The back of (click to buy) Tribulations by Ken Shufeldt dramatically states: “The World Has Ended…The War Is Only Beginning.” That’s enough to capture the eye of almost any SF fan. Similar themes of the end of the world and warfare between different civilizations have been the fodder of many SF novels, but still they are fascinating frameworks for countless science fiction novels. In the right hands, a literary masterpiece can be created from such ideas; or, in lesser hands, a dismal flop can be the result. Which one of the two extremes does Tribulations most resemble, or does it fall somewhere in-between the two extremes? Read on to find out!
The very title of Ken Shufeldt’s novel evokes an Old Testament feel: Tribulations–the difficult times & trials God’s Chosen people undergo before they can finally attain their long-promised homeland/salvation. Fine, I thought before I even began reading–likely the novel will combine science fiction, science, and religion, either one of Earth’s religions or that of another planet. Lots of great SF has been written with religious undertones, like Dune, by Frank Herbert; Hellhole, by Brain Hderbert and Kevin J. Anderson; The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, by PK Dick; and A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter Miller, for four examples off the top of my head. I loved reading each of these four books, but I also recognize that anyone who attempts to combine religion and SF walks a fine line. If the book leans too much towards a religious outlook, it can seem to be too preachy and even overbearing to someone who is an atheist or who follows a different religion.
In Tribulations, Ken unabashedly wears the Judeo-Christian religion on his sleeve, though he theorizes that its foundation began on another planet and its basic ideas/concepts were taken here by aliens who were forced into landing on Earth because their spacecraft was damaged. These humanoid aliens were stranded here, and lived out their entire lives on our planet, trying to make the best of their situation and indoctrinate the natives with their religious POV. Their beliefs of there being one god became the foundation for the JudeoChristian religion.
Ken Shufeldt’s novel begins with an amazing archeological discovery. An ancient metal sarcophagus has been “brought back from the battlefields of Iraq” by Larry Sheldon, one of a team of Logos scientists. The group of people known as Logos were an “ultra-secretive evangelical society.” The sarcophagus had been the one the female alien, Evevette, had used “to bury her husband, Adamartoni.” Though the author doens’t come right out and say it even more plainly, this couple’s names seem to indicate that they were the Adam and Eve from the Bible.
Some of the DNA gets injected into the body of a human boy, Billy West, by “accident,” or fate, and some gets fed intravenously into the bloostream of a little girl, Linda Lou Bustamente, who “needed an operation to save her life.” Again, coincidently, her parents “had been lifelong friends” with Billy’s. These two children grow up and are educated under the watchful eyes of Logos, and they progress rapidly in their education, due to their super-enhanced genetics.
Long story somewhat short, the Billy and Linda Lou eventaully learn of meteorites headed Earth’s way, and they realize that Earth is doomed. They plan to have a small fleet of interstellar spacecraft built and they choose a planet that appears to be suitable to sustain human life as their ultimate destination. The name of their particular ship is Genesis, a name torn again directly from the Bible, as it’s what the first book of the Bible is called.
I would have preferred there to be a bit more subtlety in the naming of the two main characters and their spacecraft. Also, Billy’s and Linda Lou’s ability to communicate with each other telepathically seemed to me to be maybe a bit too pat. Still, even with their enhanced DNA, and Biblical prophecy behind them, even with their being the supposed prophesied saviors of humanity in their favor, Billy’s and Linda Lou’s lives aboard the spacecraft are far from Paradise.
Billy knows time is working against them, that reaching the planet he thinks would be the best opportunity for their success will take way too long. So, he decides to try to make the Genesis travel as fast as the speed of light, or faster, despite the apparent impossibility of such a thing. He has a measure of success, but then his plans go terribly wrong. The weakened Genesis gets separated from te rest of the fleet and drifting towards a myserious planet.
Not only that, but the planet is inhabited by opposing sides engaged in a bloody civil war. Upon landing, the members of Genesis are forced into choosing sides just to stay alive. That is where the story gets REALLY interesting, and I was reminded of the story of the land of Canaan in the Bible, where the Israelites had to kill the Canaanites in order to claim their Promised Land. Does a similar outcome happen in Tribulations? I’m not going to tell; read it for yourselves to find out!
Tribulations is a fascinating take on the science fiction theme of aliens possibly having guided human civilization from the very beginning. It’s an apocalyptic but a hopeful tale. While I believe aspects of the novel could have been handled a little more subtley, overall it’s a very well written book that fans of apocalyptic SF will embrace. Check it out today!