Minor Keys No. 11
As an agnostic, Buddhism has many attractions, not least its refusal to give any oxygen to discussions about the possibility of a god. Azimuth debates whether a god exists but surreptitiously, like a niggling little voice at the back of the reader’s mind while s/he is engaged in the Ulysses-like adventures of the Magus or the labyrinthine plots and mysteries of court life. Writing an engaging discourse on the nature of reality, religions, life and death via the vehicle of an accelerating historical saga full of everyday AND extraordinary events was intoxicating and I hope that this is conveyed to you when you read the book. The inner tales of Azimuth are set at a time before the Buddha, containing much of the great man’s practical advice for living a good life and within them there is plenty of opportunity for other theological debate. A minor character with much to say about such matters is the Scientist who lives on an island in the middle of a great river, somewhat like the Volga. We meet him thus:
A short while later the door re-opened to reveal a tall, white-haired man in the silk robes of a merchant. His eyes glinted in his smiling face. He strode forward and embraced the Warrior heartily. Then he turned and gave the woman a graceful bow.
-I was expecting you, Warrior and this woman.
-Nay, she is too young and delicate to have birthed such a lion of a man! The Warrior smiled at his mother’s confused pleasure at the traditional compliment.
It was a joy to write about this man even if, as I have said, the words passed through my brain without touching the sides. Why? Because he represents progression and rationality in civilized enquiry. We know that scientific advances are haphazard. Great breakthroughs occur and are not recognized for what they are for decades or even centuries. Some advances such as gunpowder or the crossbow were discovered and used by the Chinese hundreds of years before their ‘discovery’ in the west. Columbus was pre-dated in his so-called discovery of America by numerous unsung heroes. The Scientist was full of exceptional discoveries. One such which he showed to the Magus and his mother was a prototype of a magnifying glass revealing much that the eye can not discern. A wonderful little conceit for the novelist wanting to allegorize about reality! If there is more than meets the eye then whatever else might exist beyond human perception?
So what is the back story regarding the Scientist? What might I tell you that might provoke a little curiosity so that you want to read about his influence on the narrative of Azimuth?
Well, he was obviously precocious from a toddler onwards. Being from a rich merchant family he picked up language alarmingly quickly and accompanied his father along the Silk Road to the east. Wherever he went he sought out alchemists, philosophers, poets musicians and adventurers to further his fanatical curiosity. He could play twenty or thirty instruments. He concocted new cures for illnesses, he smelted rare metals and used them in the construction of strange mechanical machines, he mapped the heavens and developed further ancient astronomical knowledge of the way that constellations affected the affairs of humankind. He was skilled with weapons and fought with the best, enjoying the physical respite from the intellectual storms that shook him. In short he was a an all round genius, brilliantly perceptive and probably having more effect than any other single scholar on the history of humanity. In his lifetime he fathered several dozen children because he had developed a theory that a genius had a responsibility to make his blood available to humankind, given his rudimentary sense of how hereditary factors affect human progeny. Hadn’t he received his father’s language skills and his mother’s musical abilities and his grandfather’s astrological prowess? He was utterly apolitical, feeling that the leaders of peoples were generally of low intelligence, ignorant of everything that was important in life. He lived to a ripe old age, around a hundred and twenty years, influencing great thinkers and, in his last decade, conducting experimentation on life after death. Was he successful? All I can say is that he succeeded in getting me to write about him, anonymous though he might still be. And how could that happen?
(Azimuth by Jack Sanger also in Kindle books at Amazon)