Warner, 1997, 609 pages, C$8.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-446-60598-0
It’s very, very rare to see a novel so flawed as Glenn Kleier’s The Last Day manage to keep my interest through (most of) its duration. From the risky initial premise to the botched character development and the ridiculous conclusion, there is a lot of stuff to dislike here… but somehow, it all manages to hold together. It may be a triumph of concept over execution, but at least it’s worth a look.
Dating back from long-ago 1997, The Last Day deals with the much-feared millennium, except with a supernatural twist. On Christmas 1999, a meteorite smashes through a top-secret Israeli military compound and destroys it. The only survivor is a beautiful young woman, “Jeza”, who soon appears to have supernatural power.
But have no fear! Intrepid WNN journalist Jonathan Feldman is here! In a matter of weeks, even as the Jeza phenomenon sweeps the globe, Jonathan finds the truth and reports it live! It turns out that the top-secret Israeli project was trying to develop a better breed of soldiers; humans cloned from the same source and augmented with neural computers fed with reams of knowledge. Is Jeza a human experiment gone live or the second coming of Christ herself?
As I said; risky premise. For centuries, people have reflected upon the New Testament, maintaining that its story is still as relevant, as extraordinary even today. In The Last Day, Glenn Kleier wrestles with a contemporary re-telling of the scriptures, to varying success. Some of the philosophical musings are fascinating, but some of them (like the made-up “parables from the book of Jeza”) also tend to be blindingly obvious. Chances are that your reaction to the novel will depend on your own relationship with faith. For jaded atheists like myself, it remains a story; I’m likely to shrug at the concept of a female messiah even as this may shock a few more fundamentalist readers.
But back to literary considerations, the biggest flaw of the book is that Kleier is still an inexperienced writer. His prose is utilitarian, ham-fisted and not particularly elegant. His characters aren’t particularly well-handled, and are usually undistinguishable from one another. It doesn’t help, of course, that the reader can roughly guess where the story is going; taking the New Testament as a source book obviously leads to obvious developments.
But whereas more conventional readers may reject this book on those grounds alone, I -as a Science Fiction reader- was taken by Kleier’s inventiveness in describing the repercussion of the second coming in a rough analogue of 1999’s world. There’s plenty of material here, a lot of it revolving around the Vatican, to digest and enjoy. There’s a pretty spectacular demolition of Roman Catholicism midway through, if you enjoy that type of thing. Kleier’s use of an international correspondent as a protagonist is a good way to quickly deliver a lot of information, though some of the author’s infoblurbs sometimes end up killing tension by delivering pieces of the conclusion even before the suspense has begun.
There are too many rough edges to make The Last Day more than “interesting” on a “bad-to-good” scale, so readers without much tolerance for clunky prose and dull characters may want to pass up this one. But for refugees from the SF field, or merely curious thriller readers, there just may be enough here to keep anyone busy for a few hours. While it’s not a page-turner per se, there are more than enough reasons to keep reading, if only to see what else Kleier can pull out of his hat.