Forge, 2006 reprint of 2004 original, 523 pages, C$10.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-812-57957-7
There are authors out there who are reliable, stable and predictable. Not in the bad sense of the word, mind you: Their name is a badge of quality and consistency, a virtual guarantee that what you’re going to get is exactly what you expect. Michael Connelly, Lee Child and Carl Hiaasen all come to mind as such models of reliability.
Then there’s Steve Alten, who has become increasingly unpredictable since his impressive debut with Meg, back in 1997. His subsequent biography has been… eclectic. Sequels to Meg (five of them by 2011) drove the exact same premise into the ground and kept stomping. Other standalone novels ranged from a vigorous (but slightly crazy) military techno-thriller with Goliath, to conspiracy-drenched agitprop in The Shell Game. More rarely, there’s just dullness, such as the Loch Ness monster-themed The Loch.
And then there’s his Domain trilogy. I wasn’t aware that Resurrection was the second volume of that series when I picked it up: I thought it was another standalone novel. Imagine my growing surprise when I realized the amount of backstory required to end up where Resurrection starts: After averting a worldwide nuclear war in 2012, our heroine gives birth to twin boys, fulfilling a copious heaping of Mayan mythology. This being said, backstory is the least of Resurrection’s insane charm as the novel fast-forwards through the next twenty years of its deliriously imagined future: In-between an abused girl growing up to become the Antichrist (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), famous people who are somehow able to become equally famous under different identities, Alten’s shameless grab for all the mythologies and pseudoscience he can find, ridiculous future world-building, wild presidential assassination attempts, and hiccupping plotting spread over decades, Resurrection stays away from basic credibility, which is probably wise when you have a sequel to a near-catastrophe of global proportion.
The accumulation of quirks and the progressive transition of the novel from fanciful techno-thriller to full-on science-fiction is interesting, mind you… but not in a conventional or even respectable sense. As the incongruities, half-baked ideas and caricatures accumulated (the sultry villainess alone seems taken straight out of the Big Book of Evil), I found myself firmly hooked, but only to find out what else Alten was going to introduce to much fanfare. It finally dawned on me that Resurrection is unintentional crackfic, the term most enlightened readers will use in describing something so obviously outlandish that it flips into meta-fictional comedy. In this light, Resurrection isn’t borderline incompetent fiction as much as it’s an experience that must be read to be believed.
It would work better, admittedly, if Alten showed the slightest bit of self-awareness as to the ludicrousness of his premise. But as the novel sinks deeper into disparate mythologies, pop mysticism and magical combats featuring resurrected protagonists in alternate realities (or is it far-flung time travel? Oh, who cares…), the signs also accumulate that Alten’s being undisciplined. Not being a genre SF writer, he has no natural instinct nor any coherent framework for his extrapolated future: Scene after scene enthusiastically dumps exposition because he thinks it’s cool, not because it’s in any way needed. There are digressions about entirely-fictional sport team leagues, and more curiously an entire narrative recap of the American space program up to now… even as the novel is set a few decades in the future. This is just sloppy stuff no matter how you look at it; fortunately, it’s in the middle of a madcap attempt at writing a large-scale thriller with no sense of focus. It’s not even done particularly well –unlike Dan Brown’s novels, which have an undeniable forward sense of narration, Resurrection sorts of sprints, sputters and retreats at random intervals.
Resurrection works in ways that are orthogonal to the typical rewards of well-written fiction. The best way to make sense of it is to abandon reason entirely. That is, its appeal is bound to be largely idiosyncratic, reaching self-satisfied hipster readers with qualities that the author, I suspect, never intended. It’s probably the craziest novel I’ve read from Alten; given the unevenness of his bibliography so far, I’m impressed but I can’t say I’m surprised.