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The novel's basic premise (modern sci-fi characters in a Hindu/Buddhist world) is summed up in the opening lines:
His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the Maha- and the -atman, however, and called himself Sam. He never claimed to be a god, but then he never claimed not to be a god.
The book itself is divided into seven chapters in a jumbled-up order, depicting in anachronic order; Sam's return from Nirvana, Sam's campaign against the forces of Heaven, the Battle of Keenset, and the conclusion and consequences of the final clash.
Also inspired a song by Hawkwind.
Lord Of Light contains examples of:
- Ancient Astronauts: And they're human astronauts, at that.
- Anthropomorphic Personification: Yama believes that the gods have become truly divine by identifying themselves so thoroughly with a single concept, such as love, war, or death, that they become it. Sam thinks he's full of it.
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Sam's exile to Nirvana: his atman is transmitted along self-perpetuating radio-waves. He's quite upset when he's brought back.
- Back From the Dead: Sam. Twice.
- Bad Habits: Sam privately admits that he's merely posing as the Buddha, and doesn't believe the dogma he preaches.
- Baleful Polymorph: The gods' favorite means of punishing dissenters in their ranks is to transfer the minds of the offenders into the bodies of animals, instead of people.
- Beauty Equals Goodness: After his return from Nirvana, Sam gives a speech to this effect to his followers, commenting afterwards that it's very hard to get people stirred up about fighting evil when they are taught that bearing suffering is good for their karma, but that fighting for beauty is an easier sell.
- Blood Knight / Spirited Competitor / Death Seeker: Taraka is utterly dedicated to testing his might against any Worthy Opponents he can find.
- Bring My Red Jacket: Yama wears red, though he tends not to be wounded as much as the trope implies.
- Body Surf: The process of "reincarnation." Each body is known as an "avatar."
- Call a Smeerp a Rabbit: This planet is not Earth, yet the gods have given Earth names to all the flora and fauna.
- Character Filibuster: Sam gets one in almost every chapter. Tak and Yama also get in one each.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Taraka. Even though he's a demon, this always surpises Sam.
- Church Militant: Nirriti the Black.
- Which becomes a case of Well-Intentioned Extremist, especially when it's revealed that Nirriti's original identity was Renfrew, the ship's chaplain who objected to the use of Hinduism instead of Christianity as the basis of the new order. But in his efforts to usurp the heathen devils, he had become aware of the irony of leading demons himself.
- Clarke's Third Law: The whole idea of the book is to explore this from the perspective of the people using the sufficiently advanced technology.
- Combat Pragmatist: It would be easier to list the characters who aren't.
- Cool and Unusual Punishment: "The curse of the Buddha", inflicted on Taraka as a punishment for possessing Sam. It's guilt - a human feeling, unfamiliar to the Rakasha, which Taraka contracted from Sam's mind.
- Corrupt Church: When one goes to apply for reincarnation, how much money one has tithed to the various temples is taken into account when determining how one reincarnates. Automated "pray-o-mats" are set up to receive these tithes.
- Crystal Spires And Saris: Heaven in a nutshell.
- Dark Is Not Evil: Nirriti the Black. It becomes clear only near the end of the novel. He remains an antagonist, though.
- Dark Messiah: Sam, definitely.
- Deader Than Dead: To forgo reincarnation, or be denied it, is to "die the real death".
- Deal with the Devil: Sam cuts a deal with the Rakasha to get them on his side in his campaign against Heaven. Naturally, they attempt to renege.
- Death Glare: Yama, being the god of death, can physically affect people with his, as well as just intimidating the hell out of them. He kills Indra and Taraka with it.
- Deface of the Moon: Sam once mentions the time when Agni burned the face of all three moons with his wand built by Yama.
- Defector From Decadence: Subverted with Yama. Sam tries to convince him that he's too good for "the crew of drunken body-changers", but ultimately, he's pushed over the edge only because he was ditched by Kali.
- Deity of Human Origin: This concept is explored in this one.
- Demonic Possession: Taraka, the first and most powerful Rakasha that Sam frees possesses him for a time.
- Dirty Old Man: Krishna, technically. Later, he becomes a straight example while stranded in an old body.
- Do Not Call Me Paul: Sam seals his fate with the gods when he dares refer to Brahma by his birth name: Madeleine.
- Don't Call Me "Sir"!: Sam has dozens of titles, but likes none of them.
- Don't Touch It, You Idiot!: The door to Hellwell is inscribed with the words:
"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 you deathbed prayers." Signed, "The Gods."
- Duel to the Death
- Earth-That-Was: "Lost Urath."
- Eldritch Abomination: The Mothers of the Terrible Glow are implied to be something like that.
- Elemental Embodiment: Sam has a ring that gives him control of a bevy of fire elementals, which he won from a Rakasha in a game of craps.
- Emperor Scientist: All of the gods have Psychic Powers, but it is their incredible technology that allows them to claim divinity and rule.
- Energy Being: The Rakasha. There were apparently others before them, but the gods wiped them out.
- Enlightenment Superpowers: essentially the source of everyone's Psychic Powers and thus their alleged godhood.
- Evil Overlord: Nirriti the Black is a subversion. A black-clad conqueror who leads legions of The Undead in his quest to Take Over the World, he is actually a Church Militant Christian, and his hordes are Organic Technology robots, not zombies.
- Fake Nationality: A number of the original ship's crew would seem not to be actually Indian. They have names like Sam, Madeleine, Renfrew, and Jan Olvegg. Apparently the colonists they carried were mostly Indian.
- Gadgeteer Genius: Yama, crossing over with Mad Scientist, and making a brief stop at Science Hero.
