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|Good News from Outer Space
by John Kessel
Published by Tor Books, 1989
Amazon.com: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.ca: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.co.uk: hardcover, paperback
Suggested by: Greg Slade
It's 1999, and the world is going crazy. UFO sightings are at an all-time high, and all the Biblical prophecies which portend the end times are coming true. Everything is mixed up. A lawyer has a sense of ethics, a reporter for an online news service descended from a supermarket tabloid is pursuing a true story, and a TV preacher is not having an affair. Such is the world presented to the reader by John Kessel.
On one hand, Kessel does present, in his own bizarre way, a psychological study of how people react in extraordinary circumstances, and the "Author's Note" at the end of the book reveals what I suspected while reading it: that his research into Millennial movements included the sad events in Münster during the Radical Reformation in the sixteenth century. (Personally, I would have preferred it if he had included a figure analogous to Menno Simons in his cast of characters, but I suppose that wouldn't have been so interesting to him.) And, if Kessel is not exactly original in thinking of aliens, not as bug-eyed monsters bent on conquering the world and enslaving (or eating) humanity, nor as the saviours of mankind depicted by the UFO cults, but rather as tricksters, his trickster aliens are clearly... well... alien, in that Kessel never does explain what they're trying to achieve. Then, too, the denouement, such as it is, can be seen as a sort of inverted retelling of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds.
On the other hand, Kessel can't seem to decide whether he's going for laughs or trying to make a serious point. The aforementioned TV preacher does resist sexual and other temptations, as required by Kessel's strategy of making everything topsy-turvy, but he's still a megalomaniac and a fraud. (Then, too, the very concept that a TV preacher who isn't sleeping around would be topsy-turvy is offensive.) There is also a theme of attacking all of Western thinking in general, and Christianity in particular, as sexist, patriarchal, and too left-brained, which is repeated so frequently that it appears to be a serious point which Kessel is attempting to make, but the very nature of the story militates against that point. If the world is falling apart because people are acting irrationally, then arguing that people should be less logical and more emotional doesn't exactly seem to be the solution to the problem.
I should probably warn those readers consulting the Christian Fandom site looking for "safe" reads that this book would not qualify. Besides the attacks on at least a certain type of Christian, there is a fair amount of sinful behaviour which is mentioned, although usually not depicted in detail. (July, 2005)
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