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Blameless in Abaddon
James Morrow
Harcourt Brace Books, 404 pages

Blameless in Abaddon

James Morrow
James Morrow has been called "The most provocative satiric voice in science fiction" by the Washington Post. It may be true. Morrow won an World Fantasy Award for his novel, Towing Jehovah and has been nominated for his collection, Bible Stories for Adults.

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A review by Steven H Silver

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In 1984, Robert Heinlein wrote a novel called Job: A Comedy of Justice, which dealt with a minister who was wrenched from one world to another. In some ways, it is too bad that Heinlein already appropriated the title, because it fits James Morrow's Blameless in Abaddon to a "T". This novel is a sequel to Morrow's earlier Towing Jehovah. Whereas the earlier novel ended with God's entombment in the Arctic, this novel takes up the story a couple of years later. In desperate need of money, the Vatican has sold the corpus dei to a group of Evangelical Christians who have built an amusement park, Celestial City, around the divine corpse in Orlando, Florida.

Although a couple of the characters from the earlier novel, notably Father Thomas Ockham and Captain Anthony van Horne, make cameo appearances in the follow-up, Blameless in Abaddon really tells the story of J.P. Martin Candle, a modern-day Job. Candle has spent his entire life in Abaddon, PA (named because an early settler believed they saw the Devil in the nearby creek). He lives a good life dispensing justice in the Abaddon Township courts and eventually falls in love with and marries one of the defendants.

His fall is bipartite. First, he suddenly develops prostate cancer. After a visit to Celestial City to seek a cure, his wife is killed in an ironic car accident. Feeling as sorry for himself as the Biblical Job, one of his heroes, Candle undertakes to bring God's body before the World Court in the Hague.

Divided into three parts, the first part tells Candle's story up to the point where the World Court agrees to try his case. During the second part, Candle must try to gather the witness and evidence which will permit him to present a winning case before the world court. The third part is a description of the "Trial of the Millennium". The novel is narrated by Jonathan Sarkos, the Devil, who we discover lives within the cranium of God's corpse. While Morrow completely ignored the role of the Devil in the earlier book, a consideration of evil, such as Blameless in Abaddon must pay some attention to the Adversary.

Morrow's portrait of Jonathan Sarkos is interesting. Although it is obvious that he is evil, his evilness comes mostly from his enjoyment of the suffering of others. We see him directy inflict very little damage on any of the characters or events in the book. As Sarkos points out, "Any species that could invent the twentieth century entirely on its own doesn't need a Prince of Darkness."

The earlier portion of the book, which deals almost entirely with Martin Candle, is more entertaining and easier to read than the later parts of the book. During Candle's quest for evidence, Morrow bogs down in intricate theological conundrums, not always managing to explain them clearly. The final portion of the novel, showing the trial, frequently reads like a litany of human disasters. Unfortunately, Morrow didn't listen to his own characters as they admonished Candle not to go overboard with the cancer victims and orphans.

More than any other SF author, Morrow's satirical writings convey the sense of a man who believes in some sort of divine creature (although not necessarily religion) who is trying, through writing, to understand the very issues which Martin Candle is trying to understand in Blameless in Abaddon. Although an enjoyable, and somewhat educational, read, if you haven't read any Morrow, I would suggest trying Towing Jehovah or Last Begotten Daughter before picking up Blameless in Abaddon.

Copyright © 1997 by Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicon 2000 and Clavius in 2001 and is co-chair of Picnicon 1998. Steven will be serving as the Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.


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