Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Lord of Light part 7: End of the Yuga

(Concluding my look at Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light)



As last we saw, Sam, the Binder of Demons and fraudulent Buddha has once again been captured by the gods after a bloody and destructive battle. To keep him out of their divine hair once and for all, the gods have used their mind-transfer technology to beam his consciousness into the magnetic cloud that encircles the planet. And here the narrative finally fits back to the first chapter, where we saw Yama, the god of Death, retrieving Sam's soul from Nirvana. Most of the novel so far has been one lengthy flashback; but now we are finally back in the present.

The Yuga is about to begin.


But before we rejoin Sam, we're going to visit with someone else.

Jan Olvegg was once the captain of the Star of India, the colony ship which landed on this planet in the legendary past. Unlike the rest of the crew, who used advanced technology to develop god-like powers and rule the other passengers as deities; Olvegg has been content to keep his head down and try to stay under Heaven's radar. We met him in Chapter Two, when Sam broke the Body Merchants of Mahartha. The young body Sam aquired for him then is ancient now, and Olvegg has spent many years sailing the southern seas. But now, his ship has been captured and he has been brought before Nirriti the Black.

Nirriti has been something of a boogeyman thoughout the novel so far, mentioned in passing, usually with a shudder. He is an enemy of the gods and commands armies of zombies. But his full story only comes out in bits and pieces.

Nirriti's original name was Renfew and he was the ship's chaplain. He objected to the crew making themselves gods, and eventually left their company, taking with him a group of his own followers and some equipment, including the body-transfer tech used by the gods to keep themselves immortal. Ganesha, the Karl Rove of Heaven, permitted him to do so under the assumption that it might be convenient to have an Enemy some day to use as a political scapegoat. Nirriti used the cloning equipment to make his army of "soulless ones", mindless minions with enough intelligence to follow orders, but no more.

He is a fanatic and one gets the impression he is more than a little unhinged. And yet, in the Second Chapter, Sam refers to him as his patron; and at the battle of Keenset, Sam accepts the zombies Nirriti sends in defence of the city. Yama distrusts him. Nirriti may be an enemy of the gods, but he is no champion of science or technology; and Yama fears that Nirriti would set up a theocracy as opressive as the one Sam seeks to topple.

Nirriti is delighted to meet Olvegg. "One of the First, and -- yes! -- a Christian!"

"Occasionally, when I run out of Hindi swear words," Olvegg admits.

Nirriti gladly welcomes a new ally in his crusade against the false gods of the Celestial City. For his own part, Olvegg would also be happy to see Heaven fall and agrees to join up with the Black One.

Taraka, chief of the Rakasha has also allied himself with Nirriti. Why a fanatical Christian would join forces with a demon is not explained. Perhaps Nirriti considers the gods to be the greater evil. Perhaps, (and this would be ironic), Nirriti does not consider the Rakasha to be demons because he knows that they are not supernatural and the demons he believes in are.

But we are more interested in Taraka's motivations. Although his kind left their physical bodies untold ages ago, he still seems to be driven chiefly by testosterone. He feels a macho need to test himself against every male he encounters. He respects Sam, the Binder, because Sam bested him long ago. He tried himself against Agni, the god of Fire, and was scared by the intensity of the Fire god's power. But Agni was killed by Yama, whose deathgaze is capable of sucking the life out of any creature, even one such as Taraka. And even the Binder expressed respect for Yama's power. Taraka's only encounters so far with Yama have been inconclusive, and he's been itching for a rematch.

Since Keenset, Nirriti has been amassing his power, building his zombies into a mighty army with armaments and sky gondolas. He is now ready to strike against Heaven. With the aid of Taraka's demons, Nirriti's forces have been working their way northward, city by city. Eventually, the gods will have to get involved.

Brahma, ruler of the gods, and Ganesha, his advisor, are discussing just this very thing. The city of Mahartha is about to fall to Nirriti's forces, and Brahma is recieving pleas for help from tha city's temple.

"In the old days I would have taken the thunder chariot--" Brahma gumbles.

"In the old days there was not thunder chariot," Ganesha reminds him; "Lord Yama --"

"Silence! We have a thunder chariot now. I think the tall man of smoke who wears a wide hat shall bend above Nirriti's palace."

The "tall man of smoke" pretty clearly seems to be an allusion to a mushroom cloud. The two decide to let Nirriti take Mahartha to assess his power, and when Nirriti tries to hold that city, "then let the man of smoke nod his wide white hat -- over Mahartha." Brahma tells Ganesha to recall Indra, one of their mightiest warriors who has been off-stage for most of the book fighting a vaguely-defined campaign against the witches of the Eastern Continent; and to warn those cities next in Nirriti's path: Lananda, Khaipur, and Kilbar.

It is in Khaipur, in the Palace of Kama, that Sam and his friends have made their new headquarters. The establishment is run by Ratri, goddess of the Night, under an alias, and is known profanely as the Fornicatorium. The last place anyone would look for the Buddha.

