Friday, October 8, 2010

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Lord of Light, Part V - God is Dead

Chapter Six!

The fifth part of a six part review of Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light.

Part One:Overview and Chapter One
Part Two Chapters Two and Three (Death & the Executioner)
Part Three:Chapter Four (Hellwell)
Part Four: Chapter Five (Sam's time in Heaven)
All my Zelazny posts at this link.

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 ...

Murder mysteries are always fun. We open the chapter with a dead god and the question of who should succeed him. Yama and Kali are recalled from their honeymoon. Kali is promoted to the role of Brahma and Yama starts chasing down clues.

Yama consults with Kubera and Ratri sees him departing. Ratri confesses to Kubera: ""I realized when I looked upon his face that there is a god of Death, and that there is a power which even gods might fear..."

Kubera answers: "Yama is strong, and he is my friend. Death is mighty, and is no one's friend. The two exist together though, and it is strange. Agni is strong also, and is Fire. He is my friend. Krishna could be strong if he wished. But he never wishes so. He wears out bodies at a fantastic rate. He drinks soma and makes music and women. He hates the past and the future. He is my friend. I am least among the Lokapalas, and I am not strong. Whatever body I wear goes quickly to fat. I am more father than brother to my three friends. Of them, I can appreciate the drunkenness and the music and the loving and the fire, for these are things of life, and so can I love my friends as men or as gods. But the other Yama makes me to be afraid, also, Ratri. For when he takes upon him his Aspect he is a vacuum, which sets this poor fat a-tremble. Then he is no one's friend."

And a little bit later, Ratri asks:

"You said that only a few may know of this thing, even if lives must be spent. Does this mean that I ... ?"

"No. You will live, because I will protect you."

"Why will you?"

"Because you are my friend."

That's why Kubera rocks. He's the one who figures out the mystery first, faster even than Yama, which is no mean feat.

"How did you find me out?"

"It occurred to me that Sam would be the number one suspect, except for the fact that he was dead."

"I had assumed that to be sufficient defense against detection."

"So I asked myself if there was any means by which Sam could have escaped death. I could think of none, other than a change of bodies. Who, I then asked myself, took upon him a new body the day Sam died? There was only Lord Murugan. This did not seem logical, however, because he did it after Sam's death, not before it. I dismissed that part for a moment. You, Murugan, having been among the thirty-seven suspects, were probed and passed upon as innocent by Lord Yama. It seemed I had surely taken to a false trail then, until I thought of a very simple way to test the notion. Yama can beat the psych-probe himself, so why could not someone else be able to do it? I recalled at this point that Kalkin's Attribute had involved the control of lightnings and electromagnetic phenomena. He could have sabotaged the machine with his mind so that it saw there no evil. The way of testing it, therefore, was not to consider what the machine had read, but rather how it had read it. Like the prints of the palms and the fingers of the hands, no two minds register the same patterns; But from body to body one does retain a similar mind-matrix, despite the fact that a different brain's involved. Regardless of the thoughts passing through the mind, the thought patterns record themselves unique to the person. I compared yours with a record of Murugan's which I found in Yama's laboratory. They were not the same. I do not know how you accomplished the body-change, but I knew you for what you were."

"Very clever, Kubera. Who else is familiar with this strange reasoning?"

"No one, yet. Yama, soon though, I fear. He always solves problems."

Kubera "convinces" Sam to leave the city with him, and Yama later joins him, vowing to oppose the will of Heaven by way of steel, fire and blood. Yama brings many weapons with him, among them "...the Fountain Shield, with its spray of cyanide and dimethyl sulfoxide..." I'm a chemistry nerd, so this warmed the cockles of my heart. DMSO has some really neat properties. Any number of compounds will readily dissolve in it and the interesting part is that DMSO can penetrate the skin and thereby carry whatever has been dissolved in it directly into the body of the patient, or in the case of Yama's Fountain Shield, into the body of the victim. It's such a sharks-with-lasers-on-their-heads Rube Goldberg monstrosity of a weapon that I can't help but love it. Also, as Yama tells us that the plurality of the paranormal dictates it, because someone always has an Attribute to stand against any one weapon.

I don't really get the animosity Yama holds for Mara.  Sure, there was a little smack talk back and forth and they were on opposite sides of the conflict, but that doesn't seem to justify the depth of his hatred.

[Mara] "And the carrion god to drive your wagon!"

Death raised his left hand, palm forward.

"I promise you death, Mara," he said. "If not by the hand of Kalkin, then by my own. If not today, then another day. But it is between us also, now."

Really, Yama? You're going to swear eternal vengeance over that? I say worse to people who cut me off in traffic.

I also kind of like it that they lost, not solely because of bad luck or because they were outclassed, but also because Sam fucks up a bit.

"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. Let them come against me now and the heavens will weep upon their bodies and the Vedra run the color of blood! ... Do you hear me? Do you hear me, gods? Come against me! I challenge you, here upon this field! Meet me with your strength, in this place!"

"No!" said Death. "Not yet!"

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!"

So they lose, Yama escapes "by the will-death and the Way of the Black Wheel", and transmigrates to a new body hidden somewhere but Sam is sedated and his mind is projected into the magnetic cloud circling the planet. Tak gets the body of an ape and Ratri gets the body of Cathy ("Ack!"). This brings us back to the beginning of the first chapter.

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