This review appeared in Catholic Family News in September 2016. Thanks to John Vennari, editor, for his permission to re-print.
Fiction is a powerful means for holding a mirror to a society. Poets and prophets often play a similar role. Great literature uses character, plot, and imagery to convey truths which are often difficult to accept directly. Great authors—Homer, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Waugh, etc. have pointed out the failings and hopes of their time in a way that becomes timeless and speaks of every time.
I recently completed reading a newly written work of fiction that provides a dramatic critique of contemporary Church and State and of all totalitarian and liberal ideologies through a gripping story and endearing characters. Catholic author Janet Baker’s Run can best be summarized as a combination of Robert Hugh Benson’s Lord of the World, George Orwell’s 1984, and C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy.
The book is set on a space colony in our not-too-distant future. A small band of Catholics attempt to use the Corporatist-Statist machine to escape for a time the One World Government’s suppression of the True Religion. They volunteer to live and work on the world’s first space colony, the Haliburton. The entire man made orbiting space station is a giant company store built through a “public/private” for profit partnership. Yet, rabid secularism even reaches into outer space and they have to make a run for an isolated asteroid on which they attempt to build a new sane civilization.
Like the brilliant author Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson, Mrs. Baker carefully reads the signs of our times and projects forward their logical development. The scene opens with the characters assembling in a great amphitheater to watch a broadcast by the transgendered Obamaesque President of the World who decrees the birth of a new One-World-religion that is an amalgam of all the worlds’ “great religions.” Flanked by a worldly pope who has courted favor within the hallways of power, the President decrees that all of these forerunners of the new religion are banned.
Like Orwell, Baker shows the invasive repression of the Liberal state in all its horrors with surveillance and monitoring capabilities abounding throughout the space colony. Like the scene when Orwell’s Winston Smith scrawls his diary sitting on the side of his giant television monitor to avoid being seen, Baker’s characters devise a modus operandi to avoid detection which appears to be successful, but only appears so. The Haliburton’s surveillance and religion police turn out to be as effective as Big Brother.
Baker shows the barren fruits of the population control globalists of our time. The world and outer space are in a dire economic condition due to drastic population shortages. The capitalist system is dependent upon dominating ever expanding markets but population control has led to shrinking markets. Ironically human innovation in space travel has found virtually unlimited supplies of minerals and precious gems but they are practically worthless because there are not enough people to use them. One interesting twist in her imagined future is that people have lost all interest in marital relations whatsoever. With population control slogans beaten into their heads, people have given up any interest in the acts proper thereto. They prefer to plug into the latest vid (video feed). Yet in the midst of this bleak dying solar system a small band of Catholics make a run for it in a quest to save human civilization in space.
Their story is intertwined with the story of a traditionalist priest who is secretly consecrated the first bishop with jurisdiction over outer space by a Vatican that realizes too late it has been the moronic pawn of the secular atheistic public/private partnership oligarchy. As troops invade the Vatican, the pope gives the new bishop of space his marching orders to keep the Faith alive in the new outer space catacombs. There is one problem. This young traditionalist priest must overcome his claustrophobia to travel in the space shuttle to reach the colony. He arrives after a gripping journey (filled with a thrilling plot twist involving a space walk to bring the Last Rites to a dying worker) only to have his first Mass in space interrupted by robotic police in a futuristic scene reminiscent of a raid on a Catholic underground Mass in Elizabethan England.
I need to offer two notes of warning for the Traditionalist Catholic readers who tend to distort Traditional Catholicism into a mixture of Puritanism and Amish backwardness. Yet, these two aspects of the book in my opinion contribute to its literary greatness. First, Mrs. Baker paints a very vivid and realistic picture of how ugly a liberal secularized world (and its projection into space) can be. Liberal secularism deforms people and society into harsh, cold, and ugly shadows of humanity. Mrs. Baker very accurately portrays a likely future the path we are on produces. Speech and action is crude and harsh. To whitewash this aspect of cultural degeneration would turn a prophetic story into a 1930’s Hollywood two dimensional fantasy. Although Mrs. Baker strikes the right balance between a realistic depiction of liberal and secularist depravity and giving scandal, the scrupulous Puritanizers will balk in outrage. If you are offended by Flannery O’Connor and Evelyn Waugh, the novel may not be right for you.
Secondly, Mrs. Baker includes a subplot that constitutes a very subtle and ingenuous critique of Modernism’s false ecumenism and religious liberty. She does so by portraying the true Catholic notion of tolerance for those who notwithstanding their false religion are willing to work with Catholics to build a temporal society on the basis of Natural Law. There are several Buddhist and Muslim characters in the story who choose to flee the space colony with the Catholic community. Without compromising the doctrine of Christ’s Kingship or encouraging false religions, the nascent Christendom develops a modus vivendi to escape with these people of natural good will who notwithstanding their false religions recognize the evil and danger of the Haliburton and the One World Government. The Catholics earn the respect, and maybe after the novel concludes, the conversion of these non-Catholics by honoring their word to rescue the non-Catholics who agree to help the Catholics escape. On their journey to their new home they find a way for the Catholic majority on the new hidden asteroid to build a Catholic State (with a Catholic monarch) while providing for a reasonable toleration of their non-Catholic collaborators in the escape. The novel brilliantly refutes the false claims of the Modernists that pre-Counciliar doctrine on relations with non-Catholics was impossible in a pluralist society. The practical but principled approach of these space pilgrims shows that humane and sensible relations can be had with non-Catholics without hiding the doctrine of the Social Reign of Christ the King under a bushel, Yet, for the less discerning reader, one might confuse the very Catholic approach of the novel’s characters with the disastrous disorientation of Vatican II. This aspect of the novel in my opinion is one of its great literary strengths. Mrs. Baker not only shows the emptiness of the false doctrine but she shows in a fictional account how Catholic principles can really be applied and lived in a technological and cultural milieu familiar to us. Catholic principles work to build a better civilization not only in the age of horse bound knights and agrarian economies but on technologically advanced colonies burrowed into an asteroid.
This novel is truly for our time and points the direction we should run. Like Benson’s classic Lord of the World, Mrs. Baker prophetically not only shows us a glimpse of the future we are likely to experience if things do not change but sketches out in very practical ways how Catholics can respond to worsening social problems.
Professor Brian McCall is Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Associate Director of the Law Center at Oklahoma University, and authors To Build the City of God: Living As Catholics in a Secular Age (Angelico Press), and The Church and the Usurers: Unprofitable Lending for the Modern Economy (Sapientia Press of Ave Maria University 2013).