Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny
The crew of a colony ship from Earth pose as Hindu gods in order to control the population of an alien planet. Possessing the technology to transfer their consciousness into new bodies, the gods are effectively immortal, and they use their superior technology to keep the population — descendants of the original colonists and crew — at a medieval level of development.
One of the gods, Mahasamatman, known as Sam, wishes to help the population improve their level of technological development and move them away from worshipping the false gods. Banished from ‘Heaven’ for his betrayal, Sam incarnates as the Buddha and spreads the Buddhist religion among the population as a challenge to Hinduism.
Sam joins with the Rakasha, energy beings who were the original inhabitants of the planet, and other gods sympathetic to his cause, to fight a final battle to free the world from the control of the false gods.
Winner of the 1968 Hugo Award for best novel and often cited as one of the best SF novels of all time, Lord of Light does not disappoint. It can be a challenging read at times for those not familiar with the Hindu pantheon and philosophy, especially the first chapter, which hits the reader with a strange mixture of technology and Hindu and Buddhist concepts right from the start, leaving the reader wondering what is really going on. Things improve from chapter two onwards however, as the novel moves into flashback mode, and we follow Sam’s story as he battles with Heaven through his many lifetimes.
Written in a style at times reminiscent of religious parables, Roger Zelazny has produced an unusual and highly original work, well worth its award-winning status. Highly recommended if you want something meaty to get your teeth into, but not really suitable if you are looking for light holiday reading.