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Literature / Creatures of Light and Darkness

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"Now, some say her name is Mercy, and others say it's Lust. Her secret name is Isis. Her secret soul is Dust."

Creatures of Light and Darkness is an interstellar Science Fantasy novel by Roger Zelazny. It combines Egyptian Gods with standard Science Fiction themes to produce a truly unusual work.

At opposite ends of the universe lie the House of Death, ruled by Anubis, and the House of Life, ruled by Osiris. Between lie the Middle Worlds, where mankind flies between the stars in mighty spaceships, and colonizes countless worlds. All in the Middle Worlds are subject to the tides of Life and Death, except the Three Hundred Immortals.

Anubis has spent a thousand years training a champion chosen from among those who dwell in the House of Death, and now this champion has mastered the arts of combat and Temporal Fugue. Anubis gives him a name, Wakim, and sends him forth to hunt down and destroy one of these immortals, The Prince Who Was A Thousand. Learning of this, Osiris decides that he should be the one to kill The Prince, so he dispatches his son, Horus. Meanwhile, on the world of Blis, medical technology and bio-enhancement are causing the tides of Life to approach critical mass...

Creatures of Light and Darkness is a Fantasy novel filled with Science Fiction tropes; almost the reverse of Zelazny's previous novel, Lord of Light, which was more-or-less a Science Fiction novel filled with Fantasy tropes. Though completely unrelated, the two works are often considered companion pieces. It is also one of Zelazny's most experimental and bizarre works, in terms of style. In fact, it actually started as a literal experiment. Zelazny intended it as a writing exercise where he could try out different techniques and approaches. His friend, fellow author Samuel R. Delany, finally persuaded him to publish it, and the book is dedicated to Delany.

This novel contains examples of:

