Top positive review
A Powerful Meditation On An Alternate Earth With No Christianity
Reviewed in the United States on February 1, 2017
**couple minor spoilers**
This review is of a re-read. I am certain fans of KSR's Mars Trilogy ran into a brick wall with this alternate history where the plague decimated Christendom, leaving Buddhism and Islam the world's primary religions. It is a reflective, intensely personal work told through a group of individuals, or jati in Hindu, who progress together through reincarnations from the time of Mohammad until roughly present day.
Each time this group is reborn, they can and often are different genders and different places in the world, but always with a name that starts with the same initial. We are witness to great discoveries (that roughly map to our own history) or quiet reflection on spirituality, religion, god, man, and suffering. There is much religious commentary and one thing I appreciate is a strong thread that discusses the feminist underpinnings of Mohammad's original concept for Islam--and how men in power have altered and abused that thought for their own ends.
The book is lyrical, funny, frightening, and ultimately enlightening. KSR doesn't pull any punches, nor should he, and we get well-formed, well-informed characters and a story that is driven by their desire to make things better for themselves and the world.
I also like how KSR, after the demise of characters in a given situation, has them return to the bardo, a place where their acts in their most recent lives are judged before they are sent back--with no memory of who they were (mostly) -- to live again. In the bardo, it's always about next time we'll do better. But there is always a skeptic and a dreamer. My favorite line was, "We may be in a hallucination here, but that gives you no right to be delusional!"
The second read, as with most books, exposes a richness and it was so easy to settle in, like a well-worn leather chair. If you liked the Mars series for its hard science, you won't find it here. But you will find a very personal reflection on what it means to be human in this world. I think that's why I admire KSR so much, I can go from Galileo's Dream to 2312 to Shaman and enjoy each for what they are. He is a fine, fine writer.