Title: Worlds Enough & Time
Ace / 400 pages / December 2001
Often I wonder if it is such a wonderful idea for human beings to expand to the stars. There is so much about us that the rest of the universe is so much better off without that it might be better if we stayed confined to this little rock we are in the process of destroying. Does that seem harsh? Examine some of the devout people of Mandala and you may well come to the same conclusions.
Divine Intervention is one of this year’s nominees for the Philip K. Dick Award for distinguished science fiction published in paperback original form in the United States. As you plunge deeper and deeper into the novel, it isn’t difficult to see why it’s being considered; seldom has an author captured the enormous hubris of the creation of a religion or the ease of its breakdown.
The inhabitants of the planet Mandala have spent more than a century cut off from Earth, and in that time they have acquired a society of their own and a religion entirely their own. Or, rather, they have adopted a religion wholly the Captain’s (the man who led their scouting mission); a religion that sprung newborn from the man’s over weaning ego, took over a planet, and made him that planet’s Prophet. Excerpts from the Captain’s log alternate between harmless musing and near psychotic breaks. This, though, is the religion most of the people have chosen to follow.
And, now, just as they’ve gotten the planet almost exactly as they want it, along comes a transport from Earth with tens of thousands of new colonists, far more than already on Mandala. That idea doesn’t please many on the planet and many of those are in a position to do something about it. Something irreversible. No one even knows they’re coming, so who will care?
Nice, nasty idea, but there is a chemofly in the ointment — a young boy who has never quite fit in, never really given their beliefs his whole heart, who talks to his own dieity. And Drew’s dieity is keeping an eye on everything that goes on on and above Mandala, so Drew is the first of the inhabitants outside the highest office to know the Earth ship has arrived. How are they going to rid themselves of the unwanted colonists if the boy goes around telling everyone that the ship has arrived?
(A quick aside: will this novel cause even more vicious contention in the deaf community such as there has been over devices like cochlear implants?)
With Divine Intervention, Wharton not only has the guts to take on religion, prejudice, greed, and evil, he isn’t afraid to include humour, tenderness, innocence, and hope. On top of all this, he does it in a whipcrack plot that keeps the reader running from one danger to another, without time to catch an easy breath.
Maybe, just maybe, there is enough good in people to make us worthy explorers of the universe. Maybe the decent people could sneak away and leave the scum here — of course not, that’s what makes them the decent people, isn’t it?