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A Satan Carol by Alan Steven Kessler

Well, as an atheist, A Satan Carol by Alan Steven Kessler (Wild Child Publishing, 2011) comes as a bit of a surprise. I live in a very sheltered world, rarely bothering to keep track of what day it is, let consider alone what’s going on in the religious realm. I usually reckon that if the evangelically-inclined don’t bother me, I won’t bother them. So I hadn’t realised that Christian folk write this kind of book. It’s a bit of an eye-opener. Let’s see if I can capture the flavour of it for you.

We start off in Ireland in 1848 with potatoes in short supply. Thanks to the excessive zeal of Mr Green, a diabolical English landlord, Joseph, Meg and their strangely gifted son, Liam, die. On his death, Liam releases a golden soul and there’s a possible link to a boy called Pal in one reality and with Massachusetts one-hundred-and-eighty years in the future where Katie Katz is pregnant. Then we meet Oram and watch how he deals with the prophetic powers that come to him following a blow on the head. In our first meeting with Hugh Jackson, we learn he was born with a rare soul, i.e. demonstrated by the presence of a caul across his face on birth. When his parents are killed in a fire, he loses his faith but even a bad lot may be redeemed. He goes on to work for Harvey Katz, father of Katie.

Fritz Mueller is a young sociopath in an alternate reality who rather enjoys researching whether there’s something special about rats that enables them to grow fat on what appears to be a poor diet. He’s rather into vivisection and eating whatever’s left over. As a result of penning his name in the traditional blood on the bottom of a standard-form business contract, he’s trained as a doctor while pursuing his research into whether modern genetics can suggest a way of regenerating damaged or dead tissue. This should be helpful in restoring Pal. It seems this Antichrist is not doing so well. The plan is for Dr Mueller to run an abortion clinic and collect as much foetal material as he needs to pursue his research. He’s checking out the human genome to find the right combination for regenerating the Satanic baby’s brain. Once that’s working properly, he can contribute to the family business in his current reality.

So where does all this leave us? A Satan Carol asserts that it’s about free will. Our Mr Green is Satan’s disciple, so he has to play by the rules of whichever universe he happens to be in. He can’t intervene directly, but can use all his persuasive powers to try influencing outcomes. Since he can manifest himself any guise, he can use appearance in support of words to mislead or corrupt all those who might interfere with his plans. Taking an overview, everything we read is based on a range of distinctly black-and-white prejudices. Whether it’s on suicide as a sin, adultery as a betrayal of family values, or abortion as having a distinctly Satanic motivation, it’s fascinating to see what springs off the page next. Anyway, in the midst of all this, the title intrudes and we get echoes of Charles Dickens with ghosts popping up (or down depending on their point of origin) around the Noël. The problem with such experiences is that, even to a cynical lawyer, an encounter with a ghost may just provide evidence of an afterlife. That would be most inconvenient from Mr Green’s perspective. The rest of the book focuses on the proposed abortion of Katie Katz unborn “child” and a passage through the White Mountains to the alternate reality where Oram can meet Pal, but not directly interact with anyone. In this, he’s a bit like God who, in more recent years, has not directly interacted with anyone. So here comes the clincher. Which body will get the golden soul? Will it be Pal or Katie’s baby — we can leave the question of when the newly conceived acquire souls to another book.

Putting all this together. A Satan Carol is a flashback: a Christian-fueled story claiming to be about free will and the power of temptation as wielded by a disciple of Satan. I haven’t read anything along these lines for fifty odd years when I ploughed through a number of religiously inclined books to see how authors discussed their beliefs. This included the C S Lewis Ransom Trilogy with Perelandra a rerun of the Garden of Eden on the theme of temptation. In a way, I’m rather grateful for the chance to extend my understanding of how modern American Christians think about moral issues. Sadly, although “Mr Green” is given plenty of chances to persuade people on the merits, he rarely comes up with any clear, winning arguments. This reflects what, for me, is a serious problem. Alan Steven Kessler is a man who appreciates certainty. It’s implicit in the very notion of faith. Even though a believer has no evidence, he or she must believe. This rather trivialises debates on issues of major social importance. Instead of being able to start from a neutral position, seek evidence, construct arguments based on the evidence, and reach reasoned conclusions, this book is burdened with several non-negotiable presumptions. So, even when people holding different philosophical or religious beliefs might see shades of grey and hesitate before reaching any firm view, Mr Kessler finds himself in an ironic situation. His faith mandates belief in a number of truths. As a writer, he has no free will and the plot he constructs has to produce predetermined outcomes. What claims to be a book about free will, by definition, cannot be so. At an intellectual level, both the events described and the debates are mechanistic, superficial and somewhat tediously repetitious. The result is that, if like Alan Steven Kessler, you’re an American Christian of firm faith, this is probably the book for you. It will confirm what you believe is right. But if you are, for example, a Hindu, Moslem, Taoist or hold one of the many other faiths around the world, it will probably only interest you if you are a cultural anthropologist. As an atheist, I thought it quite sad, albeit amusing in part, but then I find anyone who has an absolute belief in anything supernatural to be quite sad.

A copy of this ebook was sent to me for review.

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