Creatures of Light and Darkness is a 1969 science fiction novel by Roger Zelazny. It is currently out of print, and a reprint promised for the end of 2006 has not appeared. It has been reprinted so many times that a given copy has accumulated numerous typographical errors, due to re-keyboarding the entire text at each printing, with minimal proofreading and no editing. It shares this property with paperback reprints of the original Dune novel.
Creatures of Light and Darkness was originally conceived and written as nothing more than a writing exercise in perspective by Roger Zelazny, yet when published turned into one of Zelazny's more popular books.
Unlike other books by Zelazny, such as Lord of Light or the The Chronicles of Amber series, this novel is more poetic in style, and contains less straightforward action. However, like other novels, Zelazny incorporates ancient myth, in this case from Egyptian and some Greek myth, and weaves ultra-futuristic technology with fantasy elements.
The Universe was once ruled by the god Thoth, who administered the different forces in the Universe to keep things in balance. In time, he delegated this administration to his "Angels" (other god-like beings), who were each in charge of different "stations", or forces in the Universe. Such stations included the House of the Dead, the House of Life, the House of Fire, and so on.
At some point, Thoth had awakened a dormant, malevolent force on a distant planet. This dark force, called the Thing That Cries In The Night, is so powerful and malevolent that it nearly obliterated Thoth's wife and threatens to consume the galaxy. Thoth works to contain and destroy the creature, and in so doing, neglects his duties in maintaining the Universe. The Angels become rebellious and use the power vacuum to fight amongst themselves for dominance
Thoth's son Set, who through an anomaly in Time is also his father, fights the creature across a devastated planet. Just as Set is about to destroy the creature, he is attacked by the Angel Osiris, who unleashes the Hammer That Smashes Suns, a powerful weapon that nearly kills Set and the creature. Thoth's brother, Typhon, who was helping Set in the battle, vanishes without a trace and is presumed dead. (Typhon appears as a black horse-shadow, without a horse to cast it. He contains within himself something called Skagganauk Abyss, which resembles a black hole, not a term in common use at the time.)
The Thing That Cries In The Night survived the blast, and so Thoth, who has meanwhile been utterly overthrown by his Angels, has no choice but to contain the dark force until he can find a way to destroy it. He also revives the personality of his wife and keeps her safe on a special world known only to him, where the seas are above the atmosphere, not below them. He also scatters Set's weapons and armor across the Universe for safe-keeping in the event that Set can ever be found. Having been overthrown, he is now dubbed The Prince Who Was A Thousand by all in the Universe.
Some of the surviving Angels either hide among the peoples of the Universe as mysterious "immortals", but others—Osiris and Anubis—take over the House of Life and the House of Death, respectively. Other stations are abandoned, and Osiris and Anubis are the only two powers in the Universe now. Osiris cultivates life where he can, while Anubis works to destroy it. Plenty and famine, proliferation and plague, overpopulation and annihilation, alternate in the Worlds of Life between the two Stations, much to the detriment of those who inhabit them.
Wakim, also known as Set the Destroyer, seeks the gear he lost a thousand years ago. One item (which has seen better centuries) is currently hidden in a cave and guarded by a three-headed dog.
Osiris has reduced old enemies, lovers, and others to elementary forms. He holds the skull (and brain) of a former lover in his hands. She taunts him until he throws her skull against the wall, smashing it and giving his victim release from further torment.
Osiris has captured another enemy and woven his nervous system into the fabric of a rug. He amuses himself by jumping up and down on it, listening to the screams of his victim via loudspeakers on the walls.
The blind Norns, the best smiths in the universe, await the arrival of Thoth, for whom they have built the Star Wand, a powerful weapon. Their fee: artificial eyes, which Thoth will install himself, because he is a skilled surgeon. He is also a skilled anesthetist. Unfortunately, the Norns are physiologically incapable of unconsciousness, so each begs to be operated on last. There is considerable screaming. After each has received his new eyes, he lovingly regards his tools, until his neighbors, envious of his advantage, blind him, as is their legal right.
The Steel General (like the Tin Woodman) has had his organic body replaced with stainless steel, but wears a ring made from his last hide of skin. He has alternated many times between flesh and metal: in flesh phases, he wears a steel ring, from his last metal skin; in metal phases, he wears a leather ring made from his last organic skin. He rides an eight-legged mechanical horse with diamond hooves and plays a banjo. He is the spirit of rebellion, which can never be killed. He may be an avatar of Pete Seeger or Woody Guthrie.
The Steel General, Set, and some others practice a novel martial art called temporal fugue. A fighter, seeing that his enemy is ready to attack, projects himself behind his enemy — in space and in time — so as to strike him from behind. Of course, the enemy does the same thing. When both warriors use the technique, recursively, things get complicated. Each character is replicated over a hundredfold, at various times in the past and future, thus putting a considerable strain on the space-time continuum.
Insofar as I may be heard by anything, which may or may not care what I say, I ask, if it matters, that you be forgiven for anything you may have done or failed to do which requires forgiveness. Conversely, if not forgiveness but something else may be required to ensure any possible benefit for which you may be eligible after the destruction of your body, I ask that this, whatever it may be, be granted or withheld, as the case may be, in such a manner as to insure your receiving said benefit. I ask this in my capacity as your elected intermediary between yourself and that which may not be yourself, but which may have an interest in the matter of your receiving as much as it is possible for you to receive of this thing, and which may in some way be influenced by this ceremony. Amen.
This prayer, also called the Possibly Proper Death Litany, is uttered by one of the main characters, Madrak, to shrive a man about to commit suicide for money (given to his family).
The Agnostic's Prayer is cited by Larry Niven in his short story "What Can You Say About Chocholate-Covered Manhole Covers", where it is used as the sacrament in a formal divorce ceremony.
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