Nutshell: douchebags leave earth, acquire technological immortality, and then, completely reasonably and necessarily, re-enact Hindu mythology.
This concludes my reading of Zelazny, and confirms the general pattern of prior books: chaotic presentation, no discipline, immortal protagonists, silly resolutions. This one tries to do something with Hindu mythology and buddhist theology, much like [b:Creatures of Light and Darkness|427252|Creatures of Light and Darkness|Roger Zelazny|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1295184836s/427252.jpg|2548393] messed with Egypt and [b:This Immortal|13827|This Immortal|Roger Zelazny|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1304429213s/13827.jpg|1174485] flirted with Greece.
Opening section has much promise, with reference to Indian theological concepts (nirvana, samsara, karma, ahimsa). That gets dropped pretty soon thereafter, and the religion & mythology become simply window dressing. Karma becomes a technician’s bailiwick: “the use of psych-probes on those up for renewal” (66), through which “body merchants” read over "your past life, weigh the karma, and determine your life that is yet to come. It’s the perfect way of maintaining the caste system” (67). Bad karma is defined by the state, of course (68), and each person maintains, apparently, a “prayer account” and a “sin account” with the body merchants and karma masters (69). So, yeah, all very interesting.
Main conflict is between Accelerationism and Deicracy; former want to push forward with industrial development, whereas latter want to affix human civilization at a dark ages level, while high tech religious tools for reincarnation and karma are used for biopolitical management. For instance, wine is lost, though one character has preserved some, “from vanished Urath” (55). Accelerationist Buddha objects that they “should be assisting them, granting them benefits of the technology we had preserved, rather than building ourselves an impregnable paradise and treating the world as a combination game preserve and whorehouse” (78). Deicrats' motivation is basically rightwing paternalist: “it is because they are not ready for it […] and will not be for many centuries” (id.) Technology would result in savage wars: “They are our children” (id.). Brahma’s main task is “destroying all signs of progress” (79). Again, all very well laid out and damned interesting.
Great indication that, when humans showed up on this planet, they wiped out the indigenous life, styling them rakshasa and confining them in concentration camps (that was protagonist Buddha’s historical role, for which he is long remembered): “‘I did that which had to be done, to preserve my own species. Men were weak and few in number. Your kind fell upon them and would have destroyed them.’ ‘You stole our world, Siddhartha. You chained us here’” (148).
After that it turns into a friggin’ mess: a parade of deities and demons, who politic behind each others’ backs--hard to track, and not very worthwhile, all together, as it generally leads to some kind of unrepresentable combats between immortals. Overall, then, great opening regarding religion, class, economic development, ideology, imperialism, genocide--all wasted in trivial middle and by inexplicable finale. (Only redeeming feature of later bits is that Nirrti, goddess of decay, appears, but is actually Christian, and commands legions of flesh-eating zombies. I chuckled for an appropriate duration at an appropriate volume.)
Recommended for those who facilitate the passage of spirits from their fleshy envelopes, readers who play on fascist banjos, and people whose fertility deities are worse than marxists.