Roger Zelazny is considered one of the greatest masters of science fiction and fantasy, he wrote dozens of books from the 60s to the year of his death in 1995, the most well known of them being the excellent Amber Chronicles.
His books are usually on the border between Science Fiction and Fantasy, very original and don't fall into the usual cliches of the genre, and Lord of
Light is no exception. Lord of Light was written in 1967 and won a Hugu award, recently it was republished by SF Masterworks.
Lord of Light takes place in the far future, on a planet distant from Earth. Most of the First - the first colonists that arrived from Earth, are still alive using a technology that allows them to transfer their mind into a new body before death. Consequently, the population of the planet is actually the offsprings of the First. The First and a few other chosen people keep the technology they brought with them for themselves. Using using this technology, and by supressing the attempts of the other people at developing high technology they have themselves into the gods of the primitive people who inhabit planet. They have taken for themsleves the of the gods of the Hindu pantheon while using advanced technology and mutant powers to duplicate their legendery powers.
Only, one of the First isn't happy with this arrangement and sees it as wrong. He is called by many names - Lord of Light, Buddha, Tathangata and Mahasamatman are some of them, but he prefers to call himself Sam. Sam declares war upon the gods and their corrupted order, and in his struggle he spreads a new religion - Buddhism - as opposed to Hinduism. He gains powerful allies such as Yama, the god of death, and Ratri, the goddess of the night, and Nirriti, the Black One. He eventually frees the Rakasha demons who are actually the original denizens of the planet.
As usual in Zelazny's works and even more so in 'Lord of Light' it's hard to tell where technology ends and magic and mythology begin. Lord of Light is actually a fantasy story with a very heavy science fiction presence. Sam is a typical Zelazny protagonist, strong, confident, intelligent, cunning, and even in defeat he manages a certain cool attitude. The other characters are just as vivid as Sam - cold hearted Kali, shrewd Yama, arrogant Brahma, religiously fanatic Nirriti or anyof the other 'gods' are wellrounded characters motivated by their own reasons and ambitions. Some fight against Sam, some with him and some as the situtation dictates. The action in the book is fast paced, there are great battles scenes involving godlike powers which are a joy to read. The dialogue is witty, and many times quite amusing.
In 'Lord of Light Zelazny' tries to debate religion and it's use by humans. His point is that religion can be used for oppression and exploitation by humans, but also for fighting against those exact concepts. Unlike most authors who would choose Christianity as an example for an oppressive religion Zelazny chooses Hinduism (although the most religious fanatic character seems to be a christian) which makes the book all the more interesting because of the fascinating hindu pantheon of gods and religious concepts like Karma and reincarnation.