Tuesday, April 17, 2012

#121: Martian Time Slip, #30: Lord of Light

Martian Time-Slip:

“I'm not much but I'm all I have.” 
"Insanity - to have to construct a picture of one's life, by making inquiries of others."
" 'It is a massive problem for the schizophrenic to relate to the school,' Glaub said. 'The schizophrenic, such as yourself, very often deals with people through their unconscious. The teaching machines, of course, have no shadow personalities; what they are is all on the surface. Since the schizophrenic is accustomed constantly to ignore the surface and look beneath --he draws a blank. He is simply unable to understand them.' "
"Death itself has such authority. A transformation as awesome as life itself, and so much harder for us to understand." 
Martian Time-Slip is another of Philip K. Dick's top-notch, time-twisting, mind-bending SF novels, in the same class as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Ubik, and A Scanner Darkly. The setting for Martian Time-Slip is mostly a sparsely settled Mars, in the near future. As with most PKD novels, the Solar System has just begun to be colonized, but Earth is still the epicenter of humanity for the time being. Surprisingly, Time-Slip doesn't deal with altered states of reality as caused by hallucinogenic drugs, as in many of Dick's other works, such as The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch or Now Wait For Last Year.
As the eerie strangeness that can only come from PKD creeps into the novel very soon after the typical, Golden-Age SF-esque introduction, it becomes evident that this aura of strangeness has been formed by more mysterious powers and circumstances than the simple usage of psychedelic drugs. The plot of Martian Time-Slip mainly concerns three characters: protagonist Jack Bohlen, a member of the Water Worker's Union, the Union's oppressive and selfish leader Arnie Kott, and Manfred Steiner, an "anomalous", autistic child who experiences time in a strange way, different from other humans, and can apparently only utter one word of gibberish: "Gubble". Many forces come crashing into play, with Jack Bohlen playing the role of the typical everyman Dick protagonist fighting against strange, supernatural forces completely beyond his control. The plot revolves around a theoretical apartment complex in the bleak, uninhabited Franklin D. Roosevelt Mountains of Mars; these apartments are cryptically known as AM-WEB by Manfred. It soon becomes apparent that Manfred sees the future, and knows that the apartment complex will not end up as the upper-class resort-type get-away it is supposed to be, rather, it will become a rotted out hellhole for mentally "anomalous" people such as himself.
Arnie Kott attempts to take advantage of Manfred's strange perception of time, in order to benefit himself financially, Jack Bohlen attempts to do what is right, his father, Leo scrambles to buy land in the FDR Mountains, and the mysterious Bleekmen, aboriginals of Mars similar genetically to Australian aborigines of Earth, hover beyond the shadows --mysterious, but vitally important. The novel retains an eerie, other-worldly feel about it, especially in the somewhat disturbing climax at Dirty Knobby, in the FDR Mountains.
And if you're looking for classic PKD mind-bending brilliance, look no further than the scenes in which Arnie Kott repeatedly experiences the events of a few hours over and over again; it will screw with your mind as much as it screws with his. Martian Time-Slip is an excellent piece of the PKD canon, and I would recommend it to beginner PKD-readers, as it does not quit reach the level of mind-fracturing madness as some of his later work does.
The tone of this book is the quality that sticks with the reader most after its completion: an ethereal, strange aura unlike any other novel, by Dick or otherwise, that I have read. Like all of Philip K. Dick's other top-notch works that I have read so far, this haunting, alien read is highly recommended to any Sci-Fi enthusiast.

