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John Shirley
The Other End
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2007

Cemetery Dance Publications
US First Edition Hardcover
ISBN 1-58767-150-6
300 Pages; $40
Publication Date: 04-01-2007
Date Reviewed: 04-09-2007

Index: Horror  Science Fiction  General Fiction

Thought experiments 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.

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