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In His Image

In His ImageIn His Image by James BeauSeigneur
Warner Books, 2003
Price I paid: If you don’t have a library card, get one

Two decades ago, newspaper editor Decker Hawthorne joined skeptical professor Harry Goodman on the famed study to authenticate the Shroud of Turin. Years later, Goodman revealed to Decker an astonishing secret: Fragments of the Shroud contained human skin samples—complete DNA cells that were still alive, incorruptible, and invulnerable. Convinced he could manipulate the amazing genes as a cure-all for disease, Goodman began a secret program of experimentation.

Then catastrophes struck around the world, beginning with a mysterious plague that decimated the earth’s population. Terrorists destroyed the Wailing Wall, nuclear war erupted, and the United Nations became the dominant global power, even as the Israelis rebuilt the Temple of Solomon.

Now a grieving widower and U.N. speechwriter, Decker is raising the late Harry Goodman’s young nephew, Christopher. Only Decker knows the shocking truth about the boy—that he was cloned from the cells on the Shroud. Christopher has miraculous powers, prophetic visions, memories of life two thousand years ago…and wants to help guide the world to a better tomorrow. But who and what is Christopher? Would God permit the Messiah of the Second Coming to be created in a test tube? Could an impure being arise from the sacred living flesh of Jesus Christ? Or is the reality more incredible than anything revealed to prophets or science?

All that’s clear is that the world is staggering toward a final apocalyptic conflict—and humanity’s salvation or damnation may depend on the true nature of The Christ Clone…

So, obviously, the reason I picked this book up in the first place is because I wanted to have a snark festival at the expense of Christian literature. Obviously.

To be fair, I was thinking that way when I picked this book up for the first time. I found it on the shelves at the library and thought there was no way in heckfire that this book would be any good. For the record, I started one of the Left Behind books once and that was so bad I couldn’t finish it. You folks have seen the kinds of things I’ve managed to finish, so I think that gives you a good idea of what I’m saying there.

I hadn’t even cracked this book open yet when I started to feel a little guilty. It’s one thing to grab a book and make fun of it because it has a goofy cover or a bizarre premise or racist/sexist overtones. It’s another thing to go “haha Christians” and grab a book just because it is targeted toward them. I almost didn’t read it.

I decided, though, to take this book on its own merits. Based on the jacket summary, it was clearly science fiction, so I set myself a goal. I would read this book, ignoring the fact that it was targeted toward a religious audience, and judge it based on its merits as a science fiction novel. And you know what? It went pretty well. This was not a bad book.

Our hero is Decker Hawthorne and he starts the book as a journalist working for the fictional Knoxville Enterprise. I read a book about a local boy!

It turns out that our author lived and worked in Knoxville, specifically at UTK, for some time. He lived here long enough to be able to namecheck some local landmarks, and that made me squeal a little.

Decker is happily married and likes his job. At the beginning of the book he ends up going along on an expedition with some scientists to look at the Shroud of Turin. He cons his way in by linking up with a former professor of his, Harry Goodman. They go and look at the shroud and it’s decided that, just like in the real world, the Shroud of Turin is a lot more recent than anything that could have conceivably been the death shroud of The Lord.

We jump forward some years.

One of the things that bugged me about this book is how many times it jumped forward a large number of years. Ten years pass between chapters one and two, which is understandable, but at other points in the narrative we get other large jumps that were a bit jarring. The whole purpose of these is to give our Christ Clone time to grow up and get on with His Work, I guess.

Dr. Goodman found some cells on the Shroud. They are living cells and Dr. Goodman is convinced that they are the cells of Our Lord. One interesting thing is that Dr. Goodman is not a Christian—the jacket copy throws out the word “skeptic” like it’s dirty—and that he is not convinced that whoever was in this Shroud was the Son of God. Dr. Goodman is convinced that aliens have visited this planet and, using their advanced technology, sent somebody down to try and get people to stop being such dicks to each other. Said alien was killed and came back to life and that’s why people started worshipping Jesus.

