Deus Irae

I couldn’t quite get to sleep last night again, so I sampled my giant to-read pile of books and quickly finished off Phillip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny’s Deus Irae. I had tried reading it when I was 18 or so and I found it difficult; this time, at 31, it was a different story.

Now it’s no secret that Zelazny is my favorite writer, and I have a great fondness for Phillip Dick as well, as the first novel I can remember reading was his Eye in the Sky, a tight little mind-adventure. But did they work well together? Maybe.

It’s pretty easy to see where one stops and the other begins. When it rambles at length alternately between brilliance and inaneness with a stress on drug use and altered consciousness, it’s Dick; when it turns to rapid-fire dialogue and action-heavy scenes with generous doses of high-level theology and wit, it’s Zelazny. Apparently this book was intially a sketch that Dick could not finish, and thus he turned to RZ, who was fresh from the incredible, tone-perfect Lord of Light.

The result? It’s like watching paint dry with Michelangelo and Da Vinci after you got them both stinking, falling-down drunk and asked them both to paint God; a thoughtful and at times hilarious experience.

In a post-WWIII apocalypse, a mutated, limbless artist, Tibor, is commissioned to paint a mural of the God of Wrath (hence the title, Deus Irae), a fellow who is singlehandedly responsible for the war, the death of billions, and the bleak, fractured societies that remain. Worship of this God of Wrath has eclipsed Christianity and reduced it to a minor religion. To get a decent likeness, Tibor has to find the actual man, who has slipped into obscurity. A bizarre pilgrimage results, where various theological issues are examined in a reasonably thoughtful way without being simple retreads of Aquinas.

Superficially, it resembles A Canticle for Leibowitz, but that book, as I recall, was concerned more about the fate and nature of man rather than the nature of God and whether he should be worshipped – especially if his actions, or that of an adversary that is in nominal control, are destructive. This particular cat is let out of the bag a little too quick for my taste, as there is nearly a OT vs. NT seminar on p. 28, but that’s ok. RZ and PKD do what must be done with such questions – leave them unanswered but throughly exercised. I was actually quite pleased at the end. Yay.

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