I wrote to him and he wrote back the year before he died. And my novel The Crows of Bedu has its origins as a paean to Amber. I began reading Roger Zelazny back in junior high, and even though most of his books are in my pantheon of classics – Chronicles of Amber (of course), Roadmarks, Creatures of Light and Darkness, Doorways in the Sand, Jack of Shadows, The Dream Master – there have been other books of his that I have not managed to get through, one of which is Lord of Light. I had a copy of it, had tried reading it a few years back, and had dropped off in the middle. Because of that, and because many critics deem it his best work, it seemed the best choice for the reading list.
And what is worse than facing God? Coming to the horrible realization that God may not be all that He is cracked up to be. Oh, I should have known this was coming: imperfection has pretty much been foreshadowed by this entire reading list, but it was still pretty hard to take this particular time around.
In the first portion of this book, Zelazny used a high-priest religious voice that made it difficult for me to get into the story. The tone and pace pushed me away, though I could see exactly why he chose to use it. I could also see why I had never finished the book. And as I read farther than I ever had before, I also became very confused: I couldn’t follow what the characters were doing, or why.
It reminded me of what Taryn and I used to observe in Shakespeare plays: some actors can do Shakespeare, and some can’t. The ones who can seem to speak directly to you in clear English, regardless of the four hundred year old words; the ones who can’t are speaking gibberish. This archaic style seemed gibbery to me. I don’t think it was worked enough in these early parts, brought to its final and best form, because I now know Roger Zelazny can do better. He does so in this book, later.
Oh, it’s always nice to be redeemed and welcomed back into the fold, especially when living in terror that I had been worshiping a false God all these years. Oh, He’s there, man. In spades.
After the first half of the book, confused and shocked, I was cruising Amazon where I learned the book is not written in chronological order: the first part is actually the last part of the story. When I learned that, I asked “Why?” and “How was I supposed to figure that out without reading Amazon?” ... and then I realized... this is a story about a far future Hinduism and reincarnation. If you are continuously reincarnated, there really isn’t a beginning or an end.
It’s unbelievably brilliant. So Roger Zelazny is not only Writing God, he is Writing Genius. The middle and the end (minus battle scenes – I am remembering I am not a fan of battle scenes and Zelazny is and I feel no shame in saying these things now because I’ve suffered too many epiphanies with this book already) are electrocuting, lightning-bolt genius.
An example: “At the place called Worldsend, where there is nothing beyond the edge of Heaven but the distant flicker of the dome and, far below, the blank ground, hidden beneath a smoke-white mist, there stands the open-sided Pavilion of Silence, upon whose round, gray roof the rains never fall, and across whose balconies and balustrades the fog boils in the morning and the winds walk at twilight, and within whose airy chambers, seated upon the stark, dark furniture, or pacing among the gray columns, are sometimes to be found the gods contemplative, the broken warriors or those injured in love, who come to consider there all things hurtful or futile, beneath a sky that is beyond the Bridge of the Gods, in the midst of a place of stone where the colors are few and the only sound is the wind – there, since slightly after the days of the First, have sat the philosopher and the sorceress, the sage and the magus, the suicide, and the ascetic freed from the desire for rebirth or renewal; there, in the center of renunciation and abandonment, withdrawal and departure, are the five rooms named Memory, Fear, Heartbreak, Dust and Despair; and this place was built by Kubera the Fat who cared not a tittle for any of these sentiments, but who, as a friend of Lord Kakin, had done this construction at the behest of Candi the Fierce, sometimes known as Durga, and as Kali, for he alone of all the gods possessed the Attribute of inanimate correspondence, whereby he could invest the works of his hands with feelings and passions to be experienced by those who dwelled among them.” (What is this? Why, this, is a 276 word sentence.)
And another amazingly long one that shows he is absolutely the master of his prose: “...it was said by the poet Adasay that they resembled at least six different things (he was always lavish with his similes): a migration of birds, bright birds, across a waveless ocean of milk; a procession of musical notes through the mind of a slightly mad composer; a school of those deep-swimming fish whose bodies are whorls and runnels of light, circling about some phosphorescent plant within a cold and sea-deep pit; the Spiral Nebula, suddenly collapsing upon its center; a storm, each drop of which becomes a feather, songbird, or jewel; and (and perhaps most cogent) a Temple full of terrible and highly decorated statues, suddenly animated and singing, suddenly, rushing forth across the world, bright banners playing in the wind, shaking palaces and toppling towers, to meet at the center of everything, to kindle an enormous fire and dance about it, with the ever present possibility of either the fire or the dance going completely out of control.”
And his always enviable dialogues: “This is not true,” said the god. “You talk as if we desire perpetually this burden of godhood, as if we seek to maintain a dark age that we may know forever the wearisome condition of our enforced divinity!”
And: “For that, your death shall not be a clean one.”
And: ‘It reads: “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.”’
I bow before Your Greatness, O Zelazny. Please, I beg of thee, forgive my doubting you.
I thank you for the gifts this story gives. First, style is wonderful, but only to the point it includes readers, not excludes them. And for protagonist Sam, who dies several times throughout this story, thank you for making it absolutely clear that a story’s stakes must become more and more dire.