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by Robert L. Wise
Published by Warner Faith, 2004
Suggested by: Greg Slade
Sometimes, I think we should put up a separate bibliography of "end times" fiction. Certainly, there are any number to choose from. LaHaye and Jenkins' series starting with Left Behind is an obvious example, but don't forget James BeauSeigneur's "Christ Clone Trilogy" (which Warner Faith, the publisher of Wired, has recently republished, starting with In His Image), Bill Myers' books starting with Threshold, and Pat Robertson's The End of the Age. There are undoubtedly others I have not yet encountered. To paraphrase Solomon, of the writing of "end times" novels there is no end.
So what does Wise bring to this well-trodden territory? Well, for one thing, he recognises that even placing his story a few years in the future means that there are likely to be technological and social changes. Unusually for such a book, he actually sets a specific date for the beginning of the action, and then proceeds to introduce several technological changes (such as hydrogen-fuelled vehicles, nanotechnology, and a holographic video conferencing system), and social changes (another oil shortage, and increased use of mass transit systems in the United States, even by the relatively well-off.) In this case, nanotechnology is "the mark of the beast", used as an indelible identification system instituted in response to the fear caused by multiple terrorist attacks on American targets. For another thing, he doesn't follow the crowd in how he identifies his characters. For a refreshing change, the U.N. is not the tool the antichrist uses to take over the world. He also departs from the normal starting point of the plot. Instead of beginning his story before the Rapture, with a fairly normal world, and then showing things getting progressively nastier the further things get into the Tribulation, he begins after the Rapture. All of the "surviving" characters are in a sort of post-traumatic stress completely incapable of explaining the disappearance of so many millions of people, trying desperately to pretend that life is still perfectly normal, and yet barely functional.
Do I have quibbles? You know I do. There are some out-and-out technical errors. Of the three which stand out in my mind, one will make anybody familiar with nanotechnology laugh, but isn't really all that critical to the plot. Another is critical to the plot, and should, unfortunately, be pretty obvious to anybody familiar with that subgenre of thrillers related to the abuse of governmental power. The third is just plain embarrassing. Then, too, this book shares a weakness all too common to thrillers: characters go places, do things, and say things, not because it would be in character for them to do so, but because it is necessary to the plot. (Granted, thrillers are, after all, plot driven rather than character driven, but Lois McMaster Bujold's work, which is both taut and believable, has spoiled me for most other authors. She has shown that it can be done, so I expect them to be able to follow suit.) Then too, when the nanotechnology and other high-tech surveillance technologies are introduced, the characters immediately grasp the implications for the infringement of privacy. It would have served the "thriller" aspect of this work better if these technologies had been introduced as beneficial, with the darker implications only slowly being revealed as the story went on. But the most annoying aspect for me was the antichrist character. As is almost always the case in this subgenre, the antichrist is a foreigner. In fact, and this should come as no surprise coming out after the attack on the World Trade Center, he has an Arabic name, and is putting together a plot for the Arabic nations to conquer the world. (I do hate to keep harping on this, but Americans have a well-developed xenophobic streak, and although evangelicals should be rebuking that attitude, all too frequently they just go along with it. I fear that the net result of all of these "antichrist as foreigner" stories will be to encourage American Christians to regard foreigners with mistrust and suspicion, rather that evaluating every person, American or not, on the basis of their deeds, rather than their words. In other words, rather than promoting the watchfulness counselled in the Bible, these stories are more likely to stoke the fires of prejudice.)
But putting aside my quibbles, did the story work for me? Yes, it did. It's a "page-turner", and I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it. And, while it doesn't exactly end on a cliffhanger, I am eager, no anxious, to find out "what happens next." We do have more to look forward to, as this is the first book in a series.
Wise has, apparently, been writing for some years. Unfortunately, his earlier books have been published by Thomas Nelson, so Warner Faith provides no reference to them, even though one of the cover blurbs mentions that they exist. However, with Paul D. Meier, he has co-written a series starting with The Third Millennium, and a stand-alone novel called The Secret Code, and he has also written a historical series called "The People of the Covenant", and a series of mysteries featuring husband and wife team Sam and Vera Sloan.
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