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660 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1992
Set into the snow around a large circle were wooden stakes. Each stake was topped with the skull of a different animal. There were a hundred different skulls: the great, tusked skull of Tuwa, the mammoth; the skulls of Nunki and long, pointed skulls of the snow fox and wolf; there were many, many smaller skulls, those of the birds, Ayeye, the thallow, and Gunda and Rakri, and Ahira, the snowy owl. Danlo had never seen such a sight in all of his life, for the boys of the tribe were not allowed to approach Winter Pock. In the twilight, the circle of greyish–white skulls looked ominous and terrifying. Danlo knew that each man, after his cutting, would look up at the skulls to find his doffel, his other–self, the one special animal he would never again hunt. His doffel would guide him into the dreamtime, and later, through all the days of his life.
‘Did you know that laughing at oneself is the key to escaping the glavering?’
Ahimsa, as he understood it, required only that he never harm another’s body or spirit. To inflict mind pain on another in order to provoke understanding was a Fravashi tradition that he cherished.
Danlo (...) looked at Hanuman and asked, ‘Do you think we are so different from others?’
‘You know that we are.’
‘But Hanu, we are still people.’
‘There are people,’ Hanuman said, ‘and there are people.’
‘The blessed … people. All people are blessed.’
‘But few are chosen,’ Hanuman said. ‘All through history, there have always been a few people destined to be something more.’
‘More … than what?’
‘More than they are. More than anybody is.’
Danlo smiled at this and said, ‘I think you are a natural aristocrat.’
‘How not? It’s only we, aristocrats in our souls, who can know what is possible.’
‘But what about the others?’
‘Others are other. You mustn’t think about them too much. All human society is a hierarchy. All life, this living pyramid. It’s only natural that a few human beings should stand at the top.’
‘You mean, stand on top of others.’
‘I didn’t make the universe,’ Hanuman said. ‘I just live in it.’
Danlo knelt in the snow, listening to the wind fall off the Hill of Sorrows and the icy mountains above. ‘But it is hard to live … with the boots of others kicking at your face.’
To a young man, even a student of the most fabulous and powerful school on the Civilized Worlds, the times during which he comes to maturity always seem normal no matter how extraordinary, how turbulent with change they really are. Imminent change and danger act as drugs upon the human brain, or rather, as rich foods that nourish the urge toward more life. And how easily one becomes used to such nourishment. Those who survive the signal events of history—the wars, plagues, alien contacts, vastenings, speciations and religious awakenings—develop a taste for ferment and evolution next to which all the moments of ‘normal’ existence will seem dull, flat, meaningless.
Entering into the passion and beliefs of any particular religion was like viewing reality through a crystal lens. Always, like a child’s prism held up to one’s eye, the lens of ritual and belief distorted reality and coloured it in strange (and sometimes beautiful) ways. But in each religion, cult, or faith, Danlo hoped to find a universal centre, a jewel of truth as pure and clear as a diamond. It was his task and destiny, as he conceived it, to grasp each religion he could find, to apprehend the world through its beliefs, and with the hammerstone of his will, to shatter the lens. Only then might the diamond centre be revealed; only then could he see things clearly. And someday he might look at the universe through his own eyes only, free of even diamond lenses, free to behold the infinite stellar fires and humanity’s burning pain through the consciousness of his deepest self.
Although set in the future, this book is more like high fantasy than sci-fi and technology is basically treated like magic. There are also strong mystical overtones throughout. I do like high fantasy, but that genre has to walk a fine line between earnestness and just pure silliness. I think this book is more of the latter than the former. The book is also told from the point of view of a single character and with 900 pages to get through the single reference point gets old fast, or at least it did for me.
Also, when reading this book I kept remembering David Brin's brilliant polemic against elitism in Star Wars and our myths in general. I think a similar charge could be leveled at The Broken God.