are often considered to be the exclusive realm of science fiction. And
while John Shirley's orderly mind can't help but give a science fiction
slant to 'The Other End', it's actually a horror fiction thought experiment
with some pretty damn brave and prickly parameters. The premise is pretty
simple; imagine a truly "just" Apocalypse of the sort purveyed
by the Timothy LeHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins in the seemingly endless series
of "Left Behind" novels. LeHaye and Jenkins suggest that those
who don’t adhere to their strictly defined version of Christianity
will be "left behind" to sort out their lives once the Rapture
sweeps away the true believers. Shirley offers an alternative point-of-view
in which the selection criteria is not based on a narrow interpretation
of the Book of Revelation. For Shirley, the vision of justice comes from
the Platonic, not the parochial.
The novel begins with an author's forward that sets out quite clearly
the terms of what is to follow. "Let novels of the Christian Apocalypse
bloom – this novel is written from the Other End of the philosophical
spectrum." The result is an action-packed political polemic that
is certain to outrage those who subscribe to the LeHaye & Jenkins
vision and thoroughly entertain everyone else. Shirley provides some
spectacular visions, thoughtful extrapolations, entertaining characters
and heavy-handed political satire. He's a smash and grab artist who takes
prisoners and sends them straight to their eternal reward, and not the
eternal reward they expect.
The end begins with cosmic radiation that inspires visions and real changes
from within for a certain segment of the population. Jim Swift is a reporter
for the Sacramento Bee who comes across events that belong squarely in
the realm of Fortean Times reporter Ed Galivant. Cones of light in the
sky are only the first changes to sweep across the world. In the chaos
that swiftly follows, the suffering in the world is viewed and events
are set in motion to right the wrongs that plague the land. Alas, many
of these wrongs are being perpetrated by the Right and the righteous.
Judgment Day has arrived, but the judges are not those expected by those
who have been hoping for it to arrive sooner rather than later.
Shirley himself does quite a bit right with this novel. He gives the
reader a panoply of characters who are easy to tag but not simply good
guys and bad guys, though there are plenty of those as well. Particularly
impressive is Dennis Boyce, who commits suicide in the scene with which
he is introduced. Leave it to Shirley to manage that conundrum nicely.
Shirley is not afraid to engage in partisan politics, so expect pretty
much anyone who would be identified as "right wing" to end
up on the evil side of the equation. But Shirley's strengths as a chronicler
of the travails of the lower middle class in America ensure that there
are enough sympathetic characters to keep us reading. Even better, the
unsympathetic characters get a well-deserved and rousing come-uppance.
Given that the novel is a horror fiction thought experiment, it's nice
to see a well-thought out philosophical and theological backdrop. To
my mind, the novel reads like an invasion from the realm of Platonic
ideals – exterminating Platonic ideals. The thought-experiment
details are grooved to drive the action both visually and thematically.
In some sense, the novel is an epileptic's apocalypse, with the sort
of visual hallucinations that characterize brain disorders brought to
slice-and-dice life. Just as in the LeHaye/Jenkins novels, there are
phases to this end of the world as we know it. It's something like combing
the fleas off your dog before you plunge it in the flea bath. Expect
some wriggling remainders.
What Shirley does exactly right as a writer is to strip down his novel
into a thrill-packed action ride, with each slice of the knife driven
by a series of very understandable ideals. You'll read this book in a
day or two, and be charmed by Shirley's characters and his generous sense
of humor. The laughs here are all over the map. From a subtle suicide
to a heavy-handed disposal of heavies, Shirley spares no-one.
'The Other End' is bound to cause comment from all ends of the political
spectrum, but it's not just a tract or a polemic. It reads quite simply,
but unpacks with a surprising level of complexity. Even those treated
with the least respect here are treated in a manner strictly in accordance
to Shirley's premise. He does perform some admirable debunking of the
LeHaye/Jenkins interpretation of the Book of Revelations. Shirley may
make as many enemies with this novel as friends, but he gives anyone
willing to read the novel lots to think about, sending everyone else
to a well deserved, just reward. Vengeance is mine, says John Shirley.