"During the weeks we have dwelled here in Ratri's palace, I have meditated on my past lives," Sam says to Yama. "They were not all failures, deathgod... Though Heaven has beaten me at every turn, each victory hs cost them much."
"Yes, it would seem you are a man of destiny. They are actually weaker now than they were the day you challenged their power at Mahartha. They are also relatively weaker. This is because men are stronger. The gods broke Keenset, but they did not break Acceleration. Then they tried to bury Buddhism within their own teachings, but they could not. I cannot really say whether your religion helped with the plot of this tale you are writing, by encouraging Acceleration in any way whatsoever, but then none of the gods could say either. It served as a good fog, though -- it diverted their attention from mischief they might have been making, and since it did happen to 'take' as a teaching, their efforts against it served to arouse some anti-Deicrat sentiment. You would seem inspired if you didn't seem shrewd." 
"Thank you. Do you want my blessing?" 
"No, do you want mine?" 
"Perhaps, Death, later."
While Sam has been indulging in multi-chapter flashbacks, Yama has been gathering their own forces. Kubera has returned. He escaped the fall of Keenset and has been covertly leaking technology over the past fifty years. He hooked up with Sam's former personal physician, whom Sam gave charge of the body tranfer equipment he stole from the Lords of Karma in Mahartha. Yama has also sent word to the small kingdom Sam used to rule back when he was Prince Siddhartha, and they are willing to send an army to aid their former ruler. Yama has also tracked down Krishna, a lechreous drunk much of the time, but one of the most formidable fighters of all the gods when he is sober. Krishna left Heaven rather than participate in the battle of Keenset. He did not wish to fight his brother Lokapalas, and has been an exile ever since. "Yama, Kubera, Krishna, and if you're willing -- Kalkin!" Yama says, addressing Sam by one of his oldest names. "We will be the new Lokapalas, and we will stand together!"
"I've been designing new weapons. It is a shame that there must be so many separate and exotic ones. It is quite a drain on my genius to make each a work of art, rather than to mass-produce a particular species of offence. But the plurality of the paranormal dictates it. Someone always has an Attribute to stand against any one weapon. Let them face, though, the Gehenna Gun and be fibrillated apart, or cross blades with the Electrosword, or stand before the Fountain Shield, with its spray of cyanide and dimethyl sulfoxide, and they will know that is its the Lokapalas thsy face!"
Sam suggests also enlisting the Rakasha and Nirriti. Yama resists both suggestions. The demons, he says, cannot be trusted; as for Nirriti, perhaps the best thing would be to stand back while he and the gods slug it out and then attack the victor. Yama asks if Sam can persuade his Buddhist followers to fight. "Possibly, but I might have to assume an identity I now find distasteful." He's developed some ethical qualms about using religion to scam people since returning from Nirvana.

Kubera reunites with Ratri in her garden. She barely recognizes him; he has gotten a new body and Yama's been keeping him so busy building things that he hasn't had the time to let it go to fat. Kubera apologizes for dragging her into exile that day in the Celestial City when he fled with Sam. She tells him not to feel guilty. "I would have left the City soon, at any rate."

Tak joins them. He has had the opportunity to gain a new body also, but has elected to remain as an ape for the time being because it is a useful form for spying. They discuss news about Nirriti and speculate on what Sam's plans may be. "I have always wanted to go to battle at the side of the Binder," Tak says. "In the weeks to come, I am certain that almost as many wishes will be granted as broken," Kubera replies.

Sam has decided on a course of action. He summons Taraka and has his carry a message to Nirriti. He is willing to ally himself and his supporters with Nirriti's crusade against the gods if Nirriti will agree to neither attempt to convert Hindus nor Buddhists by the sword, nor to try to repress technology as the gods have done.
"He knows that, if the gods were no longer present to enforce Hinduism as they do, then he would gain converts. He cas see this from what I managed to do with Buddhism, despite their opposition. He feels that his way is the only right way and that it is destined to prevail in the face of competition. I think he would agree to fair competition for this reason."
Sam tells Taraka to "look upon his flames" when Nirriti answers to see if he's answering truthfully, and then bring back that answer.

Before he goes, Taraka asks him, "Which one is the right way?"

"Huh? You're asking me that? How should I know?'
"Mortals call you Buddha." 
"That is only because they are afflicted with language and ignorance." 
"No. I have looked upon your flames and name you Lord of Light. You bind them as you bound us, you loose them as you loosed us. Yours was the power to lay a belief upon them. You are what you claimed to be." 
"I lied. I never believed in it myself, and I still don't. I could just as easily have chosen another way -- say, Nirriti's religion -- only crucifixion hurts. I might have chosen one called Islam, only I know too well how it mixes with Hinduism. My choice was based upon calculation, not inspiration, and I am nothing." 
"You are the Lord of Light."
Taraka also asks Sam if he could defeat Yama in battle. "I don't think so... I don't think anyone could." Sam does not realize the importance of this question.

