The year is 2099 and the United States is a fundamentalist Christian theocracy. Elvis has been canonized, the District of Columbia is now the District of Christ, and the White House is occupied by a charismatic religious leader called the Shepherdess who delivers messages to her worshipful followers via ACNN — the Americhristian Capsule News Network.
Pollution has escalated beyond everyone's worst nightmares, overpopulation has mushroomed to where a family with 14 children is considered small, millions roam the streets homeless and starving, and growing numbers of citizens are driven to take the so-called "easy way out." But this can't be allowed in a society where suicide is a prosecutable offense carrying a mandatory 25-year sentence and the dead by their own hand can readily be resurrected by the state to continue to serve it.
Enter the Suicide Prevention Corps of America, for whom true believer Juan Bautista Lorca labors as a rookie first responder alongside his veteran partner and mentor, Fabiola Muñoz. Their job is to race to the scene of a self-inflicted death, freeze the body, and deliver it on the double to the nearest resurrection center before it is too late to bring the victim back to life and save its soul from eternal damnation.
Juan loves his mission and the spiritual leaders who oversee it, the highly placed Rev. Jimmy Divine and the sensual, breathtakingly beautiful Shepherdess, but when they spur him to spy on his partner, suspected of being a heretic believer in the Twin Messiahs, he's no longer sure who, or even what, to believe — and he's no longer certain all the suicides are really suicides.
Soulsaver, based on a novella that earned the 1997 UPC Prize for Science Fiction, is a near-future satire in which a Christian theocracy rules the USA and cops chase and resuscitate people who try to commit suicide so they can stand trial for the crime of taking their life. – Silvia Moreno-Garcia
"A frightening, funny future full of religion, politics, TV, and even the occasional miracle. It's an intelligent, fascinating book. Read it!"– Connie Willis, Nebula and Hugo award-winning author of Passage
"A stylistically brilliant satire. Fast-paced, thought-provoking, and utterly engaging."– Robert J. Sawyer, Nebula and Hugo award-winning author of Quantum Night
"With its passionate skepticism and compassionate spirit Soulsaver deserves to find a large audience."– James Morrow, World Fantasy and Nebula award-winning author of The Godhead Trilogy: Towing Jehovah, Blameless in Abbadon, and The Eternal Footman
"An action-packed, thought-provoking trek into a future that combines the high-tech polish of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash with a grim, gripping religious tomorrow reminiscent of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale."– Mary Rosenblum, Compton Crook and Sidewise award-winning author of Water Rites
|| PROLOGUE ||
A majestic choir sings.
O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie.
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep,
The silent stars go by.
Through a thick amber haze, a gigantic sun broils up over the horizon. At the heart of its fiery furnace, swirling shadows briefly create what some might perceive as a high-contrast image of the face of Jesus. Then, just as quickly, it vanishes.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light.
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.
The sun continues to ascend, projecting a wave of light across a massive sprawl of monumental ziggurats, majestic monoliths, mammoth geodesic domes, soaring smokestacks, whale size water towers, and stately spires tipped with Americhristian crosses.
"¡Feliz Navidad, San Juan! And bless you for tuning in to WGOD, where we praise the Lord 24 hours a day by playing all His heavenly hits without commercial interruption thanks to your generous donations! Hoi, it's a beautiful Christmas morning in the Greater San Juan Metroplex, and it's good, good, good to be alive!"
In the smog-blurred skies, amber sunlight glimmers off a horde of black helos and surveillance drones swarming like insects above the urban blight below.
The hymn cross-fades to an urgent, pounding music bed and a man with a Kenyan accent begins to speak with quiet urgency. "In today's top stories, 26 million cheering Chinese turned out to greet newly elected Pope Innocent XIII, the former Ming Cardinal Hongwen, upon his visit to Beijing's Tiananmen Square on the first leg of the Pontiff's so-called Victory Tour."
On the ground, a flood of starved, skeletal men, women, and children in shabby ankle-length robes and hooded kaftans surges through the awakening city, clogging sidewalks, crosswalks, and the few remaining greenways.
"Brazilian Mars colony Nova Belém continues under the control of New Christer insurgents. Attempts to dislodge the rebels have thus far proved fruitless."
Horns blaring in anger and desperation, vehicles of all kinds — minivans, buses, RVs, sedans, garbage trucks, tankers, delivery trucks, pick-ups, 36-wheelers, police cruisers, SUVs, and taxis — choke the metastasizing city's sprawling web of avenues and expressways, turning the transportation grid into a parking lot.
The only vehicles freely moving are a fleet of FreezVans with a circular logo on each side depicting a yellow candle flame inside a sky-blue halo. Sirens yodeling, these sleek white EMS transports rapidly crisscross the elevado — a network of elevated lanes reserved for their exclusive use.
"And as the world moves closer to its Final Day, the nationwide manhunt for the Twin Antichrists intensifies. This is Harry la Krismasi, Americhristian Capsule News Network."
|| 1 || FRIDAY, DECEMBER 25, 2099 ||
Singing a cappella, a sweet female voice awakens me in the Spartan bedroom of my quarters in the unmarrieds' dorm.
Happy birthday, Juan Bautista
Happy birthday to you!
My eyes flick open, bright and alert, and I rejoice to find the familiar figure of Faith, a striking beauty with dark hair and luminous green eyes, raising her voice in song from the wall screen opposite. Hoisting up my sleeping robe to keep from tripping over it, I bound out of bed with a smile on my lips and swing the Murphy bed up into its wall storage compartment.
