Review – Judgment Passed

Over a decade ago, I embarked on a massive exploration of contemporary apocalypse novels. In Wastelands, John Joseph Adams’ more recent collection of end of the world (well, end of America) short stories, the editor theorizes that the template is popular in fantasy and science fiction because it’s about restarting civilization from scratch. In this year’s Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, Patton Oswalt argues it’s representative of one of three ways socially awkward nerds (and by extrapolation, anyone with a significantly limited world-view) can understand the world– i.e., removing people from it.

Me, I was researching the landscape for a personal project that’s still waiting to be unearthed from my old hard drive. But the initial draw has always been there. I just wonder how nice it would be if there were less people around[1]. Spend enough time stuck on the 405 and a plague starts to sound pretty good.

It’s that frame of mind that lead me to Wastelands, solely to read Judgment Passed by Jerry Oltion. It sounded like a can’t-miss premise. A crew of astronauts returns from a deep space mission to find the planet Earth evacuated. In their absence, Jesus Christ had returned to Earth and swept all humankind up for final judgment. The spaceship crew was either accidentally overlooked or disqualified on a technicality.

Back when I was reading every apocalypse novel I could get my hands on, I was frustrated that despite the popularity of the premise, there weren’t any Rapture stories that really investigated the ramifications of a world-wide disappearance of Christians. The Left Behind series pulls too many punches (no children are hurt, no one curses), and the more obscure, skeptical titles I found were forgettable and vaguely vile in my memory[2]. I’d hoped that Oltion’s story would offer a unique take. What would the world the astronauts came back to look like? How would a bunch of agnostic scientists react to being the last people alive?

Turns out, they’d act like dicks. After briefly dismissing the event itself (the astronauts acknowledge it happened, but can’t be bothered to research the details), they gang up on the one crewmember determined to meet God. Admittedly, his methods are extreme. When prayer doesn’t work, he resorts to nuclear weapons and murder to attract divine attention. But given indisputable proof of the existence and power of Jesus, the rest of the crew just shrugs. The story ends with them playing a practical joke on the one penitent atheist. It’s all good though, because it stops him from acting irrationally– the not-so-subtle subtext being this is what all religious people do.

I’m not saying that stuck in a similar situation, I wouldn’t be tempted to wait out the rest of my natural life and see what happens. But given those circumstances, I would think that anyone who prided themselves on rationality would at least give this Christianity thing a try. Or if nothing else, meditate on their exclusion from the final destination of all human consciousness. Just saying, it’s something that would cross my mind.

[1] Years later, a weekend alone with an audiobook of The Road would inspire a panic attack, along with the realization that in the early stages of an extermination event, I’d really regret getting rid of these old canned tomatoes.

[2] The best book I’ve found so far in the sub-genre is Take The Long Road Home by Brian Keene, although the motorcycle gangs roving Maryland struck me as slightly unlikely. Not the archangels, though.


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