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The End Is Near
The last two years have seen a veritable explosion in apocalyptic fiction. Although there is much to recommend this subgenre (Douglas E. Winter's Revelations anthology and the bestselling Left Behind series, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, for example), Theodore Sturgeon's Law (to paraphrase, "90% of everything is crap") evidently applies to millennial fiction. This promotes an unfortunate tendency to ignore most of what is published, insuring that the treasure will be lost amongst the dross. This is a shame, because there is still good work being done in this area, Millennium Rising being one recent example.
As the novel begins, the faithful of many religions travel to Santa Pelegia, Mexico, certain that they will receive a message from God. They are not disappointed: During an extraordinary event witnessed by thousands, God speaks to these pilgrims, causing a religious frenzy. Although God speaks to everyone, he apparently touches 24 of their number in a special way. Appearing to them in visions tailored to their individual beliefs (one pilgram has a vision of the Virgin Mary, another is touched by an angel of Islam, yet another sees the Hindu goddess Kali), He tells them the apocalypse prophesied is at hand.
At first dismissing these messages as the ravings of madmen, the world takes notice when the prophecies are fulfilled, first in a plague of boils, then through the destruction of a significant portion of the world's already depleted food supply. Investigating these phenomena for the Vatican is Father Michele Deauchez, a psychologist who believes that the incident at Santa Pelegia and subsequent events can be explained rationally. Teaming with New York Times reporter Simon Hill, Father Deauchez uncovers a massive worldwide conspiracy called the Red Scepter that seems to be the mover behind recent events.
The conspiracy explains some, but not all of the strange goings on: Boils and red tide can be manufactured, but how could anyone cause the earth's tectonic plates to shift, seemingly of their own accord? Deauchez's investigations eventually uncover the shocking answer, proving that faith can literally move mountains.
What sets Millennium Rising apart from other works with millennial themes is its focus on the apocalyptic myths found in many religions, not just those found in Christianity and its vision as detailed in the Book of Revelation. Jensen exploits the seemingly universal presence of apocalyptic prophecy in a number of faiths, using them as the springboard for a story that literally spans the globe; by positing a scientific conspiracy that manipulates these beliefs, Jensen adds credibility to her narrative. Although she briefly flirts with disaster (the book starts turning into a James Bond thriller about two-thirds of the way through), Jensen rights herself by introducing yet another clever theory, which neatly ties up loose ends.
In the end, Jensen's main point is that there are no atheists in foxholes: As the world's anxieties increase, many seek answers in their various faiths, increasing their susceptibility to clever hoaxes. A tale of religion and technology coming together to cause disaster, Millennium Rising is chillingly plausible, perfect reading for the last days of the millennium.