Thursday, April 25, 2019

Chicanonautica: Soul Saving Like It’s 2099

I started writing this review the day after the day that Notre Dame burned down--the day after the Day of the Burning Gargoyles. There was no plan, SoulSaver: A Novel of the Second Coming by James Stevens-Arce, just happened to be next on my scribbled list of books to review. Coincidence.

There are those who say that there is no such thing as coincidence. They scare me.

I had reviewed SoulSaver when it first came out back in 2000 on a website that is long gone. Now that I've read it again I realize that so much has changed, and I really do need to write about it again.
Back in 2000, the religious culture wars were raging, and that was a collective global hangover from the Y2K scare. I was working at Borders, a series of novels about the world after the Rapture called Left Behind were popular, and a lot of the readers considered them to be “semi-documentary, because they're based on the Bible.” I thought my writing career was over, even though I managed to wrangle an online book reviewing gig.

I saw SoulSaver as satire of what was happening. I was running into people who went around saying things like, “I don't believe in planets or dinosaurs”or “Curse you in the name of Jesus!” And I had recently worked for a woman who kept playing a musical version of the Book of Revelations.

I was afraid for James Stevens-Acre. How these people react to SoulSaver?

Fast forward to 2019. The culture wars are still raging. Blood is being spilled in the name of religion. Notice how we spend right past September 11, 2001? It’s a different world, a new millennium.

I also can’t find that old review.

So I re-read SoulSaver. It was a pleasure. Stevens-Arce’s futuristic Puerto Rico is a wonderful science fiction creation. I enjoyed revisiting it, especially, after the island’s recent troubles.

When I first read it, I saw the speculations on religious developments triggered by the collision of Latino culture with Evangelical Christianity, fueled by new technology as a cautionary fable. After all, I'm the heathen devil who wrote High Aztech. I also find religion carried to bizarre extremes fascinating (it’s Semana Santa--better watch out for interesting blood-spattered videos . . .), so how could I resist? 

This time I was more sympathetic to the believers in the novel. The strange development are even more plausible. Some have already come true. Evangelist masked wrestlers are a thing. Technology is not destroying religion, but giving it new worlds to conquer. So wouldn’t be surprised to read a news story about a high tech method being developed to save the souls of people who commit suicide, or a plan to bring a programmed messiah into the world.

I’m still afraid for James Stevens-Acre. Since yesterday’s satire is tomorrow’s business plan, who knows what the reaction to SoulSaver will be? Will they want to silence him, or hire him as a consultant?

That scares me, too.

Ernest Hogan really is a heathen devil, an unbeliever, and a skeptic. He practices creative blasphemy, and sometimes gets paid for it.

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