Monday, 14 November 2011

Robert Van Kampen, The Fourth Reich (2000)

Well, this is terrible; but you'd expect me to say so. The painfully pious Van Kampen works his personal interpretation of St John's Revelation into a cloggy future 'thriller'. In the afterword, he insists upon the precision and truthfulness of everything in the book: 'I have tried to be as precise as to what will happen, when it will happen, and the order in which it will happen, following the timing and sequence of events outlined in scripture' [444]. Accordingly he sticks closely to the passage in Revelation 23:7-20 in which a genetically altered egg containing DNA extracted from skull fragments tagged "Berlin 4 May 1945" is implanted in the wife of a high-placed Russian official; the child, once born, being removed and his mother told that her son has died.

So, yes, Adolf Hitler is Boys-from-Brazilled back to life, and sweeps to power in Russia inaugurating the end times. Nobody notices that he looks like Hitler to begin with, on account of him having a beard -- a brilliant strategy (we have to wonder why the historical Hitler didn't think of it himself: growing a big beard in 1945, and sneaking out of the bunker). Hitler reports directly to Satan, and goes by the name 'Nikolai Bulgakov' (cle-ver!) until about halfway through, when he comes out and reveals that he is actually Adolf Hitler. This doesn't seem to harm his political career. It's all precisely and truthfully terrible:
Defense against the flying creatures proved almost impossible, and the following weeks the insects continued to find a way around all but the most sophisticated barriers. Ordinary citizens in the Reich had little protection. Hitler's promise that no one would die brought little comfort to the millions who suffered the excruciatng pain of the poison stings. [336]
I half-wonder whether the author is playing with the derivation of the word 'excruciating' here; but no, he's not. His style is soggy and clich├ęd throughout; the story prodigiously dull and dreary.  In the afterword, Van Kampen says that when it comes to decoding the identity of 'the Beast' in Revelation, 'I think Hitler is as good a choice as Nero.'  They both strike me as equally likely to come to a position of global power in the next ten years, certainly.

My personal view is that the antichrist, when he comes, will either be called 'Mr Beast' or else 'Viv I. Vi'. I'm presently working on my screenplay for the latter eventuality: Vivien: Omen 6.


Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Fascinating. And the impetus for you to read this was...?

Richard B said...

....why the cover alone, surely.
I mean, look at that cover. How could you not read this book?

Adam Roberts said...

I was tempted to answer flippantly, FHMCGeoX; but one can't always be flippant. So the answer is: I'm conscious (perhaps over-conscious) that, left to my own devices, I will read within a fairly narrow band of my favourite sort of thing. This seems to me undesirable. Accordingly, I try to read more widely than would be the case if I merely consulted my own preferences; specifically I go out of my way to read samples from modes of writing I wouldn't usually think twice of even picking up -- especially writing by people whose political and religious affiliations are very different to my own. I try and do this with as open a mind as possible, although on this last one I fail much more often than I succeed.

Adam Roberts said...

Also, as Richard B notes: that cover!!!