I found the fourth book of a Diana Wynn Jones series for teens, but I got it anyway because she is such a fine writer. And a book called Broken Kingdoms caught my eye. And on a shelf so high I had to fetch a rickety set of stairs to get to it, this book, Shiva 3000.
As far as I am concerned, Shiva 3000 is the book that all readers crave -- a book that you could read over and over again. I add it to a very short list: Dune, The Gypsy, Bone Dance, When Gravity Fails. The book is certainly a paen to Lords of Light, but it has the prose-musculature of Gene Wolfe, Christopher Priest, and John Crowley. The novel creates a far-future fantasy where the gods and demons of India command their subjects despite their wills, as discover two otherwise very chaste and religious men of different castes -- Rakesh and Vasant. This 1999 novel is an immersive tale, which I think what long quest stories attempt to do, but I think in this book it is accomplished with the thoughtful and imaginative virtuousity of its crafting.
Some of my favorite lines:
"Buddhists figured in stories but in daily life were less common than benevolent tigers."
"Reason was weak currency."
Some reviewers did not like this book because of the future depictions of religious rigidity and the abrupt ending; I was a bit disappointed that the only koan used (Zen puzzle-poem) was "one hand clapping" when there are thousands more which are more interesting and thematically relevant, but I've been reading a lot of them. Otherwise, who would know?
Which brought me to my own puzzle? Why had I never heard of this Canadian author before? Why was he not renowned? The answer was chilling: after the publication of this book, the author had a psychotic breakdown. He described it in a 2005 book, but otherwise, has written nothing else.
Part of me wants to track him down and let him know how amazing this book is. Another part thinks that would be cruel. I don't know.
I don't know.
Lessons: You can write a good story with words, but to write a great story, you need Words.
This story was also nominated in 2000 for the Locus Best First Novel.