Book review: The Jesus Incident – Frank Herbert & Bill Ransom

The Jesus Incident – Frank Herbert & Bill Ransom

“Does your Flower Room have another name?” she asked. She did not like his answers. Too easive. He was lying.

Murdoch turned to face her and she felt threatened by the pouncing glee in his eyes. Guilty knowledge lay there – dirty, guilty knowledge.

“Some call it the Scream Room,” he said.

Scream room?

“And we can’t go in there?”

“Not… today. Perhaps if you made an appointment for later?”

She controlled a shudder. The way he watched her, the avaricious glint to his eyes.

“I’ll come back to see your… Flower Room later,” she said.

“Yes. You will.”

The Jesus Incident – 4 out of 5 stars

WARNING – THE FOLLOWING REVIEW HAS A MAJOR SPOILER FOR THE END OF THE BOOK DESTINATION VOID BY FRANK HERBERT.

The Jesus Incident is (strictly) the first book in the Pandora Sequence. This series is the sequel to, and follows directly on from, Destination Void although it is not actually necessary to read this book first – I’ve seen one review make a parallel between Destination Void/The Hobbit and the Pandora Sequence/Lord of the Rings series. Its a fair structural comparison.

I reviewed Destination Void last week, and I hope I avoided spoilers there – as the very short book builds to a climax where the main plot question is answered: when the crew of the Void Ship Earthling create an artificial intelligence in the ships computers, what will they create?

Whilst I think the book is still enjoyable even if you know the ending, I understand that many people are sensitive about spoilers. If you don’t want to spoil this book, stop reading here.

I’ll give you a few lines of space to go away.

Maybe check out some different books to read. Here’s my list of planned books for the BookRiot Read Harder challenge.

Like classic or vintage sci-fi? Check these spoiler free reviews of Wyndham’s Seeds of Time or First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells.

Or check out the reviews on Little Red Reviewer’s Vintage Science Fiction Month earlier this year.

Or much of the stuff on Couch to Moon; Battered, Tattered, Yellowed & Creased; or Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations.

Ok, if you are still here, then I guess you’ve read it, or won’t read it, or are ok with spoilers.


Synopsis

When the crew created the artificial intelligence in the ships computers, they created God – or at least an incredibly powerful intelligence that thinks that it is God. Destination Void ends with the ship instantly taking them across space and time to their programed destination (Tau Ceti), creating a livable planet (where one did not exist before), and demanding they now turn their mind to how humanity will now WorShip.

See – spoilers. 😛

Also I LOVE the term WorShip.

This is important to know, as we start The Jesus Incident with Ship (note the proper noun, Ship is capitalised now) retrieving Raja Flattery, the CeePee or Chaplain/Psychiatrist from Destination Void, from hibernation (Hyb) where he has been in stasis for… centuries… millennia… aeons?

Ship explains to Raja that it has spent the millennia watching replay after replay of human history, following it through until each replayed Earth is about to be destroyed by a Nova, at which point Ship comes and rescues select humans from each replay. These replays differ enough that human genetics can vary significantly; by way of examples, one ‘human’ woman’s skin changes colour with mood, whilst another woman looks normal but is exceptionally strong. Ship has used these varying humans from different replays to populate itself and the planet below (Pandora). Raja is ‘original material’ of Earth.

Ship tells Raja that despite so much time passing, humanity has not decided yet how it will WorShip and after playing the same replays over and over, the Ship has become… bored. Raja is given a mission to accomplish on the Planet (communicate with the intelligent kelp in the ocean), and if he fails, then Ship will ‘break the recording’ (a threat that whilst not clear, doesn’t bode well for humanity).

Meanwhile on Pandora, things aren’t going well. Pandora is what those in familiar with Warhammer 40k lore would call a Death Planet. Every living thing seems out the kill the humans in the most unpleasant ways possible. The current CeePee Morgan Oakes (the religious and political leader) is installed at the top of the power structure and seems to be up to something dubious with genetically modifying clones, has plans to completely destroy the kelp, and controls his spies and deputies by making them spend time in something called the Scream Room. People are starving and people are dying and everything is coming to a head….

Yep. There’s lots going on in The Jesus Incident.

Review

This is a great sci-fi book, and personally I think its almost as good as Dune. Almost.

Dune was a great story bound up in a gloriously crafted world and universe. Whilst the story and themes in The Jesus Incident would probably be as strong as in Dune, the setting just isn’t as interesting. Pandora, being the last outpost of humanity and isolated to a couple of small colonies seems a much narrower stage for the drama going on. There is an awful lot going on in this book, and I think it suffers from being a bit too busy. Some plot lines don’t seem as well explored, or end too soon, and other bits seem a little superfluous.

Don’t get me wrong though, I loved this book – its just a 4 star book, not a 5.

Much like Dune, Herbert (and co-author Bill Ransom) doesn’t shy away from big themes, and much like Dune, you are constantly belted around the head by them. Themes of what it means to WorShip, religious violence and not so subtle racism/clone bias are not hidden behind text and subtext. No – characters frequently ask themselves the big questions in the traditional Herbert ‘inner thought’ italics – although here the italics also serve as the Ship telepathic dialogue. I expect that some might find this annoying – but I actually enjoy Herbert’s writing style. Indeed, I have appropriated the italic thought bubbles for my own use.

Again, I loved the characters here. Herbert seems to create these complex and believable individuals effortlessly, and there was not a single character that I felt ‘wasted my time’ (contrast this with Transition by Iain Banks, where I couldn’t find two interesting characters to rub together). Raja was a carry over favourite from Destination Void, but in this I felt Morgan Oakes, the power-hungry and blasphemous CeePee was the stand out villain. Delightfully awful, without being a moustache-twirling cartoon. Oakes does what he does because he believes the colony needed him – need him to get independence from the ship (Oakes doesn’t believe Ship is God), need him to tame Pandora. His politics, his treachery are all done because they are required. Any benefits flowing to him are simply a natural consequence of him being better than everyone else.

I know that Dune cops criticism for its portrayal of women, by placing them in either a subservient feudal wife/concubine role, or as the game-playing Bene Gesserit witches – but couldn’t find the same in this book. There are women characters, who play important roles, and who are not simply ornaments or prizes for the male hero. So, I think this book does ok on that front, if this is something you worry about.

A really good book, one that challenges the reader with complex and powerful themes. Arguably a bit too busy, but still worth your time seeking out.

Cheers

KT

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