The Demon Lord leaves Sam but does not go to Nirriti. He does not want Sam and Nirriti to join forces; not while Yama is on Sam's side. Taraka wants his rematch with Yama to determine which of them is the baddest badass on the planet. So he delivers Sam's message to the heart of a storm. "For the storm never lies ... and it always says No!"


But Nirriti does receive an offer from an unexpected quarter. Ganesha shows up in his camp. "You know I am a Christian sympathizer," Ganesha says, reminding Nirriti how he aided him in his flight from Heaven. Ganesha tells him that the gods plan to let Nirriti tire himself out taking the next few cities, then meeting him in force at the city of Kilbar; but Ganesha's own plan is for the demigods who have been dispatched to defend Kilbar to take a dive. A lot of the younger demigods are dissatisfied with Brahma's rule; and perhaps Ganesha has decided that this Brahma is not as malleable as the previous one. He does not say exactly what he gets out of all this; he merely asks Nirriti to remember his visit and his offer.

"Would you trust this one?" Olvegg asks after Ganesha has left.

"Yes, but I would give him his silver afterward."

Sam holds a council of war. Taraka has told him that Nirriti has rejected his offer. Nirriti's forces are advancing, city by city, up the river. Khaipur, where Sam and his friends are, lies right in their path. "We could not make a deal with Nirriti. Do you think we could make one with Heaven?"

This outrages Yama. Hasn't Sam's whole campaign been a war against the gods?

No, Sam tells him, the campaign has been about Acceleration; empowering the humans of the planet to improve their tech level and their lives without an oppressive hand over them. The gods have actually been doing very little these past fifty years while Sam dreamed in Nirvana to hinder technology; and humans have shown a greater willingness to defy the mandates of Heaven. "Since this is the situation as it actually exists, they have nothing to lose by acknowledging it. In fact, they could make it a show to their favor, as a benign gesture of divine graciousness. I think theat they would be willing to make the concessions Nirriti would not --"

"Heaven fell that day at Keenset," Sam continues. "Another generation, perhaps two, and its power over mortals will have passed... They have reached their peak. Their decline has set in."

Yama is still not happy. He has personal reasons for wanting Heaven to fall: he still has an obsessive love for Kali, his one time lover and wife who now wears the body and the role of Brahma; as well as an implacable hatred of her for her betrayal of him. Not a good situation. Sam promises that he will deal with Brahma.

As he did before in Mahartha, Sam calls Heaven through the local temple's communication system. "Who are you who wears the turban of the First and goes armed in the Temple," Brahma demands.
"Rild didn't kill me. The phantom cat who shall remain nameless did a good job, but it wasn't good enough. And now I've crossed back over the Bridge of the Gods. The Lokapalas have chosen me as their leader. We will defend Khaipur and break Nirriti, if Heaven will help us." 
"Sam... it couldn't be you!' 
"Then call me Kalkin, or Siddhartha, or Tathagatha, or Mahasamatman, or Binder, or Buddha, or Maitreya. It's Sam, though. I have come to worship thee and make a bargain."
Sam lays out his offer: roughly the same one he had for Nirriti. He wants Heaven to sanction Acceleration and religious freedom. In addition, he wants an end to the Lords of Karma's religious monopoly on reincarnation. "The first two merely amount to agreeing that something does exist and has a right to go on. The third will come to pass whether you like it or not, so I'm giving you a chance to be graceful about it."

Brahma agrees and tells Sam to untie the temple's priest. Then adds:
"After the battle, should we live, I would talk with you -- concerning mutual worshp." 
"You wish to become a Buddhist?" 
"No, a woman again..."
Unlike the Battle of Keenset in the previous chapter, we get very few glimpses of the Battle of Khaipur. Ganesha tries one last bit of treachery, attempting to stab Brahma in the back in the heat of the battle, but he is killed instead by Olvegg. Nirriti, clad in Kirbyesque battle armor, engages Brahma in hand-to-hand combat.

As Yama rides to Brahma's aid, he gets hit by several gallons of water. It's not a premature victory bath of Gatorade; it's Taraka, washing the demon repellant of Yama so that the two of them can fight. Now Taraka finally gets his wish; he gets to test himself againt the full fury of Yama's power. Brahma breaks Nirriti's neck but is attacked by Indra who tries to complete the betrayal planned by Ganesha.

Sam rides up to the scene in time to see Taraka as the demon's life is extinguished. "Oh foolish demon! ...It need not have been..." Olvegg is badly wounded. Nirriti is dying. Indra is dead. And so is Brahma.

Yama drops down beside Brahma, the deathgod desperately trying to revive the one who had been his lover. "Too late," says Nirriti, "Or rather, just in time. You're Azreal, aren't you? The Angel of Death..."

Furious, Yama slaps Nirriti, who responds by reciting the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the poor in spirit... Blessed are they that mourn... Blessed are the meek..."

