by Robert M. Price
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Paperback Apocalypse / 978-1-59102-583-2
I would have bought "Paperback Apocalypse" anyway, just because I'm a huge fan of Robert Price, but I have a secondary interest in the "Left Behind" phenomena courtesy of Fred Clark's Slactivist "Left Behind" writings, where he deconstructs the genre literally a page at a time. And while I realize that Price could never have come close to that level of detail in a slim paperback volume, I still expected so much more.
In the opening pages of "Paperback Apocalypse", Price admits to being a devoted fan of apocalyptic fiction, and perhaps therein lies the root of the problem. The layout of this book is poor; the tone flits between highly conversational and deeply scholarly and seems somewhat uncomfortable with either approach.
With regards to the layout: Price starts initially with Messianic prophecy, rather than apocalyptic (i.e. 'end times') prophecy. This is not a bad topic for consideration, but it is jarring when the purported focus of this book is end times prophecy and the "Left Behind" phenomena. Indeed, much of the Messianic prophecy here probably could and should have been part of a separate novel, rather than this one. When Price does get to end time prophecy, he chooses to deal with Biblical prophecy first, then provide summaries of various "Left Behind"-esque fictional works, and then provide a final, more in-depth summary of the actual "Left Behind" writings of LaHaye and Jenkins. This last bit is, for all intents and purposes, the last chapter in the book, which feels jarring. To my mind, a better layout would have been to outline "Left Behind" first, tie in other similar works of fiction, and *then* carefully dissect where the information is supposedly located in the Bible and why those passages are interpreted differently by Price.
As for the tone: The opening chapters dealing with Messianic prophecy and end times prophecy are, for the most part, deeply scholarly, whereas the later "summarize every end times book and movie" chapters are extremely conversational - but not in a good way. Price cannot seem to decide how harsh he wants to appear with regards to the LaHaye/Jenkins books - he repeatedly reassures us that Jenkins is a very skilled writer (a contention that I, personally, disagree with), and that the Narm moments in the series occur not because of bad writing but because of bad theology. However, I think it is foolish to assume that all the bad elements of "Left Behind" are rooted in bad theology and not bad writing - after all, if you have Strawman Jews filling your novel in order to serve your theological purposes, you are not free from the charge of bad writing: why couldn't Jenkins write *better* Jews instead of silly strawmen ones? And so forth.
Random asides from Price (such as the odd revelation that he wants to alter "Real Men Love Jesus" bumper stickers to read "Real Sissies Love Jesus") undermine the scholarly tone and approach; and the blatant summaries of books and movies rather than actually dealing directly with the theology within seem to undermine the point of the book. Is this a scholarly approach, or a movie guide written by a fan of the genre?
I hate to criticize Price. I think there's a great deal of value to this book, and a lot of interesting information here - either for people interested in learning about the various "Left Behind" precursors available in the popular media, or for people interested in Messianic prophecy and the roots and reasons behind apocalyptic prophecy. However, the overall marketing of this book - that it illustrates "how the Christian Church was Left Behind" was, in light of all this, a poor move on the editor's part - seemingly an effort to cash in on the many books examining the "Left Behind" phenomena. If that's all your interested, there are better books out there that deal with the subject.
~ Ana Mardoll
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