War in Heaven (1998) by David Zindell

Don't miss out on the other works in the series:
Neverness (1988) Book Review
The Broken God (1993) Book Review
The Wild (1995) Book Review
Available works by David Zindell


War in Heaven is the final book in David Zindell’s trilogy A Requiem for Homo Sapiens (1993-1998), the sequel to Neverness  (1988). Danlo wi Soli Ringess has returned to in the City of Neverness on the planet Icefall to confront his arch enemy, Hanuman li Tosh who has usurped the Church of Ringess and is now the undisputed power broker in the city. Zindell’s epic space opera interrogates the pressures placed on what it means to be human in the face of ever advancing technology.

Five years after the events of The Wild (1995), Danlo returns to Neverness, sent as an envoy by the newly established Order on planet Thiels to prevent the conflict with Hanuman’s church and its allies from escalating into a full blown war. Hanuman is in the process of building a planet-sized computer to function as a vehicle for his transcendental dream. Since Danlo’s ill-fated contact with the Tannahill Architects, known as the Iviomils, Neverness is under immediate threat. The Iviomils believe there can be only one true god, Ede, and that all other attempts to achieve godhood must be thwarted.

While Hanuman and Danlo drink from the same cup by taking a leaf our of Friederich Nietzsche’s teachings – thinly veiled, Zindell never actually credits him – they end up with different solutions. From the pulpit, Hanuman teaches that man must break free from the ‘all-too-human’, look deeply within himself, find his inner will and manifest that will in the world – ‘Do what thou wilt’ is his mantra’. Danlo also believes that the path to enlightenment rests on looking inward, discovering one’s true self and manifesting that self in life. The big difference of course is that Hanuman leaves it to a computer to do all the hard work. And once his super computer is complete, his followers are meant to instantiate as virtual beings in this transcendental heaven, devoid of pain and suffering, their pleasure centres constantly stimulated with religious bliss. Nothing ever dies in Hanuman’s simulated paradise, there is need to eat, even tigers are nice. Hanuman literally is God in this world, a fatherly omnipresent entity who interferes directly in the lives of virtual beings, a virtual deus ex machina.

At this point in the novel, Zindell’s narrative starts to move along parallel tracks to Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos (1989-1997). Hanuman’s promise of immortality is similar to taking the cross, the cruciform of the Catholic church in Simmons’ work. Danlo’s resistance to religious dogmatism, indeed his path to enlightenment via the Elder Eddas, is similar to Aenea’s struggle with the Catholic church and her unlocking of the secrets of the Void Which Binds. Even the enlightened states achieved by the two series’ characters are similar. 

As Danlo is starting to experience visions of events that take place far away, for example an inner vision of the battles between the Fellowship fleet and the Ringist fleet, he gradually starts to unlock the secret of the Elder Eddas. He discovers that memory is interchangeable with matter, that nothing is ever lost in a Universe that records all events, remembers itself and encodes that memory in all matter. By the same token, he discovers that also consciousness is interchangeable with matter, something that allows him to heal himself simply by force of will. Ultimately, based on the premise that memory is recorded in all matter, Danlo experiences a vastening of his consciousness, interwoven with the entirety of the Universe. It follows that the source of salvation, mankind’s painful relationship with mortality, lies in understanding that nothing is ever destroyed, no one never really dies. The Elder Eddas is not racial memories as previously thought, but universal memories.

In Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos (1989-1997), the interconnectedness of the Universe and the consequent possibility of seeing and accessing events far away are loosely conveyed via String Theory’s multi-dimensional premises. This is not the case in Zindell’s work. However, it does seem safe to assume that his work is based on a similar premise, as only the existence of hidden dimensions can explain in scientific terms the ability to access planes not permissible to us in a three-dimensional Universe. Either way, the Neverness Universe (1988-1998) and Hyperion Cantos (1989-1997) both flirt with the idea of eradicating the human condition and both end up celebrating it.