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DIVINE INTERVENTION
2001

Book cover art by Edwin Herder.
Review © 2002 by Thomas M. Wagner.
AUTHOR'S SITE

Ken Wharton's debut novel is wonderfully entertaining, and one of 2001's most pleasant surprises. It became a Philip K. Dick Award finalist. Though at first it can be difficult to tell just how seriously you can take Divine Intervention, in the end it turns out to be an inspired mixture of hard SF, religious and philosophical speculation, and humor, with a climax that features some of the most eyebrow-raising action sequences put to paper. You will have to suspend your disbelief for some silliness at first; some key characters are much too cartoonish. But there are many impressive creative concepts here, too, and a lot of high-energy writing. Wharton's got a future in SF.

Divine Intervention deals with a distant human colony on a planet called Mandala that is about to receive its first new arrivals from Mother Earth in nearly a century and a half. Mandala's original colony ship was captained by a fellow who developed a whole new quantum physics-based theology following what he felt was divine intervention in sparing the vessel (named the Walt Disney!) from near-disaster in mid-flight. According to this religion, Symmology, God is merely the end result of human evolution at the end of time, a collective consciousness. "He" then becomes a reverse-entropy being moving backwards in time towards the Big Bang. God's past is our future, and vice-versa, and the only way humans can communicate with God is at the quantum level, with our minds. Symmology is at the core of Mandalan society, and the ship's log and Captain's journal from the Walt Disney have become the Mandalans' Bibles.

Mandalan society has two distinct classes of people, those who fit in the mainstream, and the Burnouts, people who have had just a bit too much of the hallucinogenic plant that is apparently necessary to have quantum chats with God. Mandala City is governed by the just-a-bit-too-arch-villianous Prime Minister Channing. Channing dreads the Mayflower, the oncoming vessel containing new colonists (who outnumber the current Mandalan population by 3-to-1), so powerfully that he decides he simply has to kill them all. Only then can his power base — that the new colonists, with their advanced technologies and vast manpower, threaten — be preserved. After learning that the Mayflower has arrived in orbit much earlier than expected, Channing and his team of baddies fly up secretly, promptly kill the Mayflower's crew (one escapes) and leave the colonists in cold sleep while they decide what to do about them.

Unfortunately, Channing's nefarious designs run into a snag in the form of Drew Randall, the young deaf-mute son of Paul Randall, one of Symmology's chief priests. Drew has a special transmitter device that enables him to hear and speak, and through it, has made surprise contact with some entity near Mandala's moon that claims to be God! Paul scoffs at this. Symmology clearly states that there can be no overt contact with God on the macro level. But this entity, God or whomever, has told Drew the Mayflower has arrived, which no one but Channing knows.

The plot then concerns itself with the questions of whether Channing's plans will be foiled, whether civil war with the Burnouts will finally erupt, and, most crucially, whether Paul will be forced to rethink his beliefs if he ever comes into contact with Drew's "God".

Wharton revels in his plot's B-movie qualities. He knows his science, and I have to admit that his quantum concept of God is kind of cool, even if, like many of the characters, I don't buy it. On the other hand, the real nature of Drew's "God" is the book's most brilliantly original idea. Though the novel's opening chapters give you the initial impression you've landed in Gerry Anderson territory, by the time the plot is underway you're flipping pages as fast as you can. Wharton has a fine ear for dialogue that compensates for his tendency to draw his characters in such broad strokes. And I can't remember the time the final fifty pages of a novel had me so riveted. Divine Intervention's goal is to balance excitement and adventure with some good philosophical and scientific tubthumping, and it clicks. I had loads of fun reading this book, and I'll be following Ken Wharton's development in full drooling-fanboy mode.