"'And blessed are the peacemakers,'" Yama snaps at him. "'for they will be called the children of God. Where do your fit into the picture, Black One? Whose child are you, to have wrought as you have done?" In disgust, Yama turns from the mad cleric; picks up Brahma and walks back to the city.

Sam, however, offers the dying man a drink from his canteen. Nirriti recognizes him. "You? You rose again?"

"It doesn't count," says Sam. I didn't do it the hard way."

One gets the sense in this poignant conversation that this was not the battle Sam ever wanted to win, or even to fight. "I agree with everything you said to Yama, and so do the followers of the one they called the Buddha.... Whatever the source, the message was pure, believe men That is the only reason it took root and grew."

"It was a greater will than mine that determined I die in the arms of the Buddha, that decided upon this Way for this world," Nirriti says. "Give me your blessing, oh Gautama. I die now."

The battle is over now, and Khaipur stands. Kubera brings the badly wounded Olvegg to the Halls of Karma and and finds unexpected carnage; all the technicians have been killed. The dead body of Brahma lies on one of the transfer tables. "Someone must have told Yama he couldn't use the machinery to try a transfer," Kubera says.

Tak has been given a human body again, and has decided to join up with Jan Olvegg, now healed, and go seeking adventure. "I'd like to see the rest of the world, Kubera, before you manage to mechanize all the magic out of it." He also looks up Sam to say good-bye. "I knew you'd win. I knew you'd find the answer."

"It was just a small battle," Sam insists. "They could have done as well without me."
But he does concede that "Something always manages to draw me near the tree that lightning is about to fall upon." It's not Desinty, he insists, "Rather an accidental social conscience and some right mistake-making, I fear." Sam turns down Tak's offer to come adventuring with him, and muses that perhaps he'll take Tak's old job and become Sam of the Archives. Tak finds this unlikely.

Kubera has finally tracked Yama down. He finds the deathgod holed up in an inn with a girl, scarcely more than a child, whom he is trying to teach how to speak. "She is my daughter," Yama tells Kubera. "Her name is Murga." The reader might miss it, but one of Kali's other names was Durga. "She is retarded," Yama continues. "She suffered some brain damage..."

"Congenital, or transfer effect?" Kubera asks. He's not stupid. Yama had attempted to transfer Kali's soul into a new body at the Hall of Karma, but Brahma was already too far gone. But none of this is explicitly stated, and Yama insists, "She is my daughter... Murga." The cycle of reincarnation has ended for Kali. She has been reborn, but is now a completely different woman; a blank slate.

Kubera offers to help; and uses his power to infuse inanimate objects with emotional states, he stimulates the learning centers of her brain. "The Lokapalas are never defeated."

The narrative ends by once again taking a step back into the voice of the storyteller. We are given four different accounts of Sam's departure. Some say he left Khaipur to put on the saffron robe of an anonymous monk. Some say that he was called back to Nirvana by the Powers Beyond Life. Others say that he adopted yet a new identity and walks among mankind still to carry on the fight defending the lowly from oppression. Then there are those who say he reconsidered Tak's offer and journeyed off to the Eastern Continent where new battles and adventures awaited.

Yama departed also, leaving his daughter in the hands of Kubera and Ratri; and he too may have ridden off into the east. The fate of both are unknown.
But look around you... 
Death and Light are everywhere, always, and they begin, end, strive, attend, into and upon the Dream of the Nameless tha is the world, burning words within Samsara, perhaps to create a thing of beauty. 
And the wearers of the saffron robe still meditate upon the Way of Light, and the girl who is named Murga visits the Temple daily, to place before her dark one in his shrine the only devotion he receives, of flowers.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Banefinger!

A film review with SPOILERS A-PLENTY!!!

Director Christopher Nolan's latest film ("Dark Knight Rising") is out, and it is destined to be as talked about as it's predecessors.  If it's action and controversy that you seek, well here you are, come and get it!  But if you want a coherent plot with logical characters, look elsewhere.  The supposedly realistic superhero trilogy comes to an end with a dull thud, as the characters make stupid decisions, followed by plot loopholes, followed by foolish decisions, followed by cliches, etc.  The worst part was that it felt more like a lame update of a '60s James Bond movie than a sequel to the riveting "Batman Begins".

The film's main antagonist ("Bane", played with daft sincerity by Tom Hardy) is an update of the Bond villains Goldfinger, Blofeld, and Viktor "Renard" Zokas from the "World Is Not Enough".  Picture Blofeld as being young and muscular, with a masked strapped to his face that makes him sound like Goldfinger talking into a plastic cup.  Bane's plot:  capture Batman & Gotham City, torture them, and then kill the city while making a broken Batman watch.  And Bane will be in the city when he blows it up, killing himself in the process.



Like all Bond villains, Bane tells the hero the plot before sending him away to die in an inescapable prison (on the opposite end of the globe no less!).  Batman (played earnestly by Christian Bale) does not die of course; instead he is healed by a prison chiropractor with a magic rope and then escapes the inescapable prison.  Magic-healed Batman then apparently is instantly teleported back to Gotham all better from his broken back, now capable of punching out the same dude who bare-handedly broke his back earlier in the picture.  But oh, the realism.

