The Broken God (1993) by David Zindell

Don't miss out on the other works in the series:
Neverness (1988) Book Review
The Wild (1995) Book Review
War in Heaven (1998) Book Review
Available works by David Zindell


The Broken God is the first book in David Zindell’s trilogy, A Requiem for Homo Sapiens (1993-1998), the sequel to Neverness (1988). Set in the city of Neverness on the planet Icefall – one civilised world out of the 4,000 in the galaxy – it follows the education of Mallory Ringess’ son, Danlo wi Soli Ringess as he joins the Order of Mystic Mathematicians and Other Seekers of the Ineffable Flame (the Order). For three millennia the Order has been exploring the great mysteries of the Universe. Zindell’s epic space opera interrogates the pressures placed on what it means to be human in the face of ever advancing technology.

The story which is told by Danlo’s father centres on Danlo’s education, from his adolescent years as an Alaloi tribal member to his ascension as pilot of the Order. His friendship with fellow student Hanuman li Tosh becomes a defining feature in Danlo’s life. As time goes by, and the friendship deteriorates into a bitter rivalry, it also comes to define the narrative dynamic of the whole trilogy, their two fundamentally different belief systems pitted against one another. While Danlo chooses to become a pilot, Hanuman, under the auspices of  the Cetic Order, is educated in the art of cyber-shamanism, practising electronic telepathy and other forms of computer consciousness. No one has heard from Mallory since he took off on his quest to discover the Elder Eddas, the secret knowledge passed down by the extinct civilisation of the Ieldras. Rumours have it though that he has managed to unlock the ancient knowledge, and not only found the blueprint for achieving godhood, but also has become a god himself. In his absence a new religion has sprung up in his name, the Way of the Ringess (or Ringism).

The seeds of Danlo and Hanuman’s philosophical rivalry are evident from their first encounters with Ringism. Under the influence of a drug called kalla, church members partake in ceremonies of remembrancing, trying to remember the secrets of the Elder Eddas. While the secret is not unveiled until the last instalment of the trilogy, Danlo senses that it provides a way of overcoming the human condition, an opening of the mind that leads to a more profound understanding of reality. Conditioned by a troubled childhood, Hanuman only sees pain and struggle, machine gods engaged in eternally recurring wars. While Danlo embraces the human condition, Hanuman is dead-set on eradicating its negative aspects, and as he rises in the ranks of the church, he lets the remembrancing ceremonies transmute into computer-interfaced orgasmic seances, a clear perversion of Ringism. His ultimate goal is to design a simulated meta-life of pure bliss. Danlo and Hanuman thus apply two opposing solutions to the same problem, best captured perhaps by Hanuman as he paraphrases Frederick Nietzsche: “Man is a rope, tied between beast and god – a rope over a bottomless crevasse.”

Perversion of religion and the seductive promises of technological transcendence are major themes in the work, and Hanuman’s experiment is just the latest outgrowth in a long line of cybernetic religions. The most important is Edeism, which evolved around the 3,000 years old Nikolos Daru Ede, the first person in recorded history to transfer his mind to a computer. Edeism has since undergone several schisms and triggered numerous religious wars. The God Ede himself, as he turned into an ever expanding machine god, is now thought to be dead, long since defeated by another machine god. Core to Edeism is the belief that the computer provides the bridge to God; how it is practised differs. The Cybernetic Reformed Church (the Architects) for example subject their followers to a brain cleansing ceremony before they are allowed to interface with the church’s communal computers.

Danlo realises early in his education that the question of how to bridge the void, how to align the isolated self with the otherness of the universe, is shared by all philosophies, all spiritual and religious systems. Before entering the Order, Danlo is taken in by a Fravashi (a old Father), an alien, whose Socratic way of teaching – dissecting how different beliefs and worldviews are imprinted during childhood – is aimed at opening up the mind to new senses and free it from the all-too-human emotional luggage. Based on the thinly veiled Nietzschean idea that man can be overcome, the Fravashis strive for multiplexity, the ability to hold more than one reality at the same time. Staying true to oneself, embracing the human condition, and not giving in to cybernetic escapism, come to form the core of Danlo’s worldview.