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Shiva 3000
Jan Lars Jensen
Pan paperback £5.99

review by Steve Sneyd

In this far future India, the Hindu gods move among men, monstrously unpredictable. Only one force opposes them, the Baboon Warrior, part man, part ape.

Rakesh, an ordinary man adrift in this extraordinary world, sees his city, Dholapur, crushed by the mighty divine engine of destruction, Jagannath, and comes to believe that the devastation is a personal message to him from the gods, telling him that he must somehow overcome and kill the Baboon Warrior.

Escaping Jagannath through the underground passages of a far older city, he encounters, and saves, Vasant, inventor and engineer to the far off royal court in Delhi, expelled by his enemies there. This unlikely pair team up, unwillingly, Vasant wishing to return to Delhi and expose the conspiracy against him he believes has been led by orgiastic worshippers of the Kama Sutra cult who have corrupted members of the royal family, Rakesh determined to lure the Baboon Warrior out into the open where he will be vulnerable.

After a series of extreme adventures, including boarding, and then bringing under their control, the Jagannath monstrosity with the aid of the last survivors of a group who, defiantly, believe that reason can prevail over religious madness, the Pragmatics, both together reach the culmination of their quests, Rakesh drivenly persisting to the end despite the distraction of discovering love with Pragmatic woman Yamuna.

I found the ending (which it would be unfair to reveal) an anti-climax; simplistic and unconvincing in the swift over-easy way the final revelation changes the protagonist's mindset. This much-praised book also, to me, has difficulty in competing with the remarkable use made of similar material - i.e. the immanent presence among men of the Hindu pantheon - in Roger Zelazny's classic SF novel Lords Of Light.

Nevertheless, although the characters are more plot puppets than rounded beings, the descriptive set-pieces are genuinely wonderful, the incredible entities, from serpent goddess Naga in her deep-down den, Sheloblike, to the destruction-dancer Shiva and, most overwhelming of all, the forever-decaying, forever self-repairing, city-crunching Jagannath with its bellyful of zombified slaves, convince by their presence as they dazzle the imagination, and the book overall is a tour-de-force of conjuration of an utterly different society, as strange as that of any far alien planet, which yet grows plausibly from the culture and belief system of that existing South Asian economic giant-to-be as it races breakneck with China towards the role of 21st century superpower, India. A book most worth discovering...

One final footnote - it is a worrying sign of the increasing pressure that faiths are today putting on western secular society, including its writers, that Jensen, or his publishers, felt the necessity to include at the start of this far-future set work of science fiction the disclaimer that "the author respects all religions and does not intend, in this story, to cast any in a negative light"!
Shiva 3000

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