In a Christian literature scene chock-full of wistful romances, end-of-the-world tracts, and allegorical sword and dragon fantasies, Frank Creed’s Flashpoint has staked out some unique territory with an adrenalin-saturated cyberpunk adventure that grabbed me by the lapels in the first few pages and didn’t let go until the very end, leaving me gasping for breath and wanting more.
We meet 20-year-old David and his teenage sister Jen in a near-future Chicago where economic and environmental disasters have turned the U.S. into a socialist nanny state, vassal to a global government. Traditional religion is seen as the root of all evil, and all faiths have been subsumed into the One Church, which claims to accommodate every belief under the aegis of science and reason. As the old saw goes, if you believe everything, you don’t believe anything. Anyone practicing their faith outside the One Church is labeled a “Fundi,” a terrorist, and subject to re-education in the state gulags.
David and his family are members of an underground church that still follows the Christian faith. Discovering that they’ve been betrayed and are about to be rounded up by the authorities, David’s father drops the two kids at a hide site partially obscured from the government’s pervasive electronic surveillance, promising they’ll be taken by friends to a safe place. The cops aren’t fooled for long, and just as David has given up hope, he and his sister are rescued in spectacular fashion by a mysterious stranger with seemingly superhuman powers.
Before you can say, “Mona Lisa Overdrive,” David and Jen have been incorporated into “The Body,” a community of physically, mentally, and spiritually-enhanced Christians, and transformed with a technologically-enabled wetware upgrade that grants them access to the full potential of their bodies and minds. Taking on the street names Calamity Kid and e-girl, they join a guerrilla war against the oppression of the government and the One Church, racing against time to save their captured family. They quickly learn that they’re battling more than just human enemies, and that survival means learning to trust God in a whole new way.
Okay, synopsis complete. Putting on the reviewer hat now.
Creed’s Creed: This is a book that takes its Christianity very seriously. One true God, one true faith, one true Church (capital-C, the Church Universal). The story isn’t preachy, just forthright and honest. These characters have a very personal, dynamic encounter and ongoing relationship with God. For them to not want to talk about it or share it with others would be patently ridiculous. These are freedom fighters who do their best under incredibly trying circumstances to live Jesus’ command to love their enemies, no matter how hateful and despicable those enemies may be. They use non-lethal weaponry. They work to better the decayed environment they hide in, the communities of down-and-outers forgotten by the government and dominated by criminal gangs. They pray for guidance and struggle with their own imperfections.
Technology is Not the Devil: Unlike a lot of Christian lit, Flashpoint doesn’t treat technology as an evil force in and of itself. Quite the contrary. Creed handles tech as a gift from God that can do useful and amazing things in the right hands and with the proper motivation. David and Jen’s transformation, or “re-formation” echoes that of Neo in The Matrix, but doesn’t crib it. They gain enhanced abilities in the real world. Their brains are literally restructured–they move faster, think faster, gain enhanced senses and metabolic control, get a download of information critical to their new roles, and also obtain a window into spiritual reality. On the other hand, the re-formation process was one element of the story, as a Christian reader, that set me back a bit. It came off a little like Holy Ghost Baptism v2.0. You have to pity the poor schmucks who don’t get the treatment and still have to live by faith, without the spirit vision, audible-voice guidance, and killer martial-arts skills. I think Creed’s going for a metaphor about the Spirit-empowered life available to all believers here, but I can see how people might get the impression that a real connection with God is awaiting upgrade to the 3G network. One other issue that pushed my willing-suspension-of-disbelief button was David and Jen’s near-instantaneous transformation from bored suburban pre-adults to steely-eyed tech-commandos. Even with the upgrade, it seemed like their bodies and minds would have needed a little more training before they were capable of mixing it up with the bad guys at such a high proficiency level. That’s a minor gripe, though. If you’re willing to buy The Matrix, you can deal with this.
Talk the Talk: One of the things I loved about this story was the voice. Creed writes from David’s point-of-view, in first-person, which provides an immediacy and freshness to the whole experience. As per usual with a cyberpunk story, it’s chock-full of specialized slang and street patois that enhances the feeling of stepping into a dark, gritty, tech-saturated world. Everyone and everything has a name. The Christians all adopt street names for security reasons (a lot of them make the daily newscast of wanted criminals), and they’re all more-or-less descriptive of their function and/or personality, so in addition to Calamity Kid and e-girl, you get folks like Grandpa, Lightspeed, Tinker, and Serene. The bad guys are Neros if they’re government, and Capones if they’re gangsters. Even God takes on a few aliases, in a world where the story of Jesus has been propagandized into folklore: He’s Liberator, or more familiarly, The Boss (“…Capital He…and I don’t mean Springsteen.”) There’s kind of a comic book superhero vibe to it that is fun and helps keep the whole story lighthearted. One of my issues with cyberpunk (and Christian apocalyptic fiction) is that it tends to be incredibly gloomy, pessimistic, and depressing. Creed doesn’t fall into that trap. He never loses his sense of humor, even when surveying an all-too-plausible future world that, as several of the characters remark along the way, stinks. These Christians have an infectious joy that springs from their walk with God. They’re doing His will, and it’s so fulfilling that nothing else matters, not even being forced underground and hunted by the government.
The Usual Suspects: There’s a tendency in stories about a future underground Church to follow a formula based on current eschatological expectations. Creed remains doggedly unconventional. He doesn’t trot out the Rapture, or the Antichrist, or the Mark of the Beast. There’s a one-world government, but it’s shadowy. Everyone has an embedded ID chip, but it’s just another technological tool, not a one-way-ticket to damnation. There are angels, and demons, but they fight a mostly invisible battle of influence. The bad guys, even the worst of them, are seen as sinners in need of salvation, with a very real hope of redemption, and the Resistance evangelizes them even as it’s fighting them for survival–nobody proposes that it’s okay to send them straight to Hell because they’re minions of the Evil One. It would be unthinkable.
This book is a real page-turner, and you don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate the simple, full-throttle, guns-blazing fun of it. Buy it and enjoy, but as Bill Cosby says, if you’re not careful, you might learn something before you’re done.
P.S. There’s a real, underground Church living under persecution right now in China, and the Middle East, and in various other intolerant places around the world, and we tend to forget that. Pray for them, and don’t think for a minute it couldn’t happen here.