Monday, October 05, 2020

Mund, We Are God (2019)

Jordan Mund, We Are God. All Things that Matter Press, 2019. Pp. 296. ISBN 978-1-7334-4484-2. $16.99.

Reviewed by Jason Kahler

There is a story in We Are God, about the strengths and weaknesses of relationships that are revealed when people’s lives go in vastly different directions. There’s a story about how politics on a global scale affect the lives of individuals wrapped in their tendrils. There’s a story about living life to the fullest for what you believe, and what happens to your belief when life has no meaning. We Are God is trying to tackle with big ideas, but the execution of those ideas results in a cold, distant book that fails to connect as it could due to the cynical narrative voice it employs.

In the opening pages of Jordan Mund’s book, the narrator, The Old Man, explains that’s he’s writing down his story for posterity, but he’s neither (in his own words) a very good writer, or (in this reviewer’s opinion) a particularly reliable truth-teller. He’s describing how the world unraveled after the advent of Immortal humans, and the creation of the Overman Project that sought to control the inevitable uprising of the Mortals. Like all typical fascist regimes, the Immortals develop prisons and concentration camps for the revolutionaries who eventually rise up. As an Immortal within a group of Mortal friends, the Old Man is uniquely positioned to comment on the dichotomy of their experiences, and the burden of watching your friends battle against an unbeatable enemy when you know you’ll outlive them all, even in the best of circumstances.

Most of the action of the book happens to people other than the Old Man, especially in the first half. As a result, the narrative is far more a report than a story that pulls you in. The Old Man is psychologically and emotionally set apart from all his friends, but he’s also usually physically set apart from the book’s events. We feel like we learn everything second—or even third-hand, and that makes it challenging to have a complete experience with We Are God.

There’s a similar effect with the antagonist, the Overman Project—the organization behind all the horrors the Old Man’s people are subject to. The Immortals of the Overman Project remain too abstract to be truly terrifying, and their evils always feel like they’re happening to “someone else,” or at the very least, happening off screen. An unknowable evil organization would make a fine bad guy, but given the book’s structure, the emotional attachment to the people who are disappeared is hard to generate.

We Are God lives in that space between science fiction and fantasy. There are no real technological shifts, and the implication of immortality is only expressed through the Old Man’s ennui. The book describes events that mimic some real-world events: the rise of Nazism before World War II, and the extremist violence of recent years, for example. The most interesting nugget of speculation in the novel—and it is interesting, and perhaps the books strongest element—concerns the power of language as a tool to fight oppression. Pamphlets and speeches are the rebellion’s sharpest knives. While the Old Man specifically claims to not be very good with words, his friends weaponize them, and that’s how they land into trouble.

The other weapons of the rebellion involve terrorist-like attacks. These, too, are experienced at arm’s length, which means we rarely see the characters struggle with the consequences of their actions beyond the Old Man reporting that someone has gone to a prison camp, or is never seen again. It’s all just so cold. For example, the Old Man explains a Mortal attack this way:

Why they decided to bomb the café instead of the space we were using is still a mystery to me. It could have been because of the difficulty reaching our floor when the café was right there on the first. I think they were hoping some Overmen would be amongst the victims but that wasn’t the case. The only victims were regular innocent Mortals. (151)

It’s unfair to judge a book by what it could be and not what the author chose to make it. We Are God could have devolved into a cliché action book where armed pockets of revolutionaries pick at the fringes of an oppressive regime; it’s a better book because it doesn’t go that route. We Are God is trying to say more about our current politics, but Mund has chosen the wrong mouthpiece. The Old Man is close enough to experience some of struggle, but the years have made him too detached to be able to adequately share with us the pain and triumph that his friends have experienced.

From the onset, the book—like the revolution it seeks to describe—faced structural challenges that were just too great to overcome in the end, but the promise of what could have been makes for a satisfying dream, and reason to hope for an interesting future.

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