Review by Eric Jones from BookReview.com
There is no medium that captures the human soul better than music. That’s right; music. That’s why I’m always dubious about books that come across my desk with the word “soul” in the title, already it seems that the author has taken on too much. So I was surprised to find that Jeremy R. Lent’s “Requiem of the Human Soul” was not about the human soul at all, but about race. A Phillip K. Dick-esque run through a post-modern world where humans are seen as inferior to a new super-race, and next in line for a final solution.
It’s clear from the get-go that Lent knows his craft. His future world of the genetically enhanced d-humans is stunningly rendered with thought given to nearly every facet of their technologically enhanced culture to make them seem as real as any corporation that might exist today. Eusebio Franklin, a school teacher living in what’s known as a “humanist community”, is unacquainted with these stark societal advances, and makes the perfect vessel through which our own unacquainted eyes to inhabit and gaze in wonder. Still, Lent lends little time to gazing, since there is some serious business at hand. Franklin has been chosen to represent the last of the natural humans in a debate on whether they should be weeded out of d-human society by selective sterilization which would render them unable to breed. A humane genocide, if you will.
Eusebio is forced to undertake a series of excruciating virtual reality tours which force him to experience some of the atrocities of humanity’s past. Then answer questions hurled at him by a sly lawyer named Henry Shields, who proves to be an antagonist just as worthy as Dr. Zeus to Charlton Heston’s role of Taylor in “Planet of the Apes”. At first Shields seems indomitable, and with a strength of conviction that makes even Eusebio unsure of humanity’s right to prevail. In Shields, the book’s underlying themes of racism are fleshed out.
Lent’s masterful structuring effectively puts humanity in the position of any race that’s ever been discriminated against for being different, and forces the reader, through Eusebio, to bear witness to our own checkered history as justification for its current predicament. The Nazi’s “Final Solution” is referred to in direct reference to the d-human’s PEPS proposal which will sterilize the remaining un-augmented humans. Eusebio is forced to live out a virtual reality experience as a Native American during the massacre at Sand Creek, Colorado in 1864. Given such suffocating prejudice, it becomes no surprise later when Eusebio makes the uncharacteristic turn to terrorism in defense of his people, unable to gain any ground diplomatically with Sheilds.
The question of whether or not humanity has a soul becomes the unwitting bottom line in these sessions although, in my opinion, it is the book’s weakest point. Although the chapters are punctuated to great effect by lyrics from songs like Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and John Lennon’s “Mind Games” and speaks to musicians’ faithful capturing of the human soul, the story can’t quite compete. Eusebio’s case comes down to proving that humans without genetic augmentation, or “Primals”, are the only ones with actual souls. Not souls in a metaphoric or religious context, since the book doesn’t seem to inhabit such circles, but a scientifically viable soul. His quest to find such proof seems to bypass the central theme of racism and places d-humans in the position of soulless aliens rather than a dominating race. And since the soul, I would say, doesn’t exist scientifically it would seem that the connection between Lent’s world and our own is broken here. Not to mention that there is a much better argument for Eusebio to make in counter to Shield’s constant condemnation of Primals that he misses completely by chasing down the soul.
The human-d are a young race. Their creation and rise to power are cleverly documented in sub-chapters that take the form of various news and texts on genetic enhancement and the winds of social change that underscore the novel’s themes of science and race. But while Eusebio is attacked for his people’s history of genocide he neglects to mention that the human-d are on the road to creating just such a history themselves with their PEPS initiative. (I will admit that Eusebio’s council, Naomi, mentions it in passing, but only to change the subject of Shield’s questioning. Not as a defense.) The central line of Lent’s novel comes from Shield’s after the Native American massacre. He says, “Which soul is it, exactly, that the PEPS proposal would be eliminating? The soul of those brave white men who destroyed the American Indians, mutilating their corpses? Or the soul of the indigenous people?” Rather than answer, Eusebio listens to his council and Shields debate over the question. This is the question that never really gets answered in “Requiem of the Human Soul”, rather it devolves into one of whether or not the soul actually exists, and if so, does it exist in the human-d as well? Those answers, and their meaning, I’ll leave for you to discover in the amazing future world of “Requiem”.
Please forgive my venture into thematic analysis. It is a testament to the lofty aspirations of “Requiem” and the amazing heights to which is soars in reaching for them. Ambitious in nature and meticulous in design, “Requiem of the Human Soul” is one of the greatest independently published science fiction novels of our time. Rather than creating a fun diagram of future events that speculate on processes to come, Lent does what any good writer of sci-fi should do. He speaks to our current culture through the use of a future where self is not assured, where terrorism is called policy, and peace is only a silent war against humanity. With the canons turned against us, what hope is left but for the triumph of the human soul?
Eusebio Franklin, a school teacher from a small community, is faced with the most terrifying dilemma imaginable: should he carry out an act of mass terrorism in order to save the human race?
Eusebio has been chosen to defend our human race in a special session of the United Nations. It’s the late 22nd century, and most people are genetically enhanced; Eusebio is among the minority that remain unimproved, known as Primals, consisting mostly of the impoverished global underclass. The UN is on the verge of implementing a “Proposed Extinction of the Primal Species” and Eusebio’s been picked to represent his race in a last ditch legal effort to save the Primals from extinction.
