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Enjoyable & Controversial Science Fiction Can Be Enlightening!

Introduction
 
Science fiction -- or "sci-fi" -- is a genre that I have been enjoying since I was a kid.
 
My interest probably started with the early TV shows, such as Star TrekLost in Space, and The Invaders ... 
 
And it went on to other later shows like The Hulk, Quantum Leap, UFO, and Space 1999.
 
Likewise, numerous sci-fi movies, such as Star Wars, the Star Trek series of movies, Blade Runner, and Battlestar Galactica, sustained the interest.
 
I have not, however, kept up with what sci-fi shows are available on the tube, simply because I have watched the goggle-box rarely ... at least, since the early Eighties (1980's).
 
It's also unfortunate that, even though cable TV has reached Singapore, we don't have the Science Fiction Channel ... there is a lesson here somewhere, but I am not going to touch on THAT.
 
Anyway, besides the public media like TV and movies, magazines have also play a part in keeping my interest in sci-fi alive. Again, until the Nineties or so, magazines of the sci-fi variety are not so easy to find in Singapore -- especially in the public libraries. Perhaps my memory is playing tricks here ... but I can't recall the magazines that I have read before the Nineties or thereabouts!
 
But it is only in sci-fi books -- including the movie "tie-ins" -- that I really got into the swing of things, as it were. And here in Singapore, we do have sci-fi books -- but perhaps not as many as are available in the open Western countries.
 

Mission
 
One sci-fi book that I will always read and re-read, was written by Patrick Tilley. The title of the book is Mission.
 
Here is what the backcover says
 
Easter Saturday. The naked body of a 35 year old man is rushed to Manhattan General Hospital. He has a two-inch stab wound below his rib-cage and nail wounds in his feet and wrists. The impossible has happened: Jesus Christ has appeared 7000 miles and 20 centuries away from the Crucifixion -- dead on arrival.
 
The way the author, Patrick Tilley, wrote this sci-fi book, is interesting ... It is only in the last chapter (Chapter 24) that we know that Tilley's book is one of the "finds" of the Dead Sea Scrolls ... you know, those stuff found at or near to Qumran on the north-west shores of the Dead Sea.

And this particular scroll -- which is kept VERY SECRET, and is referred to as the 'Resnick' Scroll, Catalogue No. Q-11-7 -- is a story narrated by a smart-aleck lawyer named Leo Resnick, who apparently, according to the Scroll, hailed -- or will hail -- from Manhattan Island (which is one of the five "boroughs" that make up "New York City") sometime in the Eighties.
 
Hence, Chapter 24 -- the 'Resnick' Scroll -- reads something like this:
 
To: (a list of names, with New York City addresses and other USA locations)
 
   I write to you across the years. not knowing when this message will be found. Perhaps you have yet to be born, or are already long dead. I can only pray that, by God's good fortune, you are alive when this scroll is found and that the finder will send you news of my fate [now, that's a fat hope!]. I was chosen to bear witness to The Word and to The Man. It is for this reason that I believe my testimony is destined to survive, although I am sure the experts will do their best to refute it. ...
   Do not weep for me. I am among friends and, at last, my life has meaning.
   I send you my love and His.
 
Leo

 
In Chapter 1, we are told that Resnick, the lawyer, was late in getting to the Manhattan General Hospital, where he was to meet his girlfriend Miriam, who's a doctor.
 
At the hospital, Miriam brought Resnick to see a body lying on a slab at the morgue. This is how Resnick narrated it:
 
I took a deep breath and looked at the body. Like Miriam had said, he hadn't been blown away but he was still a mess. The man was about thirty to thirty-five years old, medium build, lean hard body. In general, his features were of the type the police label Hispanic. He had a swarthy complexion and his skin was deeply tanned. He had a beard and straggly, shoulder-length hair. Like a hippie who'd done time on a kibbutz. There was a gaping, two-inch wide stab-wound in his left side just under his rib cage but the most unsettling thing was the bruises and lacerations. The guy had the shit beaten out of him, then taken one hell of a whipping. The skin on his back had been cut through to the bone and there were deep raw stripes on the backs of his thighs as well. It also looked as if his attackers had beaten him over the head with a nailed piece of wood.
 
Miriam pointed to his feet. 'See that?'
 
I nodded. 'Yeah, what are they -- bullet wounds?'
 
'No,' replied Wallis [the pathologist]. 'Somebody drobe a metal spike through them. Through his wrists too.' He picked up an arm  and showed me.
 
I swallowed hard. 'Jeezuss! What kind of people would do something like this?'
 
'Animals,' said Wallis. 'New York's full of them.'  He squinted at me through the smoke of his cigarette. 'You think this is bad? You want to stay on my tail for a week.'
 

 
Reviews
 
Jim Kelly, from the publisher Little Brown, wrote that:
 
MISSION is probably the most original and unusual piece of fiction I have read. Although it does take an open mind to read, much less to accept some of its attempts at rewriting history, MISSION's appeal is so universal and its message so powerful ...
 
MISSION will attract readers of Tom Robbins, readers of Tom Wolfe, readers of early Hunter Thompson and readers of the Bible. To "Which of the above four does not fit the pattern?", any reader will instantly reply, "Bible readers." I know it doesn't look like it fits.
 
