I wanted to like this. Really. The author was incredibly generous and sent me a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review, even after I failed to win the giveaway on Goodreads. This is described as a series, but more properly it’s a serial novel. There’s nothing self-contained about the individual works, and you have to read all four to get the story. There are a couple of other stories set in this same world, starring Luke’s father, but I don’t plan to track them down. I almost never leave a book unfinished, but I was strongly tempted this time. Had I not agreed to do a review, I don’t know if I would have finished. Although, all things considered, Mr. Powell may have been happier if I’d stopped…. My reviews for the individual works are below, while this review will be the collection as a whole.
–Doomsday Diaries II: New World Order
–Doomsday Diaries III: Luke The Protector
–Doomsday Diaries IV: Luke And The Lion
It all begins with the end of the world. Most of the Earth’s population perished instantly in the nuclear fires set off by the New World Order, the world’s elitists purging the unwashed masses from the Earth in their pursuit of a new Eden that they firmly controlled. Some, like Luke Mitchell and his family, survived in bunkers and shelters prepared against just such a day. Many did not. When Luke and his family finally emerge from hiding, they will find a world that is not at all what they expected…Can Luke find the strength within himself to do what has to be done, to meet his destiny and take down the New World Order once and for all?
Like I said, I wanted to like this, but alas, I found it to be mediocre at best. The plot was needlessly cliched, and the conspiracy theories he draws from make Mel Gibson’s character from Conspiracy Theory look sane. The characters were kind of cardboard, but not always uninteresting. At first we get a good sense of who Luke is, his wants and dreams and so forth, because everything is presented as him writing in his diary a la D.J. MacHale’s Pendragon novels, but as things move forward he becomes less and less believable as a character. Why? Because aside from his libido, Luke has not a single character flaw. He’s set up as an incredibly vanilla Christ figure, so this makes sense in a way, but that’s no excuse for a lack of inner conflict. The only thing Luke is ever conflicted about in the course of the story (at least after leaving the fallout shelter, anyway, which is where the real story starts) is his feeling for the two separate girls vying for his attention–and even that falls flat. I’ll get to that later. It’s no spoiler to tell you that Luke will die at some point, given his status as a Christ figure, but even that he meets with an even keel. Christ himself was in great turmoil over this prospect, to the point of sweating blood, while Luke calmly meets his fate without flinching. I’m all for exploring and reinventing Christ’s story if there’s something interesting to be gained from it,* but in this case it was simply hijacked to serve as a front for an uninteresting New Age parable about how the Universe itself is God, and we are all a part of that. Again, more of that later. There’s an interesting conversation to be had about why all our fictional Christ figures come out looking more like Neo than they do like Jesus, but that’s a bit outside the scope and purpose of this blog. I will grant that Mr. Powell does a little better in this regard than most, even if it does introduce an annoying inconsistency to the character. At one point Luke is revolted by the NWO’s cloning program and the “soulless creatures” it is turning out, and mercilessly guns them down as abominations. (Again, I’ll deal with this particular facet in a minute.) Fifteen pages later he and his men are pinned down by more of the clones, and he begins praying in despair at the violence on both sides. The result is a character you can’t quite accept as genuine.
I have no trouble reading stuff that comes with a different worldview than the one I embrace–in fact, I often welcome the chance to examine the ideas inherent in such narratives and the questions they raise. There’s a group of Christians that choose to wall themselves off from the parts of popular culture that conflict with their beliefs, and I understand that. I’m not a part of that group, and that attitude frustrates me, but I understand it. It’s easy. I choose to engage the culture in conversation and examine the ideas it presents–for example, the discussion Buffy The Vampire Slayer prompts about the nature of evil and the soul. Some of the characters and elements that are inherent to that show automatically disqualify it from the watch lists of many of my brethren, and that’s sad. So when I gripe about the New Age agenda presented in this book, please understand that my problem isn’t that I disagree with it or stand in firm opposition to it–though I do, unflinchingly–but that it preaches. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t tolerate that even when I agree with what you’re shoving down my throat. When I disagree with the line you’re feeding me, and especially when you’re not giving me anything interesting to engage in conversation, I just want to throw up my hands in frustration. Give me angels disobeying God for the greater good (Legion) or attempting to cause the apocalypse in order to cleanse mankind and make us worthy of God’s love (Constantine). Give me a morally complex tale of good and evil (Buffy) or the nature of personhood and identity (Dollhouse). Give me ideas to play with, don’t shove an ideology down my throat. Give me questions, not answers, and most importantly–above all else–present it in the form of an interesting story. Otherwise you’re wasting my time.
Less subtle but no less off-putting: this book is so sexually explicit it borders on pornography. The prologue is simply a graphic scene of Luke masturbating. I don’t object to sexual content when it is presented tastefully and/or to good purpose, but there’s a limit. I was prepared to forgive the prologue due to the fact that it really did a decent job of putting you inside Luke’s head and where he’s at emotionally, very much depressed and wondering how the model died even as he relieves himself. I didn’t appreciate reading about it, but I admitted it’s effectiveness in its assumed purpose. The rest of the material? It was overly detailed, even pointlessly gratuitous. I don’t deny that the characters would act the way they do in the given situations, but I don’t need details! Extra creepy since everyone involved is underage, and with an added creep factor since the main character is basically modeled on Mr. Powell’s son.** Subtlety is an art, and one it seems Mr. Powell has yet to achieve.
Other more minor issues include a “love triangle” that is less triangle than it is bait-and-switch and a complete lack of moral ambiguity on the issue of cloning. Here, clones are “soulless creatures that cannot understand the beauty in the world.” (New World Order, pg. 102) Why? In-narrative, no reason is given. Since they seem to be unquestioningly obedient, you could posit the theory that there’s some mental conditioning or mind control going on, and we know they’re being genetically engineered for certain traits (like a healing factor a la Wolverine), but to me that only makes them more of a victim and has no bearing on the “soul” as it is traditionally understood. If, as is posited here, everyone and everything in the Universe is a part of God then that should include the clones as well. They deserve help and pity, not to be mercilessly gunned down (self defense aside). I could go on for pages here about the nature of the soul and the ethics of cloning, especially if I dug into my archive from philosophy class for the paper I did on the topic, but I’ll spare you. I’ll leave it at this: the cloning factor gave Mr. Powell the chance to do something really interesting here, but he’s beat out by literally every other cloning-related story I’ve ever encountered, including Michael Bay’s The Island (which is really much better than you would expect, given Bay’s reputation. I credit the acting talent involved.) When Michael Bay, king of explosions and eye candy, tells a more morally complex tale than yours, that’s sad.
I don’t want you to think that this was completely negative with no positives. For most of the book I was at least moderately entertained, at least when I wasn’t distracted by my annoyance with the aforementioned issues. In addition, Mr. Powell definitely knows what he’s talking about in terms of military hardware, slang, and maneuvers. Was this enough to save the book for me? No. Not nearly. But it is enough to win the book a second star in its rating.
CONTENT: Hands-down the most sexually explicit novel I’ve ever read. There is graphic descriptions of masturbation, oral sex, and the main character losing his virginity, as well as multiple other acts he witnesses but does not participate in. You’ve been warned. R-rated language, occasional but still present. Strong violence. A preachy, cliched New Age agenda.
*I’m still hunting for a copy of ¡Hero!: The Rock Opera off and on….
**At least, he dedicates the book to his son Luke.