So yes, the villain is not realistic.  But surely the story must be realistic.  I mean, if someone foiled your mentor's plot to destroy a city, the most realistic thing to do is hold the city hostage with a neutron bomb until you get bored and blow it up several months later.  And if you were a homicidal maniac claiming to have a neutron bomb that could take out the city, surely the realistic thing for the government to do would be cave to your every whim and do nothing to stop you, because maniacs never lie.  Surely if a maniac tells you your society is built on a lie, the realistic thing to do is to believe the maniac is telling the honest, factual truth.  Surely if you were a superhero who was betrayed by a criminal seductress ("Selina Kyle", played convincingly by Anne Hathaway) to said homicidal maniac, the realistic thing to do would be to trust her with your life again and again.  Surely if you were a criminal trapping the entire police force in the sewers so they could not foil your plans, the realistic thing to do would be to provide them with enough food and water so they would be strong enough upon release to take down your henchmen.



OK, while that scene did not appear in the film, I kept expecting it to.  I also expected Scotty Evil from Austin Powers to show up and say "No Bane!  Just kill them already!  We've got the guns!"  I mean seriously, the plot hinges around Bane's asinine attempt to blackmail the U.S. government into letting him kill a city, for no other reason than revenge.  "Give in to my demands or I will blow up the city!"  "OK, what are your demands?"  "Let me blow up the city!"  Surely an acclaimed writer/director can come up with a more "realistic" plot than that.

And surely if you were a director who wanted to tell a relevant metaphor to today's issues, you would make your Dickensian analogy more clear to all people, as Bane is no Robespierre.  Surely if you wanted to tell a tale of two cities, you would not make a film that indulges the Fox News audience in their thought that our economic choices are unregulated capitalism or Stalinist communism.  And surely a director with both ambitions and a cinematic bar set as high as Christopher Nolan would spend more time on plot and less on IMAX action spectacles.

Director/writer Nolan (with co-writers Jonathan Nolan & David Goyer) seems to have attempted to be as thought-provoking as in the "Dark Knight".  But where DK made you think about the war on terror, "Dark Knight Rising" makes you think about... um... class warfare?  Nihilism?  It's hard to tell, because while the villain in DK -- an anarchist and self-labelled "agent of chaos" -- was clearly bent on instilling terror in Gotham's citizens, the villain in DKR talks the class warfare talk, he clearly wants to kill everyone the city regardless of status.  In the first film of the trilogy, "Batman Begins", Bane's mentor  Ra's Al Ghul wanted to destroy Gotham because it was corrupt and crime-ridden and it needed to go away.  But by the time of DKR (set some 9 years later after BB) Gotham is now uncorrupt and peaceful and Bane only wants to destroy the city out of spite, killing himself in the process.

So no realism, or logic, or usable metaphors.  There are a few redeeming features, such as the performances of Hathaway, Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as earnest Detective R. John Blake.  Some of the action sequences are indeed very gripping, as is the score by Hans Zimmer.  But none of those features make up for the muddled mess of this film.  Nolan didn't gives us a deep, resonant meditation on the war on terror (as in "Dark Knight") or even a rousing superhero story (as in "Batman Begins").  In this film, Nolan just gives us the Banefinger.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Friday, July 13, 2012

5 Lyricists Whose Work I Highly Recommend

Being a "writer" (note the quotation marks) I have to get some inspiration from somewhere. Most writers get their inspiration from other writers. I get most of mine from lyricists. Here are five that I tend to gush over.

5. Aesop Rock
Rap and hip-hop have never been my thing. The lyrics I tend to hear most involve too much superficiality. But there are a select few who can go very deep with their words. Aesop Rock is one of them. Whether rapping about the drudgery of the 9-5 lifestyle ("9-5ers Anthem" and "Labor"), the struggles of Bipolar Disorder ("One Of Four" and "Gopher Guts"), or God knows what (most of his early work) you can always expect some deep lyrics delivered over some kick-ass beats.

Sample Lyric:
"Life's not a bitch, life is a beautiful woman
Your only call her a bitch because she won't let you get that pussy
Maybe she didn't feel y'all shared any similar interests
Or maybe you're just an asshole who couldn't sweet talk the princess"
- "Daylight"

4. Tod A.
Probably the most obscure person on this list, Tod A. was the singer in two bands that never achieved mainstream success (Cop Shoot Cop and Firewater.) The former was a bass guitar-heavy industrial-type band with mostly political lyrics. The latter is an indie band with influences that span almost every genre of music ever (though mostly middle-eastern styles) with more personal lyrics. Both bands are fronted by Tod A's unique voice.

