Creation by Gore Vidal manages to combine, impossibly, Historical Fiction and Crossover Cosmology. First published in 1981, it was later re-released in 2002 with some chapters that were originally excised for publication.
The time is the 4th Century B.C. The Achaemenid Empire under the reign of Darius II is enjoying a Golden Age. In his interest to expand his spheres of influence and his domains, Darius decides to send Cyrus Spitama, the fictional grandson of Zoroaster, to visit faraway places to establish alliances and trade routes. Cyrus visits India and meets Vardhaman Mahavir and Gautama Buddha, he later visits China and meets Confucius and in the course of the change of fortunes during the military engagements of Persia and the Greek City States, he ends up becoming ambassador to Athens during the age of Pericles.
The purpose of the story as Gore Vidal explained in his introduction was to explain how the idea of creation, of man's relation to the cosmos, and a system of ethics and politics based on the same, developed virtually simultaneously across different cultures in the West and the East. He also noted that it was, in theory, possible for a single person to have met all these major historical and philosophical figures, even if in practice the distance was way too vast to actually make it happen.
Gore Vidal intended the book as a crash course into comparative religion but mostly because he thought it would be awesome to write a book where you could meet Zoroaster, Socrates, Confucius and the Buddha.
- Blue-and-Orange Morality: How the Buddha and Buddhism is dealt with in this book. A philosophy beyond all human earthly concerns.
- Crossover Cosmology: Vidal in his introduction noted that the Fourth Century BC had the likes of Zoroaster, Buddha, Vardhaman Mahavir, Confucius and Socrates existing as near-contemporaries but separated by great distances and that it was plausible for a single man who lived long to have met all these people in theory, though in practice the distances and modes of travel made such far-reaching contact impossible. For Rule of Cool he enforced this trope to create a realistic version of this trope.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: For Cyrus Spitama, the narrator of the book, who is highly biased, Greeks have this as a natural condition, noting that many of its former leaders first court Persia's support but later spit on its mercy.
- Closer to Earth: Confucius is shown this way, and indeed he defines his worldview in like manner. He's also shown to be a...
- Cool Teacher: Very cool indeed.
- Culture Clash: This is a running theme of the book, the fact that different cultures even in the ancient world have different ways of grappling at the world and looking at the problems of creation. Cyrus Spitama, the grandson of Zoroaster, despite his own religious beliefs travels across the world and encounters different beliefs and ideas and notes similarities and points of difference.
- The Greatest History Never Told: The book takes a hard look at the places of history that most Hollywood History neglects, showing a more complex, connected picture of the Ancient World than you would otherwise believe.
- Persia pre-Alexander is shown to be a vast multi-cultural Empire whose political support is courted by several Greek city states, including Athens, and several deposed politicians and Greek tyrants come to Persia when they retire or defeated, so much that it becomes almost a Running Gag.
- The book also describes the presence of democratic communities in Ancient India, in Vaishali.
- The book also examines different belief systems and presents a less Hollywood History version of it, with Buddhism and the Buddha shown to be indifferent to human suffering as a whole and which he affirms as an ideal to aspire to.
- Historical Hero Upgrade: From a Western perspective, Darius, Xerxes and Persian culture as a whole gets this. They are shown to be decidedly more complex and interesting than more famous versionsnote would allow.
- In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous: Cyrus Spitama grew up with Xerxes, Artemisia in the court of Darius and Atossa. He himself witnesses Zoroaster's death and is his grandson and heir. He later visits India and meets Vardhaman Mahavira, Gautama Buddha, King Bimbisara and King Ajatashatru. Then he visits China and meets Confucius. In Greece, he meets Pericles, Herodotus, Aspasia, Socrates and others and also Themistocles and Thucydides for good measure. Seen It All doesn't begin to define him.
- The Usurper: The book reveals Darius to be one, taking the famous alternative theory that the false king Mardos was in fact the true king and the former killed him, and likely Cambyses, to become King. This in fact gives Xerxes, his son, much angst. It also subverts this greatly, since Darius is shown to be a very wise, good king indeed.
- Women Are Wiser: The book plays with this trope in many ways, with Cyrus' mother, Atossa, Darius' wife and Xerxes' mother and Aspasia all playing major, uncredited, behind-the-scenes roles in the many political struggles that define history.