Can you think of anything more frightening than the End of Everything, the total collapse of the universe?
I can. I saw that TV show where the aliens sent ships to burn up every nation on Earth, city by city. If we’re all going to die, the universe collapsing frankly sounds like an easier way to go.
But can you think of anything more complete?
In The Shadow Lamp, the fourth book of the Bright Empires series, Stephen Lawhead finally reveals what is at stake: everything. This is the great advancement The Shadow Lamp makes on the Bright Empires saga. Otherwise, the book mostly builds – on the largest ideas of the series, on the established characters. It explains much – from the Omega Point to the nature of the multiverse, from the Burley Men to Charles’ change.
Gianni’s metaphysical exposition was, I think, the singular misstep of the book. For one thing, it contained statements a Christian would have to take with generosity. (“The future is not controlled in any way” – yeah, okay, if you want to sum up your views of free will and the nature of Time in that misleading way.) For another, Gianni’s address sounded curiously like the vague philosophizing of the Zetetics, whom I do not believe Gianni had ever met until about five minutes before his speech.
Gianni was a priest. Yet in this exposition, he didn’t talk as if his intellectual foundation were in the creeds of Christianity or in the Bible; he didn’t speak the language of Scripture. He spoke like – well, like the Zetetics, who are recognizably theistic but not demonstrably Christian.
The threatened annihilation of the universe, like so many elements of science fiction, requires a small suspension of disbelief. On an intellectual level I found it compelling; on an emotional level, not so much. Paradoxically, the annihilation of the universe is a less disturbing idea when you have a religion that makes a doctrine of the terrible end of the world. When it comes to “harrowing visions”, The Shadow Lamp has nothing on Revelation.
As characters talked about the awful cataclysm of the universe collapsing, it reminded me of the biblical picture of the heavens and earth wearing out like a garment. “Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same” – God goes on. And so will we.
But at the end, Lawhead finally got me. Not that the final vision he gave made the threat seem any more dire, but it moved me from thinking about the annihilation of the universe (God and us remaining) to “what it would be like to witness the End of Everything”.
The end was the best part of the book, and probably the only part that was truly marvelous. The hinted cause of the multiverse’s destabilization was both surprising and satisfying, and it carried delicious potential. The epilogue was a tremendous portrait of Christ’s love meeting the dark heart of a lost man, and it also suggested an incredible possibility.
The Shadow Lamp is not the best installment of the Bright Empires saga, but it is a vital one. And it accomplished the necessity of any book in a series, and the great mark of success in a novel: It left me wanting more.
In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.