It was at this point that I was starting to give the author a lot more credit than I thought I would. Now, at no point did I think that this would actually be the case, but I was impressed by the fact that the author was ready to admit things that didn’t jibe with certain beliefs. He acknowledged that the Shroud wasn’t old enough to be real, for instance (although that gets explained away later). I was starting to think that this book was leaning a lot more on the sci-fi/thriller side of the scale than, say, a Tim LaHaye novel. I was mostly right, but some weird stuff happens along the way.

This book has lots of long expository sections near the beginning, but things get better. One such exposition comes when Decker and his friend Tom Donafin (spoiler: Tom turns out to be the final descendent of James, the brother of Jesus) visit an Israeli gentleman named Joshua Rosen. The exposition itself didn’t bother me so much as the fact that our author seems to give us no credit at all for intelligence.

During this talking head sequence, certain things get referenced. The basic facts of the talk are that Rosen is a Jew that believes in Jesus. He’s a Messianic Jew. We get some really basic ideas drilled into our heads about what that means. This happens in two ways. The first is that the dialogue has to explain every little thing that might be a bit unfamiliar. For instance, Rosen keeps referring to Yeshua. I was taking it for granted that he was referring to Jesus, mainly because the context made it obvious and also because I’m able to read books. Still, at some point it had to be clarified in dialogue. There are a lot of things like that.

What really got me, though, were the footnotes. I don’t mind footnotes. Terry Pratchett uses them very well. This book, however, wanted to use them to show us…something? Like, I don’t know, the veracity of the plot? The author cites things like studies done on the Shroud of Turin, usually from places like National Geographic and other respectable sources. He also feels the need to fill us in on every possible Bible quote. If somebody says something like “Remember Thessalonians: See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone” we would immediately find a footnote telling us that this quote is from 1 Thessalonians 5:15.

And I didn’t mind that either.

What got me mad, though, was at one point somebody felt the need to reference Mary Poppins. I think the context was that somebody was comparing Mary’s magic bag to the Ark of the Covenant. They’re both bigger on the inside. (Aside: Time doesn’t flow in the Ark, so that’s why the Shroud only looks like it’s from the 13th century instead of the 1st. Apparently at some point the Shroud was in the Ark. Who knew?) Anyway, the narrative feels the need to tell us, in both regular narration and a footnote, that Mary Poppins is a movie.

REALLY

I mean, was he hoping we wouldn’t confuse one of the most famous movies of all time with the book it’s based on, by noted Gurdjieff acolyte P.L. Travers? And would that have been a tragedy?

This whole book seems to think I’m an idiot. Every time something even remotely plotworthy or perhaps a bit out of the ordinary comes up, it needs to be explained. I admit that this may be something on the part of the publisher. I’m willing to accept that, even. But even still, it grated. Hard.

While visiting Israel and Dr. Rosen, Decker and Tom get kidnapped by terrorists. They end up staying locked away in Lebanon for TWO YEARS.

See what I’m saying about the time thing?

They escape. Tom goes to a hospital in Israel for most of the rest of the book. Decker goes home to his wife and family.

And the book takes a turn for melodrama.

Decker keeps going on about how the time he spent as a hostage really made him love his family SO MUCH MORE. They’re all he thought about. The whole time. He’s entered into a kind of love with his wife that transcends anything he ever knew could possibly be. He no longer merely loves his wife, he LOVES his wife.

So a week later, she dies. He wakes up one morning and she’s dead. The clock radio comes on and starts talking about how this has happened all over the world. Decker goes to check on his two young daughters. Both dead, too.

I guess it’s supposed to be the rapture? But it’s some kind of disease? Actually this bit is never explained. I liked that. It’s strongly hinted to be…rapturous, though.

Decker loses it. Christopher shows up. Christopher is the literal clone of Jesus of Nazareth. He helps out around the house.

The two end up helping each other a lot, while the point of view detaches from them and the novel becomes Disasterpiece Theatre.

Oh no, I accidentally referenced Slipknot.

