Steven H. Wilson always comes at a story from an angle that surprises, even to those of us who have learned to love his work. In this case, what presents as a pastiche of and homage to ERB’s “John Carter of Mars” books (yes, the ones that the recent movie was loosely based on) turns out to be something else entirely if you so much as breathe lightly on the surface.
Initially, and unexpectedly, I found Peace Lord off-putting–the attention to character detail was so exact that I found it jarring and uncomfortable, and I remember thinking several times, particularly through the opening chapters, that I would have liked it better when I was a believer than I did now, as I’d have found the evangelical aspects of it much more moving rather than merely interesting and occasionally annoying. Wilson, you see, nails the devotional Quaker mindset exactly. Unless you’ve been there, or have read a lot of early Quaker literature, it’s difficult to convey just how well he pulls it off. He does it so well that I began to worry if it wasn’t a Quaker book for Quaker (or at least self-consciously Christian) audiences.
However, sometime around chapter seven a wheel clicked in my head, as so often happens to me with Steve Wilson’s more philosophically inclined stories, and it dawned on me that I hadn’t quite cottoned on to what was he was up to.
Rather than being a Christian (TM) book as one comes to expect from folks like Peretti, LeHaye, or all but Lewis’s best (i.e. where the narrative is a thin veil for grinding a doctrinal axe), Wilson has written a spiritual epic.
The central concern, as with Lewis’s “Till We Have Faces” or Heinlein’s “Job,” is the spiritual and moral maturity of the main character (Shep). In facing challenges to his faith and worldview, Shep is forced to sort between his underlying moral principles and the rules that he’s accepted as their legitimate expression–and, kudos to Wilson for choosing a Quaker of that era, as the main character’s journey is very believable for a man of integrity raised on the writings of George Fox.
I really don’t have a lot of patience any more for evangelism–enough years in seminary and many more of intense personal study have made me a curmudgeonly cuss when anyone talks to me about the surface aspects of their religion (yes, I know the gospel, and the five pillars, and the eightfold path–been there, done that), but what I do have an abiding fascination for is integrity in the midst of ambiguity and contradiction. The thing about Wilson’s works that can still bring me down in tears is the sublime manner in which he navigates this territory, in one way or another, through his novels and some of his longer serials.
My only real gripe with the book is, at the end, a minor one: Shep’s internal lexicon is peppered with words (and, more frequently, idioms) that simply didn’t exist or weren’t used the way he does until the late 20th century. A lot of authors make this mistake–it only sticks out here because the verisimilitude otherwise present in the book is so very well done that these minor gaffes tossed me out of the story.
But if you’re not the kind of person that reads the OED for fun (I am, but I’m also comfortable with the fact that I’m OCD for the OED and weird enough to admit it in public), I highly doubt you’ll notice.
Peace Lord that kept me mentally chewing on its themes and puzzles for a good week afterward. This is, by my lights, exactly what science fiction is for, and kudos to Wilson for diving in with both feet in a way that is guaranteed to court offense and discomfort for everyone in the audience. That was my experience with Taken Liberty (his previous novel), and it was my experience with Peace Lord. I sincerely hope he’s working on another one.
About The Reviewer:
WHILE STAR WARS and STAR TREK seeded J. Daniel Sawyer’s passion for the unknown, his childhood in academia gave him a deep love of history and an obsession with how the future emerges from the past.
This obsession led him through adventures in the film industry, the music industry, venture capital firms in the startup culture of Silicon Valley, and a career creating novels and audiobooks exploring the worlds that assemble themselves in his head.
His travels with bohemians, burners, historians, theologians, and inventors led him eventually to a rural exile where he uses the quiet to write, walk on the beach, and manage a production company that brings innovative stories to the ears of audiences across the world.
Learn more about Dan and his work at http://jdsawyer.net