Sample Lyric:
"When the moon opens up her eye
And the sun bows down his head
You come stealing softly to my bed
When the dogs chase rabbit dreams
Cats are milking up the fire
You dance toward me
Balanced on a slender wire
"
-"Balaliaka"(Firewater)


3. Mike Patton
Possibly more eclectic than Mr. A. up there, Mike Patton has been in more bands than can be listed here. The most famous of these are probably Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, and Tomahawk. While those three are usually associated with rock, the genre of each one is hard to pin down. Faith No More does everything from rock to rap to lounge, Mr. Bungle is circus rock, and Tomahawk is just Tomahawk. Though he says his lyrics have no real deep meaning and that he writes them just to go good with them music, they are still pretty good. His vocal range is all over the map and you'd be hard pressed to find a better singer.

Sample Lyrics:


"I know you have a reason why
That knot is better left untied
I just went and undid mine
It takes some time
And the shadows so big
It takes the sun out of the day
And the feeling goes away
When you close the door"
-"Digging The Grave" (Faith No More)

2. Keith Buckley
Metal isn't everyone's bag, but being an angsty white man, it resonates well me. Keith Buckley, from the bands Every Time I Die and The Damned Things, is my favorite metal lyricist out of a genre teaming with them. His lyrics are overflowing with metaphors, symbolism, and Shakespeare and obscure pop-culture references. It's hard to pinpoint what they're about sometimes, but it seems most of them are about love, grief, and partying. Known as one of the best screamers in metal and a good singer as well, you could do a lot worse than Keith.

Sample Lyrics:
"I was born a wanted man
But I'll die a sailor's wife
God help me pick the lock to her room I have to make this right
Scream the hounds to sleep for me
I'm creeping around in your head like a vine
Your spit is the meat of the rose harvested by the dull"
-"Tusk And Temper" (Every Time I Die)


1. Tom Waits
Tom Waits is a man who needs no introduction, but I'm giving one anyway. Releasing music since the 1960's, his work started off jazzy and folky but evolved into something indescribable. Most of his songs involve the stories of blue collar protagonists or love loss (though he sings about almost every topic.) Known for his raspy voice and beautiful music, Mr. Waits is a living legend in some circles and he deserves the respect he gets.

Sample Lyric:
"
I disappear in your name
But you must wait for me
Somewhere across the sea
There's a wreck of a ship
Your hair is like meadow grass on the tide
And the raindrops on my window
And the ice in my drink
Baby all I can think of is Alice"
-"Alice"

Well, there you have it! Five of my favorite lyricists for those who wish to know (which is no one.) I'd like to hear your favorites so please, leave them in the comments!

Honorable Mentions: J.R. Hayes(Pig Destroyer), Layne Staley (Alice In Chains and Mad Season), Jerry Cantrell (Alice In Chains), Bob Dylan, Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Eminem, Jeff Magnum (Neutral Milk Hotel), James Hetfield (Metallica), John Bush (Anthrax, Armored Saint), Bob Mould (Husker Du), Travis Meeks (Days Of The New), Henry Rollins (Black Flag and Rollins Band), etc

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Lord of Light Part 6: Murder in Heaven

Continuing my look at Roger Zelanzy's novel Lord of Light

Prince Siddhartha, the Great-Souled Sam, the Binder of Demons and the Buddha is no more; his body, torn to pieces by the phantom cats of Kuriburrha has been burned in the Celestial City amidst great celebrations. The gods have had their vengence. But events have been set in motion which cannot be ended by something as simple as a pride of mutant tigers, and Sam's subversive campaign against Heaven is far from over. Like Yellowbeard the pirate, saints are never more dangerous than when they're dead.


The gods have something of a problem on their hands. Lord Brahma, the Creator of the Universe and chief god of the ruling Triumverate, has been found in his garden with an acute case of mortality. Not only is he merely dead, he's also most sincerely dead.

The surviving members of the Triumverate, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer, along with Ganesha, the god-maker, meet to discuss what to do.

"The first order of business must be the selection of his successor," Ganesha says. "Heaven must never be without a Brahma." The obvious choice is Ganesha himself, but the god-maker declines. He prefers being the Power Behind the Throne.

One by one, the Triumverate go through their options. They consider the Lokapalas, the tightly-knit brotherhood of gods who are highly respected; but Yama is "too serious, too conscientious -- a technician, not an administrator." Kubera is "Too smart. I'm afraid of Kubera." Indra is "too headstrong" and Krishna is "never sober."

Ganesha approaches the problem from another direction:
"What is our greatest problem at the present time?" 
"I do not feel we have any great probems at the present time," said Vishnu. 
"Then it might be wise to have one just about now," said Ganesha. "I feel that our greatest probelm is Accelerationism. Sam came back, stirring, making clear waters muddy." 
"Yes," said Shiva. 
"Accelerationism? Why kick a dead dog?" 
"Ah, but it is not dead. Not down among men. And it will serve to direct attention away from the succession within Trimurti and regain at least surface solidarity here in the City. Unless, of course you'd rather undertake a campaign agaisnt Nirriti and his zombies?" 
"No thanks."
Ganesha has an unorthodox suggestion. Kali should become the next Brahma. "The twin beasts, Buddhism and Accelerationism, draw a single chariot. The Buddha scorned her. She is a woman. She will carry on the campaign."

