A dystopian novel about a modern-day prophet.
Ridler’s wry, ribald debut opens with a forbiddingly dense prelude, setting up an off-kilter future world. In it, many people in the West have lost faith in their old gods—“not the formal Gods of old religion, they had long since abandoned those—but the new Gods of science and economics.” Many people “yearned for…a new Saviour,” and they briefly get one in the form of the “Dear Leader,” who handpicks a cadre of followers called the People’s Avengers. As his power grows, several traditional governments create a counterforce called the Gaians, and the two groups clash for control of the world. After the Avengers seize control of London, the Leader appears before the world’s media, climbs into a helicopter and disappears. An era of puritanism follows, leading to yet another war. Ridler’s narrative settles into his surreal, fractured world, whose inhabitants include Fern Praisedaughter, a young woman on the brink of assuming her status as a state-sanctioned “whore.” She’s the daughter of Corporal Praise and the brother of the wealthy, well-connected Perse. The story picks up momentum when the Leader returns to the world he abandoned so long ago. He’s old and frail and remorseful about the world’s current state (“People are killing other people in my name and it’s all a sham,” he says). His reappearance doesn’t please everybody, of course (one character thinks of him as being “useless as a piece of meat now, more useless since you weren’t allowed to eat it”), and this conflict fuels the novel’s surprising final act. Ridler’s prose is smart and fast-paced as he chronicles a world almost entirely lacking in idealism. Although such unrelenting cynicism can be a bit wearying over a few hundred pages, the author proves to be a first-rate sardonic storyteller. His characters are all well-drawn, particularly the venal, hilarious Praisedaughter, whose wisecracks about the rampant misogyny of her society provide one of the most entertaining threads running through the book.
A sharp, highly readable sci-fi tale that comments on the flaws of organized religion.