she witnesses a young man fall to his death from the balcony of the concert hall, she wonders if there’s more to it?!

Then we open the book, and…turns out she’s actually a fourteen-year-old with ADHD…and has the detective method of a spring-addled squirrel.

Harsh? Let me elaborate on The Sunday Philosophy Club…which, incidentally, features no over-arching philosophy, no club whatsoever, and about as much detective content as those gummy vitamins contain sugar. Continue reading

“Wedding Score” by Amanda Tero

"Wedding Score" by Amanda Tero — Kimia Wood Stephanie – and her author Ms. Tero – are both single Christian girls inching toward thirty. I am also a single Christian girl inching toward thirty.

This short novella is all about the unique (or not so unique) struggles that we loners face when we have no one but God to depend on…and He doesn’t have physical arms to lean on.

I was super excited for this book from the moment I first heard about it in the author’s newsletter. After all, Christian singleness is a topic I’ve blogged about a time or two, and I’m still traveling the wave of acceptance-to-desperation-to-resignation-to-panic-to-acceptance…

By Single Gals, For Single Gals

"Wedding Score" by Amanda Tero — Kimia WoodMs. Tero has me by a year or two, but we’re both still waiting for our Prince Charming…and at times we’re not even sure he’ll ever show up.

But that’s okay. At least, it should be okay, if we affirm that God is the only one we’ll ever really need, and that His arms are big enough to carry us through anything life throws at us…even lifelong lone-ranger-ing.

But – focus on the story!

Stephanie is a relatable protagonist. To the point you might feel Ms. Tero snagged your own characteristics, changed a few particulars to deflect suspicion (for instance, I’m not a musician), and put you full-bodied into her work.

Stephanie is a conservative Christian young lady (wears denim skirts and everything!) and while I don’t think it’s spelled out, you can easily guess she was homeschooled (come on – denim skirt!). She’s also well connected to her church, reads her Bible faithfully, and has a large, loving extended family.

And, just like the rest of us (ahem), she gets hit with a debilitating case of “loner syndrome”.

Christian Religious Inspirational…

Writing about spiritual issues is a ticklish business. It’s so very easy to stray into preachiness, sticky-toffee sugar-coating, awkward marionette-plotting, literal Deus-ex-machina, pat answers to complex questions –

Ms. Tebo’s writing, however, rings authentic – probably because she supplied the text of Stephanie’s devotions from her own personal devotions. The trouble with a story is that we know it’s a story, and therefore that an author crafted it for a deliberate reason. By allowing herself to be vulnerable, and share her own struggle with singleness, Ms. Tebo allowed Stephanie’s journey to be as realistic as possible.

It also helped that the book description and marketing made it obvious this book would tackle religious issues. It wasn’t, for example, pretending to be a murder mystery (AHEM). Everyone who picks up this book will be expecting a Christian exploration of the struggle of singleness…and they won’t be disappointed.

Happily Ever After

"Wedding Score" by Amanda Tero — Kimia WoodEven before I received my early-access copy of Wedding Score, I knew the ending would be a deal-breaker. After all, when you’re writing a fictional story, you are the “god” of the story world, and can give your characters any ending you want!

It would be too easy for a sick-with-loneliness author to hit all her characters with the “hunky Mr. Right” wand. But that kind of ending would be the last thing a Christian single struggling to be faithful would need. And, that kind of ending would in some ways negate the whole point of the story.

Ms. Tebo escapes that simplistic solution! After wrestling through the entire book with leaning solely on God, Stephanie isn’t “rewarded” with a flesh-and-blood man to hold her hand. No, she still has to depend on God – even while her friends are still getting married all around her! – but the work of His Spirit in her heart has brought a change.

And that is what we have to hold on to, fellow loners! Cling to the knowledge that no matter what – even if we never get to wear that dress or have our own kids – God will be right by our side and we will be “sons and daughters” to Him.

Not Alone

So what else can this book teach you, other than that God is faithful and will be all you need?

That you’re not alone!

Yes, maybe you don’t have your own little nest, but there’s still extended family, church family, and all the other single Christians who are going through the exact same thing you are! Maybe they’re in a different “stage” of singleness than you are, but you can bet they’re bouncing on the wave just the same (unless through the grace of Jesus they’ve arrived, in which case NOT FAIR).

Cry. Laugh. Tell us about your struggles. On the bad days, come for hugs. On the good days, dish out hugs – ’cause we need them!

Somewhere, someone has walked the exact same path as you. And for me at least, that makes the wilderness a little less lonely.