Assuming the role of Brahma will mean that Kali will have to forsake her female body and take on the form of a man. Her new husband Yama is not going to like that, but Ganesha is confident that he can handle the deathgod. Handling people is what Ganesha does best.


Back in the early days, there had been a split among the original crew of the colony ship, who had augmented themselves with god-like powers to tame the planet. Some of them, called Accelerationists, wanted to share their technology with the rest of the passengers, who had fallen into a relatively primitive state in the interim. The majority, called the Deicrats, wanted to maintain the status quo with them ruling over the rest as gods. Possessing a monopoly on the body-transfer technology that assured virtual immortality, the Deicrats were able to simply outlive their political opponents. Sam was the last Accelerationist; and who knew he would be the most dangerous.

Ganesha is correct that Accelerationism is not dead among men. We next get a vingette showing two men discussing a wondrous invention one is having installed in his house. "...a thing into which these items are dischared -- into the water -- and then a lever pulled, and then, with a mighty rushing sound, thse things are borne away, far beneath the ground... it involves great pipes and a seat without a bottom, or a top, really. It is the most wonderful discovery of the age..." Men are rediscovering technology.

Yama and Kali are called back from their honeymoon. Ganesha asks Yama to investigate Brahma's murder. Being the god of Death, and a genius to boot, he is the obvious person to ask. Ganesha also asks Kali if she would assume the golden saddle and silver spurs of Brahma. To Yama's dismay, Kali does not immediately reject the idea. Privately, he urges her to refuse Ganesha's request. Traditionally, when one partner in a marriage transfers to a new body, the marriage is dissolved.

"Then if you love me -- and you are truly my lady --" he says, "then let another be Brahma."

"I am sorry, Yama..." Kali replies.

Yama goes off to the Pavilion of Silence to brood, and spends a day and a night there. When he emerges, he learns another murder has been committed. Shiva has been found with his head bashed in by a blunt instrument. There is a new hole in the Dome of Heaven to show where he fired at his assailant with his trident of anihilation and missed.

He consults briefly with his friend Kubera. They agree that both murders were likely committed by the same person, and that it was a person known to both victims. Kubera doubts that the crimes are part of an Accelerationist conspiracy, but concedes that they might be the result of someone's vendetta. "Has the investigation been given into your hands?" he asks Yama.
"I am no longer certain. I think so. But I will find who did it, whatever his station , and kill him." 
"Why?" 
"I have need of something to do, someone to..." 
"Kill?" 
"Yes." 
"I am sorry, my friend."
After Yama leaves, Ratri, the goddess of Night also visits Kubera for some advice. She thinks that she was "either the last to see Brahma alive or the first to see him dead, depending upon what his twitching signified." Now she fears that she will be suspected of his murder. Kubera tells her it would be better to come clean to Yama now, rather than have this information come out once the Deathgod starts brain-scanning everyone; but he promises his protection.


Yama identifies no fewer than thirty-seven people who had opportunity to poison Brahma, several of whom are gods. He uses the psych-probe he designed to investigate each one of them; and they all came up innocent. For the moment, Yama is baffled, but Kubera has an idea which he investigates on his own.


While the investigations proceed, Kali, the new Brahma, announces plans to strike against Accelerationism. A city called Keenset, on the river Vedra, has been experiencing something of a technical renaissance. The printing press has been re-discovered; sophisticated plumbing is being developed and a clever glasscutter has invented bifocals. This kind of thing has to be nipped in the bud. Along with Agni, who has assumed Shiva's role, and Mara, they begin to assemble an army of demigods and mortals to crush Keenset.

Kubera finds who he is looking for lying on a grassy hilltop. It is Sam, but wearing the body of Murugan, whom we last saw demanding a fresh form for Kail and Yama's wedding.

"You killed a weak Brahma and a mighty one has replaced him... You killed a strong Shiva, but an equal strength replaces his," Kubera says. He asks Sam why. "What did you hope to gain? Revenge?"

"Revenge is part of the illusion of self," Sam says. But Kubera won't settle for koans. Pressed, Sam continues,
"I decided that mankind could live better without gods. If I disposed of them all, people could start having can operners and cans to open again, and things like that, without fearing the wrath of Heaven. We've stepped on these poor fools enough. I wanted to give them a chance to be free, to build what they wanted."
Sam asks how Kubera found him out. "It occurered to me that Sam would be the number one suspect, except for the fact that he was dead," Kubera says. "I had assumed that to be sufficient defense against detection," Sam replies.

Kubera had guessed that if Sam were one of Yama's thirty-seven suspects, Sam's electro-direction powers might have been able to cause Yama's psych probe to give a false reading. Kubera noted that Murugan had recieved a new body shortly after Sam's death. Comaring Murugan's brain scans to earlier scans on record, Kubera determined that they were of two different persons.

