Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung
What is an early warning system meant to do: help you or frighten you? If it’s only use is to warn you that things are going to be worse when you do not realise how bad they are now, is that any help at all? And after all, how many people know how to use the EWS?
Though nearly everyone hears the message in James Smythe’s The Testimony, no one knows who it has come from. Given the way the world collapses afterwards, one wonders if the broadcaster knew what he or she or it was doing because after people hear “My children. Do not be afraid” things start to go to hell in a handbasket; if nothing else because a universal message of consolation broadcast only in English rather upsets the non-anglophone world. And, as you know, in the modern world language, politics and religion tend to be tied together, especially in the minds of mad bombers.
The Testimony consists of day by day transcriptions of survivors and their recall of events. Some of the survivors are simple people – retirees in New York City, a drug dealer in South Africa, a doctor in India; others have more power – a presidential advisor in Washington DC, a political speechwriter in Israel, but none of them have an insight into what caused the original broadcast or the strange ailments that follow it. Any knowledge they acquire comes through experience and learning what matters in life, and for most that means enjoying the simple things.
Blue Door is a HarperCollins imprint, and their publicity puts The Testimony in the same field as Stephen King’s The Stand, but that lacks the importance of religion played up here. Christians split, with the few who did not hear the message treated as lepers most unchristianly, while bombs begin to explode, probably planted by Muslim extremists, who in turn are alleged by the Americans to be in the pay of Iran, leading to intercontinental retaliation. All the time, though, religion is being reworked, and all the Christian churches merge into The Church of the One True God – something which J G Ballard saw happening on an even larger scale (all religions merged into one Faith Union) in his 1976 story “The Life And Death of God”. Ultimately, though, all these stories go back a century to Guy Thorne’s 1904 novel, When It Was Dark, where it is shenanigans with the resurrection that cause a worldwide disaster (there is a link to The New York Times original review from the brief Wikipedia entry).
Who or what broadcast remains a mystery at the end of The Testimony, and the mass annihilations and deaths tend to happen elsewhere (logical really if the story is being told by the survivors), which may make the book unappealing and too non-criminal for Shots readers. Consider another couple of titles which have appeared recently, though, if the idea of a story told through multiple voices appeals to you. The first is Christopher Priest’s The Islanders, which is written as the guidebook to a strange archipelago, where beguiling references to an unnatural death in a resort theatre cannot be avoided. The other is Charles Felix’s The Nottinghill Mystery, the reports of an insurance investigator examining a possible murder. First published in the 1860’s, this has just been republished by the British Library.
The world coming to an end: it is distance lends enchantment to the view.