THE HOLY LAND
by Robert Zubrin
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The Holy Land is Robert Zubrin's broad satire on the situation in the Middle East, in which the alien Minervans are cast as the Israelis, the Western Galactic Empire is provided with the role of the United States, and a Christian Fundamentalist government of the United States takes on the combined role of the Palestinian Authority and the Saudi government. Unfortunately, the analogies and situations are a little too obvious for the novel to work entirely.
A major target for satire is the current rising wave of anti-Semitism which hides behind a fašade of anti-Zionism, but the corrupt Palestinian authority, the press, the UN, and a variety of other targets get skewered as well. Zubrin makes it clear that the Kennewickians (Palestinians) and Minervans (Israelis) are both victims of hatred, although the hatred towards the Kennewickians is aimed at them mostly by their own leaders and the representatives of the Western Galactic Empire who claim to be trying to help them.
Zubrin's characters vary. The Minervan priestess Aurora can alternate between being an incredible intelligent, almost emotionless woman to acting like a petulant child in the space of pages. Hamilton, the everyman Earthling who comes to understand the Minervan point of view as well as seeing what his own leaders are doing to the people they claim to protect.
For satire to work, it must be convincing, or at least make people think about the issues in ways which may not have occurred to them previously. Zubrin's satire tends to reinforce the opinion for those who already agree with him, and for those who disagree with his sentiments, the satire tracks too closely to its real world analog and is too easy to dismiss as propaganda, rather than satire. However, by placing the action at a slight remove from reality, the book does manage to have the ability to sway those who are not firmly already in one of the two opposing camps.
The novel is at its strongest when Zubrin gets away from his main points to focus on the specifics of Minervan culture or, in a brilliant section, an explanation of relativistic physics which flies in the face of what we know but is a fantastic send-up of the types of superscientific explanations used in so much space opera. The differences between the civilizations Zubrin and their real world analogs set the stage for interesting speculation which goes unfulfilled since it is not the purpose of Zubrin's writing.
The Holy Land does present the situation in the Middle East and the "War on Terror" in a distinct light and by placing the activities in a fictionalized context, it may be possible for readers to come away from the novel with a fresh perspective on the conflicts, however the analogies seem a little too close to reality for such an emotionally charged topic.
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