  • All Amazons Want Hercules: Played with: Megra insists on fighting Wakim before she'll sleep with him — because she has genetic Super-Strength, and wants to make sure she doesn't break him accidentally.
  • Amnesiac God: Anubis's champion, Wakim, is actually Set.
  • And I Must Scream: Osiris deals with his enemies in this fashion. His ex-girlfriend is a living skull that he uses as a paperweight; one enemy is threaded into his carpet but aware as he is walked upon; other enemies are awake and aware in forms like ashtrays and fireplace pokers.
  • And Show It to You: A very darkly humorous scene where the god Horus consults a fortune-teller, specifically a reader of entrails. The entrails belong to the fortune-teller's chief rival, who gives accurate predictions while berating the fortune-teller for messing up.
    "Those are my entrails! I will not have them misread by a poseur!"
  • Arc Words: "Skagganauk Abyss" and variations occur several times throughout the book before its nature and ultimate purpose is revealed. Also, a series of interludes concerning a dog playing with a glove, a pair of old shoes, and three quarreling artisans.
  • Badass Boast: The Steel General has a multi-page one delivered on his behalf by Vramin. Wakim's is more succinct:
    Madrak: How is it you still stand?
    Wakim: Because I cannot fall.
  • Bio-Augmentation: Common on the human worlds, especially Blis, where we meet a wrestler with four arms, and Megra of Kalgan has such enhanced strength that she can only trust the strongest of men to survive her lovemaking.
  • Breaking the Bonds: Wakim is Strapped to an Operating Table with his powers deactivated. He manages to break one hand free — which is enough to freak out the villains — before help arrives.
  • Casual Interstellar Travel: Justified in the case of the Gods, who are not subject to natural law, but the Steel General seems to ignore light-speed when he travels on his Mechanical Horse, Bronze. Even for ordinary humans, interstellar travel seems fairly routine, and humanity has spread far across the universe.
  • Cyborg: Like Bio-Augmentation, blends of man and machine are common on the human worlds. We have the Pleasure-Comps (see Sex Bot below) and one of the ultimate examples, the Steel General.
  • Death of the Old Gods: Inverted. The Egyptian Gods hold sway over a futuristic Standard Sci Fi Setting, and another mad, powerful old god is held captive to protect the universe.
  • Divine Date: Although it's not revealed until much later: Wakim/Set and Megra of Kalgan. Also, at the very end, Megra and Horus.
  • Divine Parentage: Set is both father and son to Thoth (and vice versa, of course), and Horus is the son of Osiris and Isis. The latter is canon in Egyptian Mythology.
  • The Dreaded: Both the mutineers live in mortal dread of Typhon.
  • Drop the Hammer: The Hammer That Smashes Suns. Of course, it might look more like a giant crossbow. That fires comets.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: In battles between Gods, worlds are shattered.
  • Eldritch Abomination:
    • The Thing That Cries In The Night is (probably) an old god even more powerful than the main cast. With great effort it can be contained, but it's practically impossible to kill.
      • It's subtle, but the implication is that the Thing That Cries In The Night is Yaweh.
    • Typhon's abilities are such that he's considered an Eldritch Abomination by some. It is rumored he is somehow related to the legendary Skagganauk Abyss, the ultimate empty place where even space doesn't exist.
  • Flowery Elizabethan English: The immortal Prince Who Was A Thousand tends towards this style of speech, especially when conversing with his bodiless love, Nephytha. Other immortals and gods speak normal modern English, for the most part.
  • Forceful Kiss: to Megra.
  • God Couple: Although it's not revealed until later, Thoth and Nephytha. Also, though the relationships are over at the time of the story, both Isis and Osiris (which is canon), and Isis and Set (which is not).
  • Hellish Horse: Typhon's form is a horse shadow with no horse to cast it.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: By Typhon, before the begining of the story and once again at the end, to defeat The Thing That Cries In The Night once and for all. Though it is not certain whether both of them are dead, banished forever, or just temporarily banished.
  • Indecisive Medium: One chapter is written as an epic poem and another is written as a script for a play. Zelazny wrote the book this way purposely as a writing exercise in perspective for himself, never really intending to have it published.
  • Insignificant Little Blue Planet: Humanity has spread across the stars, and the only mention of Earth is as the original home, many centuries ago, of the immortal Steel General.
  • Insult Backfire: Wakim is showing a distressingly cavalier attitude towards the plague-killed corpse (on a world with no disease and very little death) that he and a woman have discovered.
    Megra: "You are a deviant from the social norm!"
    Wakim: "Is that an insult or a diagnosis?"
  • Longevity Treatment: Blis has more-or-less eliminated death by old age. Death is so rare that the few who volunteer for suicide can leave their heirs a legacy by selling tickets to watch the death.
  • Mechanical Horse: Bronze, the Steel General's steed, is a magically-enhanced mechanical horse that can travel through space. With each step it takes, it travels twice as far as the previous. It is said that with a sufficient run-up, it could circumnavigate the universe in a single stride.
  • My Own Grampa: Set is the father of Thoth. Thoth is the father of Set. Ponder that for a while.
  • New Wave Science Fiction: Although Zelazny firmly denied being a New Wave writer, this experimental novel (which was not originally intended for publication) was very much in the style of the New Wave.
  • No, I Am Behind You: One of the earliest examples of this trope. The Steel General, Wakim, and several other characters practice a martial art known as "Temporal Fugue", which allows the practitioner to project himself backwards through time for a few seconds. A duel between a Fugue master and an ordinary (albeit very powerful) warrior looks thus: "Then, bowing his head slightly, Wakim vanishes from where he stands and Madrak lies upon the ground, his staff broken before him." When two Fugue practioners fight, they both choose advantageous moments to attack and fight simultaneously in many moments during the Fugue interval. Unfortunately, such duels between two practioners can seriously strain the time-space continuum, and can even lead to the destruction of a planet they fight on.
  • Noodle Incident: Whatever time-travel shenanigans caused Set and Toth to be each other's father and son.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: One of the most prominent characters is Madrak the Mighty, a warrior-priest "of the non-theistic, non-sectarian sort", whose personal religion was based on an agnostic's deity (another character referred to him as a "holy ambulance-chaser"). When Set the Destroyer pointed out to him that Madrak had just aided in the destruction of the Nameless, an Eldritch Abomination from beyond the universe, which perfectly fitted the definition of Madrak's agnostic God, the idea that his god existed — and he profited by Its death — made him suffer a crisis of faith.
  • Physical God: All the Gods (and near-Gods) in the story, with the possible exception of the Thing That Cries In The Night.
  • Rebellious Spirit: The Steel General is an immortal cyborg who has dedicated himself to supporting insurrections across the universe, coming to be known as "The Prince of Revolution". He plays a mean banjo, too.
  • Sadly Mythcharacterized: The ancient Egyptian gods still rule the universe. While the actual myths have a great deal of variation in how some of these gods are portrayed, Zelazny ignored most of that in favor of characterizations which forwarded his plot, Thoth was the Top God before being forced out by a coup by Angels and trying to contain The Thing That Cries in the Night. Anubis is now an angel that became the ruler of the House of Death (a common misconception as Anubis was only the guardian of the resting places in the source myths). Osiris (The actual chief deity of the dead) became the ruler of the House of Life and is also an angel. Set is simultaneously Thoth's son and father.
  • Sex Bot: The Pleasure-Comps are hybrids, human from the waist down, which can function as oracles, but only when properly stimulated.
  • Small Universe After All: Osiris' House of Life and Anubis' House of Death are located at "opposite ends of the universe". The Gods, of course, can travel anywhere in the universe they want. It's also suggested that the teleportation power of the mysterious Prince Who Was A Thousand may even allow him to travel to other universes. Finally, The Steel General's horse Bronze can, in defiance of all laws of physics, travel twice as far with each step as with the previous.
  • Star Killing: The Hammer That Smashes Suns has, as the name suggests, been used for this; it's also one of the few weapons that's effective against a God.
  • Talking Your Way Out: Set the Destroyer has been taken captive, immobilized, and disarmed by his enemies. Set's gift is the ability to find the weaknesses in his opponents. One of his captors — a priest who is low on faith — is persuaded by Set that by taking Set captive, the priest is an accessory to the murder of God. The priest promptly kills his co-conspirators.
  • Title Drop: In the end, as Isis is preparing to withdraw from the Middle Worlds and let its creatures of light and darkness carry on as they would.
  • Top God: Thoth had this role, as ruler of the House of Life and Death, until his mysterious disappearance. Since then, Osiris and Anubis have basically split the job, as rulers of the House of Life and the House of Death respectively.
  • Tricked-Out Gloves: The Glove of Set, which, once worn, expands to cover the entire body in an armored mesh.
  • Unbuilt Trope: No, I Am Behind You, above.
  • Warrior Poet: The Steel General carries a collapsible banjo:
  • We Help the Helpless: The Steel General. "Behold the one who comes upon scenes of chaos, and whose cold metal hand supports the weak and the oppressed."