Palestinians blow up the Western Wall. Israelis retaliate by blowing up the Dome of the Rock. Those same Israelis start to rebuild the Temple. The Arab world bands together to destroy Israel. Russia steps in and ends up taking over the place. A group of Israeli freedom fighters end up launching nukes at the Russians. The Russians attempt to retaliate but, as best anybody can tell, God stops them.

Later on, India and Pakistan start lobbing nukes at one another, killing millions.

Decker takes a job working for Jon Hansen, who becomes the Secretary-General of the UN before dying in a random plane crash. Christopher is very interested in the UN and works his way up in the ranks, eventually becoming the Ambassador to the UN for Italy.

There is a lot of behind-the-scenes action with people who know about Christopher and want to use him for their own ends.

Any semblance of this being a science fiction explanation of the End Times falls apart when we discover that the apostle John is still alive and walking around. That was weird. What’s weirder, though, is that the book also goes “You know the Bible? Nope, it’s missing some important information.”

This information is, apparently, that Judas wasn’t the real traitor. It was John.

There’s an “Important Note from the Author” at the beginning of the book. One of the things it points out is that this book might not sit well with some Christians, but please remember that the words of the characters are not the beliefs of the author. Footnotes refer back to this introduction twice in the narrative. The revelation of John (hahaha look at me and my Bible puns) is one of those things.

It made me wonder who the target audience was. Was it hardcore Christians who wanted to read about the End Times, or was it supposed to be a popular work more in line with The Da Vinci Code? Thematically, I think it came somewhere in the middle. In terms of quality, it beat them both. Good job, Mr. BeauSeigneur.

There were a lot of things going on in this book, and it ended on a cliffhanger. Basically it ends with Christopher starting to use his powers. At one point he tells this guy to tell the truth so hard that the guy tells the truth and then dies of the guilt. Harsh.

This book wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great, no, but on the whole I can’t say that I disliked it much.

Really, though, I have to draw a division here. What I did like about this book was the story. It was actually good! I liked the science/religion combo thing and I thought it was carried off pretty well. If the Nazz is gonna come back someday, why not by cloning? It makes a weird kind of sense.

What I didn’t like was how the story was told. Besides the long jumps in time and the inability to give the audience any kind of nod toward their intelligence, there’s also the fact that this book had some serious POV issues. I think mostly of one scene of exposition. Up to that point, the entire scene had been from Decker’s point of view. Right in the middle, though, it jumped over to the other guy for about a paragraph, just long enough for the other guy to think something like I sure hope he believes this. When it comes to points of view, I tend to prefer the close third, but I’ll tolerate an omniscient third. What I don’t like is when the author can’t decide which one they want to go with and we end up with a book that’s 95% close with the occasional random moment of omniscience.

Will I read the other two books in this trilogy? Sure, I think I will! I’m actually curious about how all this pans out. How very strange.

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3 Comments

  1. Jamie Carter says:

    Sounds similar to a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Rightful Heir” when Worf meets the second coming of Kahless, their messiah figure – exactly as the scriptures foretold. Spoiler alert – he’s a clone, too. There are some true believers who don’t care about his origins, and some skeptics who want to use the discovery to discredit the religious guys who made him. Worf is trying to figure out what he does and doesn’t believe. Ultimately, you can’t un-ring a bell, Kahless is installed as the Klingon Emperor – a figurehead who has no power, that remains in Gowron’s (the chancellor’s) hand’s, and the whole truth is revealed for what it is. I think it’s actually fascinating to deal with questions about the morality, whether or not a close is the same thing as the real deal, that sort of thing – but the Star Trek version made it work in an episode format and that’s good enough for me. I’m not that much of a reader these days, anyway.

    “Kahless left us, all of us, a powerful legacy. A way of thinking and acting that makes us Klingon. If his words hold wisdom and his philosophy is honorable, what does it matter if he returns? What is important is that we follow his teachings. Perhaps the words are more important than the man.”
    – Kahless (Clone)

    Like

  2. “The Christ Clone” would have been a better title.

    Like

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