... MISSION is a very serious attempt to better understand the facts of the life of The Man who is the central figure of the New Testament, who he was, how he got there and how his message has been subtly and ever-so-slightly twisted over nearly two millennia.

Patrick Tilley, MISSION's author, has presented himself a huge challenge in attempting to pull this story off. But pull it off he really does. Readers don't mind that MISSION's central character, Leo Resnick, a Jewish New York City lawyer, is actually correcting some of the inaccuracies in the best-selling book of all time, although that fact may cause MISSION to be banned in some strongholds of the moral majority.

The reader doesn't mid this audacity because Tilley's (Resnick's) attitude is not pompous or preachy and he does not make anybody wrong. He's simply correcting some errors that have evolved over time. It helps, too, that he has more and better answers to some of the perennial questions raised by bible reader than I was ever exposed to when I minored in philosophy and theology.

Even more important, the story is compelling. Just how are things going to develop for Leo and his friend Miriam Maxwell, M.D. after the Friday evening that they witness the corpse of a man who arrived in Manhattan General Hospital with whip wounds on his back, a knife wound in his side, nail wounds in both feet and both wrists and thorns stuck into his skull, revive before their eyes?

What kind of relaxed weekend is Leo going to have when the same Man appears in the living room of his upstate retreat the next morning?

   (adapted from http://www.patrick-tilley.com/mission/jim_kelly.asp)

 

A reviwer -- "Mathilde de Gardin", from the Netherlands -- wrote in the Amazon website:
 

I read Mission for the first time some 16 years ago, quite soon after it was first published. Mission had me hooked up, right from the start.

What would you do if he (aka He) dropped by, fueling your doubts in the old story, providing you with a new one?. Or if you were a docter (sic) in intensive care [actually, A&E], when a patient is brought in with these remarkable, even typical, wounds?

There is a sense of wonder in this book, that's firmly based in our ancient Lore and recent archeology. I'm sceptic at best when it comes to religion, but a very interested sceptic. This book set my thoughts in motion and shifted my views. Somewhat.

Besides from all that, it's a very well written book, with well filled out characters, a good plotline, attention to details, tension and thought intermingled handsomely, and oh, such a nice sting in the tail.

It's too bad that there are so little [few?] people who have read the book, and that there are so few new copies available to give away to my friends.

Please reprint this book! It's timeless.

 

 
The novel, Mission, by Patrick Tilley remains one of the most unforgettable reading experiences in my life.

The story in a nutshell: On the night before Easter Sunday, a horribly beaten, naked body is rolled into the ER of a New York hospital. The man, who dies soon after, is in his early 30s, lean, bearded and is thought to be a victim of a mafia hit. Attending the case is a Jewish lady doctor who has to shelve her plans for dinner with her 35 year old lawyer boyfriend. The lawyer, Leo Resnick, hangs around until his lady love returns from the ER a few hours later. She comes back and tells explains the peculiarities of the case: how the victim showed no signs of ever having worn shoes, how his teeth had no fillings or how the spikes stuck in his head turn out to be thorns – the likes of which, a botanist colleague tells the doctor, can be found only in the Middle East. Soon after she finishes explaining, they learn that the body is missing.

Neither Resnick nor his girlfriend are religious, but they soon find themselves questioning their own beliefs. What if it was Him? The questions begin to mount and, in an effort to get some lone time, they escape to Leo’s holiday home away from the city. There one afternoon, Leo sees the same man standing outside his window with the most serene look on his face, a far cry from the horrible state that he was in a few days back.

And so begins Leo’s extraordinary story. As a reader, there are some books that are simply “unputdownable” – a clichéd term that is now marketing parlance in the publishing industry. But Mission is unputdownable. It’s prose is rich, dealing in subjects as varied as time, faith, science, theology and history. The characterization is wonderful with Leo’s voice as warm and easy to relate to as fiction could ever allow. The dialogue is serious, but has warm humor that adds to the book’s engrossing readability.

When, for instance, Leo sees “the Man”, as he calls him, outside his cottage, he approaches him with a mixture trepidation and wonder. How would you react if you saw Jesus Christ standing outside your home, he asks the reader. He goes closer expecting Jesus to speak word after word of utter profundity. Instead, Jesus glances at Leo’s sports car and says, “Nice car”. Leo is gobsmacked and you, the reader, will find yourself smiling ear to ear.

The novel builds promising us an impossible climax. Throughout, I kept guessing the novel’s path and throughout Tilley takes the plot into the unconventional. And when the climax did come, it had me in awe, my hands shaking, staring into space trying to comprehend what Tilley had just achieved.

Patrick Tilley’s Mission was published almost 25 years ago and has since become a cult classic. During that period, it went out of print before the publisher decided to reprint it again. Amazon has it occasionally in it’s stock, but I’ve been told that the copies are second hand and damaged with some pages missing. I found my copy in British Council four years back and haven’t seen it there since. The next time I see it, I am not going to return it. Instead, I’ll tell the council staff that I had misplaced it and that I’d be more than happy to pay for the loss. A small price to pay for the places this novel will eventually take you.

Beg, borrow or steal this book. It really is that simple.

 

 

 
 
 
(To be continued ... Paul Quek)
 
 
 
 

 
 
 

 
 
 
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