Monday, August 15, 2016

Neon Lotus

Picked up Marc Laidlaw's 1998 'Neon Lotus'. I've no idea about his books; never read any although I should have. I know him purely from his work on Half-Life since so much of my teens disappeared into it (and Dungeons and Dragons).

Protagonist Marianne Strauss is the reincarnation of a brilliant Tibetan scientist, and the "State Oracle has prophesied that she will liberate the Land of Snows from the Chinese". The book is set in 22nd century Tibet and half of it in northern India's Dharamsala and the going-ons of the still-exiled Tibetan government before concluding in Lhasa, Tibet. In A.D. 2136, the last Dalai Lama (the Fourteenth) has passed and there hasn't been a new one. This Tibetan Buddhism distilled into fiction with political overtones. In this world, a liveable planet is found; China is building starships, and in a secret project of 'The Twenty-Year Plan' codenamed 'The Great Leap Upward', will liberate Tibet in approximately 250 years from today. Okay. This book still won't be welcomed in China. o.O

She smiled. "I've gone through a lot to get here. I'm not going to give up an inch of what I've gained.""Tibet is fortunate to have you."She looked out of her window, down at the dark land, and shook her hard. "It has been so unfortunate, Reting. I love this land with all my heart. I would give anything to see it liberated.""You sound like a Tibetan," called Jetsun Dorje from the cockpit. She was silent for a moment, watching the lights of a town far away to the west. Finally she said, "That I am."

We begin the story with two prophecies, a murder of a prominent Tibetan scientist Tashi Drogon by a three-eyed assassin, assistant scientist Reting Norbu, and the scientists' baby- the secret Bardo device. The Bardo device could apparently calibrate the souls of the very recently deceased (the length of a meal apparently) and reincarnate it in someone else. We're introduced to two foreigners on their last week of volunteering with Interfaith Fellowship, Kate Riordan and Peter Strauss, respectively from California (US) and Geneva (Switzerland).

Long story short, Kate and Peter's very Caucasian daughter with green eyes, Marianne Strauss, is verified to be the reincarnation of Tasha Drogon, and the Tibetans call her 'Gyayum Chenmo' or 'Great Mother'. But she's very much her own person too. Then we fast forward to year AD2158 when Marianne Strauss is an adult, an equally outstanding scientist, and entering Tibet illegally in an American CIA jet. There's the mind-boggling alliance with a machine that's seemingly a revered supreme being Chenrezi who has a thousand and twenty-three eyes (or Avalokiteśvara, a bodhisattva. Its female form is the 'Guan Yin the Goddess of Mercy'.) with unknown creators and lost knowledge. Eye-rolling started at this point. Must there be that whitewashing again? Of a foreigner coming in to 'liberate' Tibet. At least it's a woman. The story is quick to emphasize on how Tibetans deeply believe in reincarnation and how anyone of any race could have been Tibetan in a previous life.

Of course there is a quest to find the missing ornaments (the vajra, the wheel, the lotus, the wish-fulfilling gem, etc; the eight scared objects/symbols of Tibetan Buddhism), and there are wars and bloodshed between Tibetans and the Chinese. We can skip straight to the ending. Needless to say, this is a successful quest with another neat wrap-up to the story and the cycle of life. There're all the sci-fi elements in the devices they use to travel great distances, battle, eavesdrop and whatever else including metal ID cards, "self-drying boots of nomadic design, woven with threadlike heating filaments and equipped with thermostatic controls", solar disks as chargers, etc. I don't need to believe in Tibetan Buddhism, but I can understand the fascination with it and how it creates stories and perhaps some sort of hope in a world now torn asunder by meaningless conflict.

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