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After things fall apart

Finished both Prayers for the Assassin (by Robert Ferrigno) and John Barnes' Candle yesterday. They both present different views of what America is going to look like after another civil war - in the former book, between Islamic Americans on one side and hardcore Christian "Bible Belters" on the other; in the latter book, as the side effect of the global Meme Wars that end with humanity on Earth united under One True.

Candle I want to address first, because reading it cleared up some of my confusion about Barnes' The Sky So Big and Black, which I read a couple of months ago. Both books are written using a technique I haven't seen too much before, the "unreliable narrator", and it eventually becomes clear that the reason our narrators can't be relied on is that their memories are constantly getting tampered with. Now, this is pretty much the central idea behind Candle, which explores the question of whether this sort of thing is good or not, and how one defines "good" in the context of the times. The whole plot (and idea of Resuna/One True, frankly) gives me the willies at a very deep level, and I have very mixed feelings about both of these books.

A Prayer for the Assassin is a very different novel from Candle. I'm no stranger to futures where America has decayed to the status of a Third World backwater after an apocalyptic war (see Streiber & Kunetka's War Day, for example, or the whole Twilight 2000 RPG) but there's something distinctly unsetting about a slowly disintegrating America that at the same time has acquired the social and political milieu of the Ottoman Empire. The knives are out everywhere in this book, often literally, as we follow retired Fedayeen shadow warrior Rakkim Epps on his search for a missing history professor who Knows Too Much. Complicating the issue is that the professor not only is Epps' foster-sister and former lover, but she's also being sought by a sadistic, perverted assassin straight out of Neil Gaiman's Sandman stories as well as the traditionalist (Wahhabi?) Black Robes who want to reignite the cold war against the Bible Belt states. As a thriller, the book is first rate. It also wins from a political standpoint because the setup to Rakkim's world is plausible and Ferrigno never lets his characters launch into the kind of speeches or solilioquies that render a lot of these novels unreadable polemic. Recommended.

Last library book left is Gettysburg, but I'm in no rush. As I've said before, I know how it ends. ;)

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