It’s a hearing like no other. Our human race is on trial. Our own sordid history – the devastation we’ve caused to indigenous cultures around the world, the destruction of our environment and of other species – becomes evidence in the case against our continued existence.
But as the hearing progresses, Eusebio is faced with a terrible decision. He’s secretly visited by Yusef who represents the Rejectionists – a renegade group of Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus refusing to accept the d-humans’ genetic optimization because it prevents them from knowing God. Yusef urges Eusebio to take the only meaningful action to save the human race from extinction: detonate a nuclear bomb hidden in the UN building in New York where the session is taking place.
As the story develops to its dramatic climax, Eusebio finds himself increasingly alienated from the d-human world, while Yusef’s plot places him in an agonizing moral dilemma: whether to engage in an act of nuclear terrorism to preserve the human race.
In this novel, the reader faces challenging questions about spirituality, history and global politics: Could our race “evolve” itself to a higher plane? At what cost and benefit? If we lost what is now the “human race” as a result, would that be so bad, given our sordid and shameful history? On the other hand, is there something special, our soul, worth keeping at any price? Ultimately, the novel forces the reader to grapple with the fundamental question: what does it mean to be human?
Reviewed by Kelly A. Harmon on SFReader.com
Requiem of the Human Soul is a frightening vision of what the future could hold: one in which the human race is on trial. It’s a world in which d-humans –those who have been genetically enhanced–have accused the primals–humans without any genetic enhancement–of being responsible for the extinction of hundreds of species of animals and humans, as well as the instigators of global warming and the destruction of Earth’s environment.
If proven to be at fault, the primals will be gathered together, placed into refugee camps, and through sterilization will fade into extinction after several generations.
Eusebio Franklin, a primal and history professor, has been kidnapped from his tiny, isolated, home of Tuckers Corner and transported to New York City to be put on trial. In Lent’s world, New York is a futuristic city of sky transport and robot waiters. Franklin plays the role of country bumpkin, led by his lawyer as the trial progresses. Out of his element in the big city, Franklin becomes the voice of all primals in the future. It’s his ignorance of technology, and his solid knowledge of history and people, which makes him so believable a witness for the primals.
The story gets more complicated as Franklin is clandestinely contacted by a member of the Rejectionists who urge him not to testify at the hearing. Rejectionists are d-humans who believe they have scientific proof that genetically enhancing humans erases their ability to commune with God, that becoming genetically enhanced, erases the human soul.
Yusef educates Franklin on several laws and treaties which have passed in the last century that Franklin, in his isolated community knows nothing about. He also tells Franklin that the d-humans don’t intend to allow primals to die out gradually in the next several generations, but intend to make them immediately sterile via Isotope 919. In one generation, primals will cease to exist. Though Franklin chooses to testify, Yusef remains in contact with him, continuing to educate him, wooing him to the Rejectionist point of view.
At a low point in the trial, when Franklin is feeling there’s no hope, Yusef gives Franklin the means to make a point: he provides him with a nuclear device and urges him to detonate it in order to save the human race.
Lent creates a plausible story, skillfully setting up the case for each side of the argument. I found myself agreeing at turns, first with the primals, then with the d-humans, and back again as the courtroom drama unfolded.
His vision of the future is both exciting and unnerving. Genetic enhancement allows children to grow up disease free, intelligent and beautiful. The genes of the famous athletes, writers, and geniuses are for sale allowing parents to choose specific traits for their offspring. People can take ‘virtual-fieldtrips’ using technology so advanced, you can see, feel, taste, hear and experience any place as if you are there…yet remain comfortably seated in your easy chair. But in the future your honesty is in question: courtrooms are equipped with neurographic witness chairs capable of determining if you lie, and alerting all spectators in the courtroom immediately when a neurographic incident takes place.
My only gripe with the novel is the largely unnecessary Chapter 11, which is a long history of Franklin and his wife Sarah. We don’t need to know about the first time they made love or how they met as children. It’s enough to know, when the story opens, that Sarah is long dead and Franklin still mourns her. The chapter spends significant time on her death, making the point that Sarah died because primals lack adequate healthcare for advanced diseases. Sarah died of ovarian cancer, untreatable because as d-human health is imperviable to such a disease, there are no longer facilities to treat it. Sarah and Franklin needed to apply to the CHD–the Center for Historic Diseases–in order to find help. The treatment would have cost more than they could have afforded and so Sarah died.
I don’t find it plausible that the medical community would relegate the means to treat a disease to a museum just because most people don’t suffer from it anymore. As our ability to treat new illnesses is often built on the knowledge of treating former ailments, it doesn’t make sense to me that such knowledge would be abandoned. Though cases are few and far between, we still have the ready means to treat scurvy, polio and the bubonic plague today.
Nonetheless, Requiem of the Human Soul is a fascinating read, dropping us into Franklin’s mind and immediately into the heart of the matter right from the very beginning.