- Gender Bender: The reincarnation machines can allow people to switch genders. Most don't, although Kali does when she becomes the new Brahma, and the Monarch of Thieves has switched genders with every incarnation for so long that no one can remember what gender he/she was originally.
- Genius Bruiser: Yama is both the world's greatest swordsman and its greatest scientist.
- A God Am I: The "gods" now honestly believe themselves to be divine.
- God Couple: Yama and Kali. It ends badly.
- God-Emperor: A whole pantheon of them.
- Guile Hero: Sam has potent powers at his disposal, but prefers to triumph through trickery.
- Heel Face Revolving Door: Taraka.
- Heel Face Turn: Yama, Rathri, Tak, Kubera, Krishna, and Rild all have them.
- Hindu Mythology: Sort of a given.
- Hitman with a Heart: Rild, sanctified killer-priest of Kali.
- How Much More Can He Take?: Yama and Rild have one of these fights, since Rild is Made of Iron and Yama is the world's greatest swordsman.
- I Have Many Names: He is Mahasamatman, Siddhartha, Buddha, Kalkin, Maitreya, Tathagatha, the Enlightened One, Binder of Demons, and Lord of Light. You may call him Sam.
- Immortality: Everyone who uses the reincarnation machines has Type IX, although they use cloning to provide new bodies, instead of stealing them.
- Jerkass Gods: Oh, yes.
- King Bob the Nth: The colony ship that carried the original settlers to the world of the planet's setting was called the "Star of India".
- Lady in Red: Kali wears a red sari and necklaces of skulls.
- Lost Colony: The setting. Earth is described as "lost Urath," although whether this means the book occurs After the End, or it simply means they can't get back to Earth, is left an open question.
- Love Triangle - Yama loves Kali. Kali (in her own unique way) loves Sam. Sam loves his cause, and apparently not much else.
- Master of Illusion: Mara.
- Master Swordsman: Yama, as well as Rild.
- Medieval Stasis: The gods keep the people of their realm permanently stuck in the Middle Ages, so as to keep them from eventually being able to challenge them. The gods who disagreed with this policy were called Accelerationists, and Sam is the only one left.
- Mind Probe: The gods use these to determine which sins their subjects have committed, and therefore what bodies they are entitled to when they reincarnate. They also use them to weed out those of their own number who might break The Masquerade.
- Nigh Invulnerability: Kali treats various vital areas of her "holy executioners" with chemicals that make those areas impervious to harm.
- The Nth Doctor: In-universe example: whenever a god dies before he or she can reincarnate, another god takes their place. If no gods are available, a demigod is promoted.
- Our Demons Are Different: The Rakasha are Energy Beings, and the original inhabitants of the planet.
- Our Souls Are Different: The atman can be transferred from one body to another, where it begins to slowly reshape the new body to match the original.
- Our Zombies Are Different: Nirriti the Black commands legions of robots constructed from dead bodies, which are referred to as zombies.
- Path of Inspiration: The gods use Hinduism to keep the rabble in line. For that matter, Sam admits that he doesn't believe in Buddhism, and is just using it to drum up followers.
- Physical God: The pantheon claims to be this, but are actually just well-trained psychics who can Body Surf.
- Pragmatic Villainy: The gods chose to exile Sam to Nirvana — meaning beam his mental pattern out into a "magnetic cloud" — because they couldn't kill him.
- Psychic Powers: The true source of the gods' "Aspect" and "Attributes," honed over centuries of practice. Others also possess them. For example, a group of Buddhist monks at one point waylay Yama by collectively forcing him to sleep and have a symbolic dream.
- Psycho Electro: The Rakasha, particularly Taraka.
- Rage Against the Heavens: Explicitly so.
- Really Seven Hundred Years Old: Everybody. Some, however, are older than others, being the Lost Colony's founders.
- Rebellious Spirit
- Sdrawkcab Name: Mara, the Lord of Illusion, disguises himself as a beggar named "Aram." Shockingly, Yama sees through this ruse.
- Schizo-Tech: Necessary, so that the gods can maintain their "divine" cover when dealing with their followers, who are still living in Medieval Stasis.
- Sealed Evil in a Can: When he and the rest of the First conquered the planet, Sam bound the Rakasha inside Hellwell, a specially-created cavern inside a mountain. After he decides to embark on a campaign against Heaven, he releases them to serve in his army.
- Shapeshifter Guilt Trip: attempted during Mara's clash with Yama, resulting in Mara's death.
- Shock and Awe: Sam's power is the ability to redirect electrons, which has a surprising variety of uses, such as calling down lightning or controlling mechanical devices. It's very hard to zap him with an Energy Weapon, because he can turn it off with his mind.
- Stop Worshipping Me!: Sam doesn't insist on it, but he certainly does nothing that would encourage it.
- Sufficiently Advanced Alien: Actually, sufficiently advanced humans.
- Transsexual: The first Brahma was originally a woman named Madeleine, and used the advent of "reincarnation" as an opportunity to become male. He continually frets that the women in his harem may be able to sense that he is "naturally" female.
- Trickster Archetype: Sam is a classic.
- The Unfettered
- Vibroweapon: The Bright Spear, which vibrates itself clean of gore.
- Warrior Monk: Rild, both before and after his conversion to Buddhism.
- Woman Scorned: Kali brings this to exciting new levels, resulting in (temporary) Death by Woman Scorned for Sam.
- The World Is Not Ready: The antagonists use this as a justification for keeping their vast technology restricted to a tiny portion of the population. The protagonist calls them on it by asking why they've been actively quashing the spontaneous invention of technology.
- A Worldwide Punomenon: The entire book was written for the single purpose of a single pun.
- It's "Then the fit hit the Shan" if you were wondering.