The Messiah Game: A Comedy of Terrors, Book I, by Tom Flynn (Tucson: See Sharp Press, 2012. ISBN 978-1-937276-04-1) 245 pp. Paperback, $11.95.
Who but Tom Flynn could have written such a book? Anyone familiar with his keenly insightful and humorous essays will discover in these pages that his skills as a teller of tales exceed even these talents. The Messiah Game (adapted from Part 1 of his previously published Galactic Rapture) has a fantastic scope reminiscent of Frank Herbert’s Dune and certainly of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy.
Flynn, the editor of Free Inquiry, is, as you may know, a media wizard. His techno-savvy enriches this specimen of primitive media, a printed book, because one of the foundation stones of his narrative universe is an inspired extension of today’s reality television fad—only the author came up with it more than a decade ago. Some of his major focal characters are undercover “Spectators,” participant observers on far-flung worlds not as espionage agents but as living cameras recording titillating adventures for intergalactic audiences of jaded voyeurs eager for new thrills. All this is set in a distant future in which Earth has been welcomed into something like Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets.
Besides the Spectators, Earth’s chief export to the wider universe is Roman Catholicism. In this future, the church thrives as a hybrid of pre-Vatican II piety and ultra-advanced exo-theology (not to mention new forms of corruption made possible by new technological options). The Jesuit Order stands accused of heresy for disputing the received doctrine that all the humanoid races of the galaxy were sprinkled by a primordial group of Johnny Appleseeds called the “Harvesters.” One of the major tasks of the Universal Catholic Church (a bit of a redundancy, no, since the two adjectives mean the same thing?) is to locate and to authenticate new claimed incarnations of the son of God upon ever new inhabited worlds. One of these turns out to be Arn Parek, former student of Willim Dultav, once a college professor of sociology, philosophy, and religion. Their world lies in ruins from an alien attack, and the pair makes its way in the shattered world as a couple of itinerant medicine-show charlatans unwittingly preparing themselves for a greater destiny. Such characters are convincing mouthpieces for Flynn’s educated cynicism about religion, as well as his sympathy for the all-too-human needs that create it.
Flynn has studied Mormon origins quite extensively, and he puts this expertise to good use in these pages. One of his major characters is a neo-Mormon media evangelist eager to export his faith through the larger universe to which Flynn’s super-technology gives him access. But don’t let me mislead you into thinking that The Messiah Game is top-heavy with concepts masquerading as characters. Characters are diverse, sparkling, and imaginatively sketched. As for their adventures, Flynn is somehow able to weave together headlong action, patient narration, and taken-for-granted references to advanced technology that are unfamiliar enough to reinforce the futuristic setting without breaking the spell or interrupting the flow.
At one point Flynn’s Mormon evangelist discusses with a reporter the embarrassing grammatical goofs marring the first printing of the Book of Mormon, henceforth corrected and suppressed. Just the opposite has transpired here, for The Messiah Game appears to have been scanned from a printed copy of the earlier Galactic Rapture rather than taken from the author’s computer files, and the text suffers from numerous scanning errors. Whoever proofread the text was none too careful. No meaning is lost, but the reader is inevitably distracted momentarily.
Splitting the huge Galactic Rapture into multiple segments will make the work less intimidating to some readers who may quail at the prospect of tackling so mammoth a volume. But once one starts to read and becomes engrossed, the danger (for the publisher) is that the reader will not be patient enough to wait for the next book in the series and will just locate a copy of the whole thing, the original Galactic Rapture!