Lord of Light:

“No word matters. But man forgets reality and remembers words.” 
“Then the one called Raltariki is really a demon?" asked Tak.
"Yes--and no," said Yama, "If by 'demon' you mean a malefic, supernatural creature, possessed of great powers, life span and the ability to temporarily assume virtually any shape--then the answer is no. This is the generally accepted definition, but it is untrue in one respect."
"Oh? And what may that be?"
"It is not a supernatural creature."
"But it is all those other things?"
"Then I fail to see what difference it makes whether it be supernatural or not--so long as it is malefic, possesses great powers and life span and has the ability to change its shape at will."
"Ah, but it makes a great deal of difference, you see. It is the difference between the unknown and the unknowable, between science and fantasy--it is a matter of essence. The four points of the compass be logic, knowledge, wisdom and the unknown. Some do bow in that final direction. Others advance upon it. To bow before the one is to lose sight of the three. I may submit to the unknown, but never to the unknowable.”  

“It would be nice if there were some one thing constant and unchanging in the universe. If there is such a thing, then it is a thing which would have to be stronger than love, and it is a thing which I do not know.” 
I'll start off my review of Roger Zelazny's masterwork of Science Fiction, Lord of Light, with this  quote from Arthur C. Clarke: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". This quote certainly applies to the Hindu "gods" of Lord of Light, a hybrid work of Science-Fiction and Fantasy, in which science has advanced enough so that men can reincarnate their souls into new bodies repeatedly without ever having to taste of "the real death". In addition, these people have also genetically altered themselves enough with advances in neuroscience and hypnosis so they can wield god-like Attributes: stares that can kill a person, or the power to control and bind electromagnetic currents.
The general plot of the novel is as follows: A group of humans on board a spaceship called the Star of India left Earth, or Urath as it is often referred to, as it was in its death throes, and have colonized a new planet, peopling it with their own descendants, whom they rule over, as Hindu gods, with supernatural Attributes and all. Their ancestors remain ignorant as to the truth about their world, and the Hindu gods suppress any technology that might eventually come in the way of their ancestors worship of them, whether it be the printing press, bifocals, or toilets with running water.
Eventually, one of the original crew members from the Star of India (mentioned by name only once in the novel, known as Mahasamatman, or simply, Sam, begins spreading Buddhist teachings across the land, in direct opposition to the gods of the Hindu pantheon, who rule from the Celestial City of "Heaven", a gigantic dome located near the pole of the world. Sam is in favor of Accelerationism, a philosophy that is all about letting the inhabitants of this planet out of the dark, and letting them discover technology, rather them letting them be continuously oppressed by their technologically gifted ancestors.
There are impressive battle scenes between the gods, zombies, humans, and demons, incredibly interesting philosophical discourses, Christianity is even thrown into the mix towards the end. In addition, the original inhabitants of the planet, known as Rakasha, or demons, after the Hindu tradition, make frequent appearances: they are creatures of pure energy who can take on any physical form, and are almost as powerful as the technologically advanced gods. They were originally sealed underneath a mountain when the "gods" first settled on the planet, but they are loosed throughout the course of the novel, and wreak much havoc. I found several parallels between this novel and another classic of SF: A Canticle of Leibowitz: in both, religion plays a huge role in the world, as rediscoveries must be made in the fields of science and thought, as humanity in general must start over again.
I must say that I found the premise of Lord of Light one of the most original and creative premises that I have ever entered in my reading of Science Fiction. Zelazny's action-packed tale of a rebel god/man who poses as Buddha, releases demons to do his bidding, and controls his soul when it is lacking of a body all by the wonders of science, makes for an epic you won't be able to put down. It is both an exciting and original premise, and a masterfully executed story. The characters of Mahasamatman, Yama, Taraka, Rild, and Nirritti the Black One were all excellently realized and thought-provoking to me particularly.
There is so much going on in Lord of Light that I cannot begin to summarize it here, but suffice to say, that it is more than deserving of its reputation as a masterpiece of Science Fiction. Its one of the most action-packed, fascinating SF books I've ever read, and its certainly up there with the very best of the genre. You'll also probably get interested in Hindu and Buddhist philosophy after having finished this novel. Don't miss this book, I'd rank it among the most deftly executed Science Fiction stories of all time.

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