"Merry Christmas, Juan Bautista."
"Merry Christmas, Mom!"
"Faith," she corrects me. "I'm not your mother."
"You look exactly like her."
"I can look exactly like anybody," she admonishes me. "Your squad leader, Father Emilio" — she morphs into a chunky, shaven headed man in his 60s, in a crimson-and-khaki jumpsuit — "your confessor, Father René" — she morphs into a lean, wolfish man in his 50s, in an identical jumpsuit — "or your new partner, Fabiola Muñoz" — she morphs into a strong-featured, no-nonsense woman in her early 30s, in still another crimson-and-khaki jumpsuit.
"Your exact double," she continues, morphing into a perfect twin of me, in the same uniform. "Or even dear Mother." She morphs into the nation's leader, the Shepherdess, a breathtaking beauty in her early 40s with a commanding, charismatic presence, in a sheer white silk robe. "But I'm not your mother" — she returns to her original persona — "even when I take this form." She regards me sternly. "I'm Faith. And that's what you should call me. Okay?"
"Okay." I wink at her. "Mom."
Faith rolls her eyes, but moves on. "This is a big day for you, Juan. It's your 22nd birthday, your first day as a soulsaver, and the first day of your marriage year. How are you feeling?
A huge grin blossoms on my face. "Zealous for good deeds!"
"Presente," I say.
Fabiola Muñoz, my squad mates, and I — all four-dozen of us uniformed in crimson-and-khaki jumpsuits — are crammed into six narrow pews jammed into the tiny squad room of our SPCA station house in Old San Juan. It is a muggy Christmas morning and Father Emilio Reyes is winding up roll call. On the wall behind him, the slogan of the Corps is on prominent display.
LA VIDA QUE DIOS QUISO HACER, SOLO DIOS PUEDE DESHACER
THE LIFE GOD MAKES ONLY GOD MAY TAKE
A veteran first responder of the Suicide Prevention Corps of America, Fabiola has been assigned to partner me as I begin my novitiate. Her face is scrubbed clean and her dark hair pulled back and tied off.
Despite daily application of disinfectants by the building's maintenance crew, the room still retains the faint locker room musk of too many souls compelled to work too close together in cramped quarters.
The whitewashed walls remind me of the sides of an empty swimming pool. The louvered Spanish colonial windows are open wide. A warm breeze blows in off the murky harbor waters outside, laden with the tang of salt spray and the stench of sewage.
So light is the smog today, I can distinguish the coppery span of El Puente del Puerto de San Juan arcing over to the base of the gigantic statue of Cristóbal Colón — who God guided to the Island on his second voyage of discovery to the New World in 1493 — on the Cataño side of the bay. A gift from the Christian Muslim people of Chechnya, the figure stands taller than the Statue of Liberty.
Though it sprawls 24 lanes wide, the bridge is still clogged bumper to bumper in both directions with early rush hour traffic. In the exhausted sunlight, the span looks dull and lifeless.
"Muñoz?" Father Emilio says.
Father Emilio Reyes is in his 60s and lugs around far more weight than can be healthy for a man with an already husky frame. His white hair and weathered features lend him a fatherly air.
The hologram on the wall to our right disturbs me. While there is a deep sense of spirituality in the life size reproduction of a radiant Shepherdess, hands held out in blessing, her heavy lidded eyes, lush lips, and generous breasts — lifted into even greater prominence by her upraised arms — seem to communicate an entirely different message. Maybe it is just me. This being my marriage year, I find myself seeing lots of things in new and unsettling ways.
"Zambrana?" Father Emilio concludes.
"Lord, before we hit the road to do Your bidding on this hallowed day when Your Only Begotten Son was born 2,099 years ago, we ask You to bless Your servants and guide us with Your infinite love and wisdom, for it is Your holy work we humbly seek to perform."
"Amen," we chorus
"Okay, squad, let's go save some souls. May He bless you all."
"And may He also bless you."
With a rustle of clothing and clack of booted feet, we empty the pews and head for the exit, pairing up with our partners or chatting with other squad mates. My sister newbie Nelly Rivera strikes up a conversation with me while Fabiola trails behind, paying us no heed. Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpse Father Emilio take her aside.
"And did you see how Brother Jimmy asked the faithful watching at home to lay hands on their screens and help him heal that poor afflicted mute?" Nelly says.
"That was inspiring," I say.
"I love It's Jimmy Divine Time!" she says. "Isn't it the Holly Holiest? It's my favorite show. Then Preacher Pat."
"You'd better hurry if you want to catch up with Luis," I say, coming to a stop in the corridor outside. "I've got to link up with my partner."
Nelly jogs away with a smile, red curls dancing, which reminds me today is also the start of my marriage year. Maybe I should request her as my partner. That would be nice, huh? But then I remember you are only allowed to team with a veteran your first year.
I go back to see what is keeping Fabiola. As I reach the squad room, I hear Father Emilio's muffled voice through the door. "What's your take on your new partner?"
My ears prick up.
"Lorca? A true believer: fanatical, fervent, righteous to the bone."
Amber Amazing! I had no idea I ranked so high in her estimation.
"Know the type. Tough nut?"
"¿Quién sabe? He may have possibilities."
Even more amazing! I feel like planting a kiss on Fabiola's cheek.
"Well," Father Emilio says, "if anyone can mold him into what we need, it's you. Bless you, my child. And keep me advised."
I scoot down the hall and duck around the corner, wishing I knew how to throw a handspring.