Soulsaver, by James Stevens-Arce

soulsaver-by-james-stevens-arce coverGenre: Horror
Publisher: Harcourt
Published: 2000
Reviewer Rating: four stars
Book Review by William D. Gagliani

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In Puerto Rico of one hundred years hence, Armageddon fever strikes again. Experts have determined that we were wrong to fear 1999; it’s 2099 we need to worry about. But don’t, because the news from D.C. (the District of Christ) is that there’s a Second Coming on the way, and that’s Sally Stupendous! The Shepherdess looks into the camera with her sultry bedroom eyes and reassures the holy Christian American nation that all will be well, even though followers of the Twin Messiahs are messing around with the order of things — but they will be foiled, make no mistake!

Juan Bautista Lorca is a rookie Soulsaver. He rides with his partner Fabiola in a hot-rod techie ambulance. Their mission: to make “corpsicles” by freezing the bodies of SID (self-inflicted death) victims, so that a special facility can revive the disaffected suicides and thereby “save” their souls. Apparently most do not attempt suicide twice, for being revived is no picnic. But Juan Bautista’s enthusiasm for this peach of a job is tempered by Fabiola’s apparent cynicism, which may have led her to an unChristian path. A path, you can be certain, Juan Bautista will himself be forced to traverse.

And there’s more. The Suicide Prevention Corps of America (SPCA!) is an elite group overseen by the religious bureaucracy which has swallowed up government, entertainment, and even advertising. Can I get you a JC Cola? Do you pray to Saint Elvis? Do you watch CACNN, the Christian American Capsule News Network? Listen to new happy music by that hot new band, the Gospel Maniacs, on WGOD? How about that new slang?

But all good utopias are nothing but rot underneath, and this religious country is no better, as Juan eventually learns while being taken on a ride through a corner of this bizarre landscape in which you can still buy indulgences from the Church, you can plug into a coin-op virtual confessor on almost every street corner, and you can buy religious baubles from TV hucksters like Jimmy Divine for inflated prices. Hell, we’re halfway there already!

Dear Lord, how I laughed at the salsa-bouncy tone of this deceptively simple construct. I winced not at the jokes, but at how singularly unfunny they’d be if they became reality. James Stevens-Arce, who set this fine romp in his own back yard, where he works in film and video, won the coveted UPC Prize for Science Fiction (Barcelona) in 1997 with a novella version of the novel. Even expanded, it’s not very long, which keeps its pace set on Howard Hopping!

At its best, SOULSAVER channels James Morrow, David Prill, Carl Hiaasen, and the ghost of George Orwell. Maybe a hint of Harlan Ellison’s work, too, that anti-establishment portion clearly defined by “‘Repent Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman.” And it’s possible to read it and get a sort of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” vibe, too, though I may be reaching there. The fact is that this novel touches on satire enough to be considered one, though it also shares some SF elements with a few well-placed horror conventions. The almost mind-numbing time compression and transitions detract a bit — they’re probably necessary for the pace, but occasionally compress too much important information. Never mind, this is a tiny quibble when taking the work as a whole.

What’s interesting is that, even as it ridicules this future Church and its slick, sleazy, gluttonously bloated and hypocritical leaders, the subtext still seems to argue for a holier approach to living; just not by following these specific role models. But any way you look at this inventive satire, it’s Tommy Terrific!

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