Prayers on the Wind • 1991 • Religious SF novelette by Walter Jon Williams


Synopsis: Humanity evolved to a Tibetan Buddhist theocracy, spreading peace and love (and killing heretics). Buddha manifests as a planet-filling crystal, and the Dalai Lama is reborn tracable by energy flows through the crystal.

An ambassador named !urq (read this as like “Kirk” as the Star Trek captain) is sent by an aggressive species, because the planet violates border lines. Just at that time, the old, classically peaceful Dalai Lama dies.

A new Dalai Lama is bread within one year from fetus to adult man, and this one is the exact opposite from the old man: as a follower of the “Short Path to Enlightenment” he embraces madness, fooling around, getting drunk, spreading hilarious chaos. But there is also wisdom in his deeds, because he has all his past selves in his mind.

Review: We all watched Captain Kirk and his crew “pacifying” theocracies. In this case, the roles are interchanged, and humanity isn’t aggressive anymore. All the aggressive religions like Christianity and Islam made way to the one true peaceful religion, the Tibetan Buddhism.

What a weird, colorful religion that is, with its foreign traditions like the deferencing stretching out you tongue, and the embedded native sorcerers practicing Bon.

Everything concentrates on the Dalai Lama’s person, who was perfectly selected by Williams as a focal point for this novelette.

The story reflects other religious SF where the myths are objectively true – one of them is the well-known story “The Star” by Arthur C. Clarke (review). Williams produced a convincingly constructed case of the subgenre, and an innovative one as well – the religion made true by SFional tropes, in this case an enormous A.I. library filling a whole planet. The author asks us:

Well, what if one of our major religions turns out to be objectively true, along with its moral teachings?  Would that motivate people to behave, or not?

The resulting story is enjoyable on many levels, and I can recommend it to everyone who would like to know how the future might look like without classic Western traditions.

Meta: isfdb. I’ve read it it in the collection Best of Walter Jon Williams published by Subterranean.

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7 Responses to Prayers on the Wind • 1991 • Religious SF novelette by Walter Jon Williams

  1. This sounds fascinating


  2. pdtillman says:

    Yeah. For me, vies with his Mean Little Mermaid novella for his masterwork of shorts…. Amazing story. Astounding! Fantastic!!
    My take:
    The ancient’s Bodhisattva Bob Miller must have some special meaning that eludes me. Church of the SubGenius? Charlie Stross has a similar figure in his breakthru BIG novel, “Accelerando”:
    Which I never found, but he was the sponsor for Amber (et al)’s Voyage to Jupiter…. That part was extremely cool. Pretty disjointed as a NOVEL, but chucky-jam-full of VERY KOOL stuff!
    “The Rapture of the Nerds has been followed by the Resurrection of the Extremely Confused.”

    “A mother’s love—”
    “Fuck love,” Amber snarls, “she wants power.”

    Claws go snicker-snack before his face. “Investment partnership!” screeches the harridan. “Seat on the board! Eat brains for breakfast!” It lurches sideways, trying to get past his guard.”
    You can see why Charlie never did another one of these. As he laments at length, at his blog. I’m glad he did one, though…. Ainekko the cyber-kitty is quite a character. AI gone rogue!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. pdtillman says:

    I really should re-read ACCELERAndo!


    • Andreas says:

      I liked it but it isn’t rereading material for me

      Liked by 1 person

      • pdtillman says:

        I did start to reread once, but bogged. It is (basically) a fixup, so one can pick & chose…
        I did like the parts with Amber becoming the Empress of Jupiter Space, and finally foiling her grasping Bad Mom — with the aid of a friendly Space Mullah! I still don’t recall his name, but the wealthy dead Texan (Bob?) who paid for Amber’s trip, left a s/w copy of himself to be consulted. He can be run by Foundation members at need, but it’s a major deal to do it.

        Liked by 1 person

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