DISCLAIMER: I received a free ARC from the author as part of the book launch. I was not required to write a review of any kind, and all opinions are my own (imagine me being vocal about my opinions!)."Wedding Score" by Amanda Tero — Kimia Wood


Check out my interview with the author!

Wedding Score releases this week!
You can add it on Goodreads, then find it on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Kobo, or as a signed paperback from the author!

Check out the author’s official website at AmandaTero.com.

“Talk to the Hand” by Lynne Truss

Talk to the hand, ’cause the face ain’t listening!

How rude!

Well, you know what you can effing do!

Is everyone around you shockingly rude? Do you find yourself dissed by shop clerks?…given the run-around by customer service phone trees?…pelted with garbage by faceless, uncaring litterers?

Lynne Truss’ Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door will comfort you that at least you’re not the only one exasperated…and perhaps challenge you that there is something we can do about it. Continue reading

“Song of Shadows” by Sylvia Mercedes

 I would never have touched this book if Suzannah Rowntree hadn’t given it a rave review. After all, the description talks about “secret feelings” and “the passion threatening to ignite between them” (which always make me feel stabby).

BUT…I tried it out, and here are my thoughts:

The World: Dark, Cruel, and Brooding

We’re thrown into a dark world where malevolent “shades” seek to take over the bodies of humans, losing your soul to the abyss is easy (and frequent), and the dark forces of the enemy seem insurmountable.

The main group battling these invading spirits (and the humans who join with them) are called Venators and Venatrices, and they trap shades inside themselves to get magic powers – risking eternal damnation if the soul-separation (at their death) isn’t done properly. Continue reading

“The Lonely Detective Solves ‘Murder at Snow White'” by Charles Schwarz

"The Lonely Detective Solves 'Murder at Snow White'" by Charles Schwarz — Kimia Wood Lord Peter Wimsey, in one of Dorothy Sayers’ novels, calls detective fiction the “highest form of literature we have.” The essence of detective fiction is the conflict of good and evil…the idea that a crime (a murder) breaks the world, and the core of a hero is in solving it (bringing the evildoer to justice).

Thus it’s hardly surprising that Ms. Sayers is one of, if not the, best mystery writers of all time. Her novels are entertaining yet educational, tricky yet profound – grounded on a firm grasp of human nature, and grappling with how the very universe groans for the blood of the innocent to be repaid.

I’m not here to talk about her work. I’m here to talk about the short stories of Charles Schwarz – stories billed as “hilarious” and sarcastic murder mysteries…that probably ended up being more educational than entertaining for me.

(Incidentally, what first caught my eye was the cover. Something about it just looks sarcastic – and who doesn’t love that?)

Alert: SPOILERS Possible Continue reading

“Dracula” by Bram Stoker

"Dracula" by Bram Stoker — Kimia Wood “Dracula” is known as the original vampire, and the word evokes a cornucopia of images and lore.

But what is the original actually like?

Published in 1897, this Victorian classic delivers a compelling story of horror and love, featuring one of the most spine-chilling monsters of all time.

The Style

As Red from “Trope Talk” will tell you, part of the magic of the story is the style. It opens with the diary of Jonathan Harker, a newly minted lawyer traveling to Transylvania for business with a mysterious count.

This first act is admirably effective, as Jonathan progresses from describing the lovely scenery, to relating the curious superstitions of the townspeople, to his nerve-wracking first meeting with the count on a midnight mountain road.

The first-person immediacy of the narrative lets us feel Jonathan’s plight even more strongly as he realizes his imprisonment in the count’s vast but empty castle – and the diary form allows a mix of “this happened in the past” and “this is what I’m going through now or hope to accomplish” that forces the reader to engage with his harrowing experience on a moment-to-moment basis. Continue reading

“And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie

"And Then There Were None" by Agatha Christie — Kimia Wood Ten strangers lured to an island. A phonograph accuses them each of murder. One by one, they start dying.

Who will be left standing? And just who is the murderer?!

As the author’s note explains, Agatha Christie wrote this because it would be hard…and she certainly pulls off a spine-chilling whodunit stuffed with questions about morality and “the perfect murder.”

Characters and Voice

Ten characters. Ten unique personalities and voices?

Yes and no. A couple of the characters die off so soon we don’t really get to spend much time with them, although they do get painted in general strokes.

Mrs. Christie breaks all kinds of writerly rules – but hey, she’s Agatha Christie! Whether she’s writing from the perspectives of most of the different characters, or using stereotypical short-hand to quickly clue us in to the character types at the story’s start, she goes against what your author “guru” on the internet probably told you to do…but still weaves an edge-of-your-seat thriller. Continue reading