Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Fiction: Godbert

The Religion War By Scott Adams, Andrews McMeel Company, 2004

I can only think of the phone conversation going like this:

Scott Adams’s Agent: Good news! Scott wants to write a book!
Publisher (surrounded by Dilbert merchandise): Great!
SAA: He wants to make is a sequel to his “thought experiment” God’s Debris.
Publisher (less enthused): Oh. That’s . . . nice.
SAA: And he wants to talk about a future war between Christianity and Islam. Do I hear a thumping noise?
Publisher: That's only me slamming my forehead against the desk until it bleeds. What were we talking about?
And so it came to pass that I was at Half-Price Books, and found a stack of The Religion War on the table, and it took me a moment or ten to realize that the author was Scott Adams (the cover art tries desperately to obliderate the name). So I picked up a copy.

It’s a quick read, and Adam’s writing style is as open here as in his cartoons. Indeed, his pacing feels much the same way as his cartoons, complete with punchlines. But what he is doing is a polemic, much like the philosophers of the earlier eras would set up their arguments as a discussion between three characters – characters with names like Sympatico, who would offer the author’s views, Ignoranto, who would be a straw man opponent, and Judgementico, who would represent the reader but really just feed Sympatico leading questions.

Now, in God’s Debris, the protagonist was the world’s smartest delivery man, kin to Dilbert’s world’s smartest garbage man, who realizes everything is interconnected and sees the patterns in the world. Here he turns up as the Avatar, who as a result of this ability to make others see the patterns through simple logic, can convince anyone of anything. The Avatar wants to head off global armageddon between the Christian West’s General Cruz, and the charismatic Islamicist Al-Zee. He does this by force of his arguments.

Of course, the weakness of this is that you have to get someone who is willing to get into a discussion in the first place. Unfortunately, for the purposes of the book, this would result in the following discussion:
“Let me explain this to you”, says the Avatar
“No,” says the guard
“Bang,” agrees the gun.
And indeed, a lot of the book consists of characters acting like General Hofstedder in Hogan’s Heroes, shouting “Klink! What is this man doing here?!” But that’s OK, since characterization and plot is secondary to the message. The ending pulls God out of his Machine and resolves the plot with a feel-good 11th hour rescue, but that’s OK, because the resolution is secondary to the message. And the message seems to be – everything is interconnected, and if we just think about it, we’ll realize that. But we can’t think about everything, because we’re a part of it. Adams is much closer to Robert Anton Wilson and his Illuminati trilogy, so that anyone who has gone through those will find similar ground here.

So what we have here is another case of an author getting out of his assigned box (which is to be applauded), but producing something of odd duck of a product. And you know, that’s OK, since he has the throw-weight to do it. The book has the punch of a second-year philosophy major but without the invective and the source-quoting. I found it interesting but not world-changing. Your mileage may differ.

More later,