The Piaculum, by Richard Gray

The Piaculum, by Richard Gray book coverGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: iUniverse
Published: 2004
Reviewer Rating: four stars
Book Review by Paul Goat Allen

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The Piaculum by Eric Gray can be best described as religious science fiction. Set on a futuristic Earth where a strictly regimented, agriculturally based community of Christians (called the Mone) are regularly attacked by the Kathe, a divergent society of supposed ‘believers’ who kidnap and torture people born with a rare skin disease, the novel revolves around an unassuming hero named Cearl.

Cearl was born with the white-mark, an uncommon disorder that turns the regularly dark brown skin of the Mones to white. His life is relatively normal–he plays kickball with his best friend Euen and attends church with his family on the Sabbath–but then suddenly his world is turned upside down. A group of strangers attacks his village during the night and kidnap Cearl. After crucifying the child, the invaders carry him across the desert to a strange, terrifying circle of stone where they begin a nightmarish ritual. Cearl is miraculously saved by a group of villagers led by his father, but he never forgets what did–and could have–happened to him.

Years later when Cearl’s son Twain–who is also afflicted with the white-mark–is kidnapped by the Kathe, he courageously follows the kidnappers to the infamous stone circle (where decades earlier he was tortured) and makes a deal with them to switch places with his son. So while Twain is safely brought back to his village, Cearl begins the long and torturous process of becoming a Piaculum: supposed gods that, through their continued pain and bloodshed, saved the Kathe from eternal damnation. Will Cearl’s faith be broken and will he come to believe in his deification or will he find a way to destroy the sadistic cult of blood-drinkers?

While clearly not on the level of religion-powered science fiction classics like Walter M. Miller Jr.’s ‘A Canticle For Leibowitz’, ‘Lord of Light’ by Roger Zelazny and Kim Stanley Robinson’s ‘The Years of Rice and Salt’, Gray’s weird and–well, weird!–novel is a definite page-turner. My only real displeasure came in the form of the dozens (maybe even hundreds) of spelling and punctuation errors. As an editor myself, it is absolutely reprehensible for an author to spend months, even years, working diligently to write a novel only to have a careless publisher miss so many obvious mistakes. That aside, I really enjoyed Gray’s futuristic vision and the very timely message contained within–a cautionary tale of the highest order.

Paul Goat Allen is the editor of Barnes & Noble’s Explorations science fiction/fantasy book review and is the author of Burning Sticks, Old Winding Way and Warlock Dreams.

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