Age of Shiva is actually installment six in James Lovegrove’s Pantheon military sci-fi series, but it is my first encounter with the series. I enjoy sci-fi but am not usually one for military themes. However, I enjoyed Lovegrove’s writing in his Sherlock Holmes tale The Stuff of Nightmares so much that I thought I’d give his latest novel a whirl.
From the outset, I was impressed at Lovegrove’s seemingly effortless transition from channeling the formal King’s English voice of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the previous book to the snappy, farcical writing style of Age of Shiva.
The story is told from the point of view of a middle-aged comic book artist Zachary Bramwell, known as Zak Zap to his fans. Zak is a great character and a perfect voice for the narration—solidly lovable geek, highly quotable wisenheimer, with just a dash of annoying a**hole. What makes Zak particularly wonderful is that we all know someone just like him, and this sense of familiarity brings the reader immediately into the center of the action.
The premise behind Shiva is a scientific breakthrough allowing virally-induced genetic modifications that endow ordinary humans with enhanced speed, accuracy, agility, etc. A wealthy group of financial backers have selected a set of human guinea pigs and created a team with the motif of ten avatars of the Hindu god Vishnu.
Once these lucky folks come down off the initial “Hot damn!” high of being restyled as superheroes, they begin to begin to ask inevitably difficult ethical questions. What exactly are the undoubtedly profit-oriented motives of our “creators” anyway? Just because I can smite the crap out of mine enemies, should I? And who is the enemy, really?
In addition to the deeper themes, I also felt like I came away knowing more about the fascinating stories of Hinduism. These educational elements were neatly interspersed among the action as to keep a smart pace throughout the novel.
In fact, Shiva was such an enjoyable romp I was sorely tempted, had life’s many duties not intervened, to purchase the rest of the Pantheon canon and go on a week-long reading spree. The upside is that Lovegrove adds the perfect amount of higher content in the form of these philosophical ponderables so one would be less likely to suffer the sort of hangover that would follow an intellectually empty entertainment binge such as, say, Netflixing the entire 8 seasons of Three’s Company.