Scott Mackay,
(Roc, 2002)

Here, in an intriguing alternate history, Christianity is a tool of the Benefactors, who have been around since the time of the Roman empire and perhaps earlier. Rome was destroyed resisting conquest by them, and they have dominated Earth more or less ever since, claiming to be heavenly angels. Now, after centuries of oppression, the truth will be known: the Benefactors are beings from the center of the galaxy, who fled a home that became uninhabitable. Designated to broadcast the truth are a heretic passing as a priest, a disillusioned church father and a young teacher. The price of the knowledge may be higher than anyone thinks, and more is at stake than first meets the eye.

Its catchy premise makes this alternate history appealing, and the contrasts between the high-tech stagnation of the Benefactors' society and the low-tech innovations of rebels against it spice a good liberation-quest adventure. Real understanding comes too late to save everyone, but soon enough to realize the promise of a brave new world.

Scott Mackay can always be counted on to create a work that is original in design, yet absorbing and populated with a cast of characters that unite for a common goal. The ethics of the Benefactors is also fascinating because while their plans and battles are malfeasance, their morality is not. They do what they must to survive, which is the natural order of a sentient species. If they were not on Earth, would humans be so quick to condemn them?

Very devout Christians may be offended by his portrayal of the Catholic Church and Christianity itself, but keep in mind it's only fiction. And in spite of having a book with two races of aliens, Romans from outer space, Missouri Catholics and Kiowa Indians all together, the work isn't a farce. What exactly it is isn't quite certain -- I did find myself wondering what was the relevance of it all several times. Perhaps the most significant theme is that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" is a very dangerous slogan to live by; and this is certainly worth remembering in these trying times. But ultimately Orbis is mostly and simply an entertaining read.

- Rambles
written by Melissa Kowalewski
published 23 November 2002

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