Review of BLASPHEMY by Mike Resnick (see the Mike Resnick website)
Golden Gryphon, August 2010
BLASPHEMY is a collection by Mike Resnick (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of SF/Fantasy by Resnick) including two short novels, several short stories, an essay, and an interview with God. For this review, I'll focus on the short novels first.
The planet Walpurgis III was settled by satanists and black magicians and is now filled with various creeds celebrating their faiths according to the requirements of their creeds. The arrival of a psychopath whose goal is to murder everyone (possibly excepting himself) sends religious leaders into extasy, but creates problems for civil leaders who don't see the genocide of the planet's population as desirable. The Republic hires an assassin to deal with the killer, but the assassin creates his own problem. On Walpurgis III, policeman John Sable has to deal with a set of murders in his own city--while worrying about the devastation that psychopath Bland is creating. Ultimately, he wonders if it is moral to allow cold-blooded murder if that becomes an essential part in the destruction of a greater evil.
Resnick offers an interesting quandry. It is always valuable to consider what lines to draw, where evil can be condoned where it confronts other evil, and when condoning evil makes one become evil. The cold-blooded and practical assassin contrasts with the hot-blooded and impractical maniac, and the logical but moral policeman in an intriguing triangle. I was left thinking that Resnick wrapped things up a bit too neatly but enjoyed the story.
In THE BRANCH, Resnick gives us the Messiah. Initially a con-man and cheat, Jeremiah Branch goes about fulfilling the Messiah prophesies of the Old Testament in a very literal way. When Branch threatens crimelord Solomon Moore, Moore decides to have him killed...only to learn that Branch appears unkillable. Gradually, Moore comes to realize that Branch really is the Messiah, but resolves to oppose him with all of his considerable strength. Unfortunately for Moore, Branch feeds off his opposition and makes his plans to return to Israel where he intends to create his kingdom on earth.
THE BRANCH is the longest story in this collection and the most complex. Moore makes an interesting hero. An atheist who is unwillingly convinced that the Messiah is real, he nevertheless finds little evidence that either the Messiah or the God who put him in place is worthy of worship or praise. Nevertheless, everything that Moore does seems to backfire, moving Branch closer to his (eventual) goal of creating the renewed Kingdom of Israel.
The prophesies concerning the Messiah are tricky and a source for continued debate between Christians (who argue that Jesus fulfilled them) and Jews (and others) who argue he did not. (See the Wikipedia discussion here--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_and_Messianic_prophecy). Resnick is writing a novel, not a religious tract, so his slapdash approach to the prophesies is understandable, but I think it weakens his point. Still, this is a fun story, with a likable anti-hero in Moore, a cleverly designed Messiah in Immanual Jeremiah Branch, and an ending that would probably drive the religious to distraction if any of them actually get that far.
As far as the shorter stories go, I found "How I Wrote the New Testament, Ushered in the Renaissance, and Birded the 17th Hole at Pebble Beach" to be quite clever, "Pale, Thin God" a bit obvious, and "Genesis: The Rejected Canon," to be definitely worth a smile. "Interview With the Almighty" didn't do much for me.
Overall, BLASPHEMY is a nice collection of Resnick's work, with a couple of gems, at least one dud, and a pair of short novels that aren't quite at the top of his game but are still highly readable and thought-provoking.
Too generous? Too stingy. Or did I miss the whole point? Send your comments to email@example.com. I'll publish the best letters I get so let me know if I can use your name.
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