"Orion" by Ben Bova (1984)
"I am Orion. I am Prometheus. I am Gilgamesh. I am Zarathustra. I am the Phoenix who dies and is consumed and rises again from his own ashes only to die once more."
Several of Ben Bova's books have been reviewed here. You can check the sidebar for these reviews and assorted biographical details. This will probably be the last of his novels reviewed here for some time.
Orion isn't really a science fiction novel. There's a brief discussion of lasers near the beginning, but after that point it's firmly in the realm of fantasy. It's in the tradition of Michael Moorcock, an author I was never that fond of, and perhaps also in the tradition of Robert E. Howard, a much earlier author who could've told this same story better.
Those familiar with Moorcock's concept of an "eternal champion" will find Orion easy to relate to. In a world where the dual gods of the Zoroastrian pantheon are real, a human champion is created to stave off the apocalypse. And of course he's handsome. And of course he's strong. And of course the love interest falls instantly and irrevocably in love with him.
The only real twist here is that time travel is involved. The hero travels backward in time to four different historical epochs, while the villain travels forward in time to those same four historical epochs. The hero is attempting to preserve the "space-time continuum" by ensuring that history remains the same, while the villain is trying to disrupt this continuum by altering key events in human history. In terms of causality it really doesn't make a lot of sense, especially given the fact that the book starts in the modern day, but the author (thankfully) doesn't give the reader much time to reflect on that fact. Instead he moves the adventure steadily forward - or backward - depending on your point of view.
Athough it might have been more fun (and less open to debate) if the author had made Orion the pinnacle of human development, and if he'd also made Orion's interventions in human history less about the species and more about ensuring that Orion himself is born at some point in the distant future. This would have made his speculations regarding Ormazd's "plan" even more fruitful, and would have also given the novel a lot more depth. Then again, Ben Bova obviously wasn't trying to write that kind of book. Frank Herbert could have written the shit out of that kind of thing, but Ben Bova's a more literal type of writer.
Orion also resembles Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light, though Bova's take on gods-made-real is less technologically-based, and more a straight-ahead swords and sandals adventure. I think this straightforward approach makes the material more accessible (hence the many sequels), but fans of Bova's science fiction will probably feel alienated by this one.
For my part I thought it was brainless fun. Could it have been better? Certainly. Could certain parts of it have been thought through more? Yes. But if you're looking for a light adventure story in which good battles evil, you could do worse than Orion.
"The Artificial Man" by L.P. Davies (1965)
"They Shall Have Stars" by James Blish (1957)
"Out of the Sun" by Ben Bova (1984)
"Mindhopper" by James B. Johnson (1988)