Testament XXI

by Guy Snyder
Reviewed date: 2019 Apr 2
Rating: 0
144 pages
cover art

This may be the worst book I have ever read.

It has a promising start.

There was a desert.

It really wasn't a desert, it was a wasteland, and not much of a wasteland.

The inhabitants of the area in need of better locution called it a desert.

Well, I enjoyed that bit anyway.

It was the only bit I enjoyed. The rest of the story is abysmal. The author cuts frenetically back and forth from scene to scene, sometimes even in the middle of a sentence. I expect this is to heighten the tension, but for some reason he also compulsively repeats things, so all it really does is make everything agonizing and tedious.

I have to give Guy Snyder credit: he tried a new and different style of narrative. Sometimes that can work out well and produce a book everyone loves, like John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar. But John Brunner was a talented writer who could tell a great story in a conventional narrative style, and he was skilled enough to still tell a good story with an innovative style. Guy Snyder, well, there wasn't a good story to tell in Testament XXI.

OK, I lied earlier. There was one other bit I enjoyed, where Snyder makes a picture with the words.

The dying
                    wings in motion,
                                     glided down,

landed and perched on the still standing, semi-melted remains
of one of the M/C cannon of the long-destroyed system.

Speaking of buzzards, that brings me to another problem. Snyder loves to show us scenes of animals on the surface. We get detailed descriptions of the actions of buzzards. We meet a very clever rat. We hear about a lizard's bad day. And Snyder shows us a day in the life of a ground squirrel.

Plot summary
It's a post-apocalyptic future. The surface is a nuclear wasteland and the survivors live in underground cities. Our protagonist is James, an astronaut who has returned from a round-trip journey to Bernard's Star. Not Barnard's Star, which is an actual star relatively close to Earth, but Bernard's Star. It's spelled that way in the book. Apparently the fictional Bernard's Star is also relatively close to Earth. *sigh*

James ends up in Republic, an underground city in the suburbs of what used to be Detroit. Because of time-dilation effects, James is from the era before the nuclear apocalypse, and although he's just a regular guy, people view him as a sort of oracle of ancient wisdom. James becomes a celebrity, a real in-demand guy. Republic (which is a monarchy; am I supposed to find that amusing?) is at war with Chicago, so the king appoints James as Minister of Defense. The king's health is failing, though, and he's also asked James to examine his son Robert, who is prone to bouts of madness. The king wants James to help ensure his son will succeed him as king.

Archbishop Wayne pressures James to declare Robert unfit so that the church can take over rule in Republic. Wayne's church already de facto runs the society--for example, the entire criminal justice system is church-run--but Wayne could take more direct control if he eliminates the monarchy.

An underground religious sect also bends James's ear: they've discovered that Bishop Wayne's church has re-written the Bible, and they have evidence to prove it. They desire James's support to reform the church.

Chicago drops an 80-megaton nuke on Republic--it damages the upper levels but the rest of Republic is fine. The king dies in the bombing and Robert ascends to the throne. Things devolve rather quickly: Wayne tries to have James executed for treason, but King Robert interferes and saves him. (Robert is indeed mad; dude should be in a psychiatric hospital, not entrusted with the divine right to rule.) The breakaway religious sect starts their own church, which Wayne tries to quash with force. Chicago's army rumbles overland toward Republic. The mad king dies in battle and the book ends.

My thoughts
I do not have the words to express how irrationally angry this book makes me. It is the least enjoyable book I have ever read.

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