||August 21, 2009
As Worlds Burn
An Apocalyptic Science Fiction Novel of Love and the Search for Life’s Meaning
The title of “As Worlds Burn” by James Dwight suggests an apocalyptic tale, but such a designation is far too simplistic. While it is a science fiction novel of war on another planet that takes place after what appears to have been a great catastrophe, the reader will discover the focus is upon a very philosophical and even spiritual story about what it means to be human and the role God plays in our lives. Never falling into simple allegory or a veiled commentary of the twenty-first century, “As Worlds Burn” presents situations that resonate with our culture today while reflecting a fictional world needing redemption from its own social conditioning where no easy solutions are provided.
The novel begins when Verbolana, a member of The Chosen people, dies in the war against The Wretched. At the moment of her death, she experiences what her religion has taught her to expect—a sled coming to take her to Heaven. However, what she expected ends there. Heaven is not what she was taught it would be, and she soon learns her planet and the culture she was raised in are also far from what they had seemed during her lifetime.
Verbolana’s story becomes one of a journey through Heaven, trying to find meaning, happiness, and an understanding of God. While at first she hopes for the Blessed Amnesia that will make her forget her earthly life, instead she comes to understand her previous existence in new ways while meeting numerous people in Heaven who help her try to find answers to her questions about the meaning of it all.
Dwight alternates the novel’s scenes between Verbolana and Trake, the man Verbolana loves. Trake survives the battle in which Verbolana dies, but only to end up stranded among the Wretched, ultimately learning their ways, and discovering that what The Chosen taught him about the Wretched and the history of the conflict between the two peoples has been a series of lies.
Dwight’s fictional world at first appears to be a commentary on what could happen to our own planet if we do not take better care of the earth. The Chosen live in open skyscrapers they call towers, never venturing down to touch the earth, or Father, as they call it. Father has been wounded and must not even be stepped upon so he has time to heal. Generations earlier, the people had been warned they must leave Father’s surface. The Chosen went into the towers, but the Wretched remained on the earth; for disobeying this dictate to let Father heal, the Wretched have ever since been despised by the Chosen. Yet what appears to be an environmental disaster may only be a distorted message—one that makes the reader wonder how much of what our own media tells us is also manipulated for political ends.
More interesting than the environmental concerns to me was how “As Worlds Burn” reads like a science-fiction version of “What Dreams May Come,” providing a spiritual exploration of what life after death might be, and what life on earth actually means in relation to it.
At the novel’s center are questions about God and Truth. In Heaven, Verbolana meets Paul, a man who lived in California on the earth familiar to readers, which he calls Terra in the novel. Just as the Chosen’s religion has been full of lies, Paul points out the problems with religion on earth:
They were all anti-logical as far as I can tell. And I don’t mean illogical, but anti-logical. Because most of them follow logical paths of thinking in order to make sense of non-logical issues. That to me is anti-logical. Now that I think about it, it’s amazing how so many Terran religions got so much of it right but ended up being so incredibly wrong.
Paul even discusses Jesus directly, rejecting the idea of a Virgin Birth and explaining that Jesus’s message was too broad for people so they had to make it definitive and turn Jesus into a God. God himself tells Paul he has sent 852 messengers to earth to help humanity, but since humanity never understands or accepts what the messengers have to say, it is unlikely God will bother to send any more.
The voice of God throughout the book is especially compelling. He talks to Verbolana and Paul and anyone else in Heaven. Whenever they want something, God makes it happen for them—such as changing their hairstyles or letting them view scenes from history—but what God does not do is tell them all the answers. He admits he doesn’t know all the answers himself. Instead, Paul and Verbolana are left to figure things out on their own. Dwight’s fictionalized God is the God of modern science, the idea of an expanding and evolving God who changes and grows as people change and create him—he fits our twenty-first century notion of quantum physics and an expanding and vibrating universe, with a God who matures and expands in correlation with humanity and all the universe.
Readers who are strict Christians may be offended, and a few graphic sexual scenes may turn off some readers. “As Worlds Burn” is for the open-minded, for the reader who enjoys thinking—the reader who wants more than just an action-packed adventure novel—although there are several episodes to fulfill the desire to be entertained. Readers who like to question the meaning of existence will find kindred spirits in Verbolana, Paul and Trake. Readers may even question and reevaluate their own lives and the beliefs their culture gave them. Whether you enjoy reading science-fiction, fantasy, philosophy, or self-help and spirituality books, “As Worlds Burn” is not one easily forgotten, but a book to be savored and to be given a second or even third reading.
For more information about James Dwight and “As Worlds Burn” visit www.asworldsburn.com .
- Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. author of the award-winning Narrow Lives
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