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Angel Land / Victor J. Banis

Regal Crest Enterprises, LLC / September 2008
Reviewed by: Rick R. Reed

An avowed fundamentalist preacher gives the invocation at a presidential inauguration. A vote makes it against the law for people to marry those whom they love. Couples with good homes find it suddenly illegal to adopt or nurture foster children. These are not the elements of a fictional story, but headlines ripped from the news today.

It’s these headlines that make Victor J. Banis’s visionary novel, Angel Land, so ready for prime time. Banis peers into a literary crystal ball and sees a brave new post-apocalyptic world made all the more terrifying by the fact that these visions are not the ephemeral stuff of nightmares, but dire predictions based on present day politics, religion, and life.

Welcome to the new United States, late in the 21st century: America has been divided into the Fundamentalist Christian Territories. Catholics, Baptists, and Jews are now registered as heretics. Gays have been rounded up and live in walled ghettoes known as the “Zones of Perversion.” A deadly virus, a mutation of the AIDS scourge, called Sept, has decimated the population, making those remaining fearful and afraid to challenge the new regime, who keep tight control over the only medication that will keep victims of the plague healthy and alive. And because Sept is airborne, almost everyone is infected.

Banis has imagined a horrifying world, made all the more horrifying by the fact that many of today’s trends could lead to just such a world. Twisted Christian beliefs and the potent odor of fear are two factors that have already proven their power to deny equal rights to part of the population. Banis just plays these fears out to a logical, terrifying, and brutal conclusion.

But Banis’s dark new world is not without hope. Enter Harvey Milk Walton, the kind of messiah with whom we can all identify. He’s unsure of himself, still damp behind the ears, and not immune to the pleasures of the flesh—just like most of us. But unlike us, Harvey Milk Walton carries within him the seed of a mission: to be a savior in this shadowy, grim universe. He has an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time, for figuring out how to thwart evil, and for uncovering and exposing the mysteries behind it. Banis’s cock-eyed savior is a lovable, flawed character, which makes him all the easier for a reader to take him to heart and to care about him and the people he’s destined to save.

Banis is something of an iconic figure himself: his early novels, published in the 1960s and 70s, were some of the first to deal with gay life and sexuality in a popular format. His adherence to writing about people who were disenfranchised and looked down upon by so-called normal society forced him into the role of crusader for free speech and got him embroiled in his own legal battles. I think this role as an underdog and voice for people who could not then speak out, gave Banis the ability to make Harvey Milk Walton such a sympathetic character, one who, despite his all-too-human flaws, is filled with common sense and compassion.

Angel Land can be read on many levels. It is at once a rip-roaring good-against-evil thriller, a cautionary tale of which complacent souls might do well to take heed, and a horror story about the possibilities of goodness masquerading as evil. However you read Angel Land, you are sure to come away satisfied. This novel is the voice of a master storyteller and even if you pay little heed to the socio-political ideas between the lines, you are sure to come away knowing you have had a deeply satisfying reading experience.

Purchase Angel Land by Victor J. Banis.
Ebook edition also available here.

Posted on Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 07:19AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments2 Comments

Reader Comments (2)

Angel Land sounds fascinating -- a good vent for my frustrations with organized religions; an interesting, flawed protagonist; and a "rip-roaring good-against-evil thriller" rolled into one. I'm not sure how this novel escaped my radar, but it's on my "to read" list now.

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