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 I’m not generally a fan of the fantasy fiction, but I felt obligated to read this title, it being the popular example of the genre. The story has a good premise that I can’t help but think suffers in its implementation. The collaborative writing and editing processes, to say nothing of numerous translations, render the basic message somewhat indistinct. For example, as early as the first chapter, the authors make an attempt to introduce literally everything into the plot, even going so far as to suggest that the beginning of the story is the beginning of the universe. The rest of the book, however, makes no attempt to reconcile these far-reaching plot threads, instead focusing solely on the actions of a (relatively) small group of characters in the Middle East. Even with these strenuous limitations the remainder of the novel suffers from an overabundance of characters, most of whom are crude caricatures and only mentioned in passing. The authors would have done better to limit the scope of the plot, both in time and setting, to better highlight their message. The few characters who are developed suffer from serious inconsistencies as a result of the collaborative writing process.

Take, for example, the main character, God. In the first half of the book, which has a very linear and logical format, God is something of a bully. Only a few pages into the first chapter he has condemned the entire human race to a lifetime of suffering by casting their ancestors out of an idyllic paradise. Whenever anyone says or does anything critical of him, God either kills them outright or makes them wish they were dead. He kills women and children, he levels cities, at one point he even wipes out the whole human race with the exception of a single elderly couple, who are forced to engage in years of back-breaking manual labor simply to survive. God’s history is never fleshed out; the authors simply leave him in place, unchanging, as a literal deus ex machina to be called into play whenever the plot gets too convoluted. It isn’t hard to imagine that God’s character in this part of the book was inspired by the Greek ideal of Zeus: an omniscient entity who rains suffering upon mankind from on high whenever he’s in a bad mood.

At some point the original authors apparently felt they had done their part and the book sat around unfinished for a few centuries until a new group came along to add their contribution. The second portion of the story, the “New Testament”, doesn’t start off in a promising manner: God, evidently still in his Zeus mode, impregnates a mortal woman who, by his own admission, has done nothing wrong. (The authors even make a point of saying that, although married, she was a virgin prior to this episode.) Predictably, she gives birth to a half-human demigod, who at the age of thirty suddenly decides to start talking to people about his origins. Apparently fatherhood has softened God up somewhat; he’s now willing to forgive and forget, no matter what people do, as long as they’re willing to tell him how great his son, Jesus, is. The authors make no attempt to explain the about-face, and after a while some Romans show up to kill off the Jesus character, without God’s interference. The intervening portions of the book are devoted to a collection of pithy parables with less-than-subtle morals, presented out of order and without context. Here the editors’ methodology of slapping together the works of disparate authors, even leaving out whole books to clear up the larger inconsistencies, comes into play. A few main characters wander about, telling everyone how great Jesus was, presumably so that God, who doesn’t show up at all in this part of the story, will treat them well. The narrative is stripped of any cronological basis and on the whole becomes fairly tedious.

Having fortunately sensed that they were losing their audience, a third group of authors then came along and added a brief summary so fantastic that it makes the rest of the book seem like an accurate history. God makes another appearance, just in time to see the human race he allegedly loved destroyed – except, of course, for those people who told other people about what a nice guy his son was.

On the whole, the book could have better presented its moral message by sticking to a well-defined format, be it a chronological narrative or a succession of fables. It’s certainly worth a read; just be prepared to be confused by the characters and their motivations.

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