Sam confirms his guess, and tells how Takara the demon had "strengthened his flames," allowing him to exist as the Rakasha do in a disembodied state after his body was killed. Finding Murugan's new body being prepped for a mind transfer, he slipped in. "I went into Murugan's new body and Murugan went to hell."

Kubera is sympathetic to Sam's goals and offers to help him escape Heaven; but Sam is determined to continue his one-man war, exterminating the whole pantheon one god at a time. Sam likes Kubera and offers to let him go if he'll promise not to tell anyone about their conversation; except that Sam has expressed his intention to kill Yama, who is the most dangerous one to Sam's plan, and Kubera can't countenance that: "He is a brother Lokapala and a friend."

Kubera offers a wager. He proposes they have a contest to settle the matter. If Kubera wins, Sam will leave Heaven; if Sam wins, Kubera will keep his silence. The contest is an old-fashioned Irish stand-down, in which each party takes turns punching each other until one stays down. "With you, fat Kubera? And me in my magnificent new body?" Kubera says "Yes."

Yama hears a distrubance in the Garuda bird pen and sees Kubera lugging and unconscious Murugan to one of the huge birds. Yes, Kubera is fat; but he also cheats. Kubera comes up with an unconvincing story about why he needs to take Murugan out of the city that fails to satisfy the skeptical deathgod. Ratri is with Yama, and Yama commands her to lay an area of darkness upon the Garuda birds. Kubera tells her instead to blind Yama and to join their escape. Ratri makes her decision. Now she is a fugitive too.

The three fly to Keenset where they warn the populace of the coming attack and help them prepare. Sam and Kubera organize and drill the defending army. Kubera also begins training the local savants and artisans in basic principles of chemistry and engineering so that whatever happens, the knowledge will not be lost.

Takara arrives with a legion of demons in order to fulfil the promise he had made to Sam and broken. He also brings news of more reinforcements: Black Nirriti, one of the First who had left Heaven and who is considered an abomination by pretty much everybody is sending an armie of his zombies, mindless clones, to help defend Keenset; and Dalissa, the last of the Mothers of the Terrible Glow has also agreed to help Sam. We don't get much description of these Mothers, but they seem to be some kind of monsterous sea creatures whom the First fought when the planet was first tamed.

Another ally arrives unexpectedly: Yama. "Divorces are made in Heaven," he tells Sam bitterly. "And betrayals. And shamings. The lady has gone too far, and I know the reason, Lord Kalkin. I neither embrace your Accelerationism nor do I reject it. Its only mattering to me is that it represents the one force in the world to oppose Heaven." Yama has brought a new thunder chariot as well as his own high-tech arsenal. He also brings the Talisman of the Binder; the device Sam stole to amplify and focus his powers.

The forces of Heaven attack: men from nearby cities urged to a holy crusade by their temples, augmented by demigods, deities-in-training who have not yet fully developed their Aspects and Attributes; with air support by the new Triumvirate in Shiva's thunder chariot.

The battle is brutal and chaotic. At first the defenders seem to be prevailing. But Sam becomes reckless. "It is you, isn't it, Kalkin?" Mara the illusion god says recognizing Sam and mocking him. "This is your sort of war. Those were your lightings striking friend and foe alike." Sam has become less and less subtle of the course of his campaign against Heaven, starting out with quiet subversion, then recruiting allies, going on to theft, murder and now wholesale bloodshed.

The tide of battle turns, and Sam is forced to retreat. One by one, his allies are picked off and captured, and he too falls.

Keenset is destroyed.

Sam, Yama and Ratri are brought back to Heaven. Kubera is not found and remains at large. Mara warns that Heaven's victory has been a Pyrrhic one; but Brahma only cares that they have won.

Yama's body is found dead in his cell the next morning after the detonation of a small explosive device. It seems that he had build a mind-transfer device small enough to be hidden in his turban. Now Yama too is at large.

But Sam is not. The gods are not going to make the same mistake twice. So instead of killing him outright, they decide to complete the story of Buddha by declaring that Sam's soul has been judged worthy of Nirvana. They attach the leads of the body transfer apparatus to a radio transmitter and beam his soul into space to inhabit the golden magnetic belt that encircles the planet. Which is where we found Sam at the beginning of Chapter One.
"The Buddha has gone to nirvana," said Brahma. "Preach it in the Temples! Sing it in the streets! Glorious was his passing! He has reformed the old religion, and we are now better than ever before! Let all who think otherwise remember Keenset!" 
This thing was done also. 
But they never found Lord Kubera. 
The demons were free. 
Nirriti was strong. 
And elsewhere in the world there were those who remembered bifocal glassees and toilets that flushed, petroleum chemistry and internal combustion engines, and the day the sun had hidden its face from the justice of Heaven. 
Vishnu was heard to say that the wilderness had come into the City at last.
NEXT:  Chapter Seven: Götterdammerung! The End of the Yuga! The final battle between Sam and the gods; double-crosses; zombies; and the ultimate fate of the Buddha! Be there!