Don’t eat the apple, Eve! (review: Luminous and Ominous)

3 Jan

The neon-blue, radioactive, extraterrestrial apple.

It’s kind of fun to think about the world ending.  Survivor‘s on its twenty-second season; Discovery Channel made a hit of end-of-the-world reality program The Colony; AMC’s original series The Walking Dead wowed audiences; and everyone who’s anyone watched LOST.

Of course, nobody likes to consider how completely helpless they’d be, how few marketable skills a college history student would have in a collapsed society where experience in handling archival materials and writing science fiction reviews doesn’t mean anything.  The reality would be terrifying, and truth is most of us wouldn’t rise to the occasion, discover hidden talents, regain primal strength and adaptability.

Most of us would die.

Still, New Year comes around and I’m sure I’m not the only one bopping around humming Jay Sean’s “2012” (we’re gonna party like it’s the end of the world, y’all!).

Henry Willingham wasn’t much different.  When 2012 actually does bring meteorites teeming with voracious violet alien plant life ready to consume our little green planet, he and his friends are positively giddy.  They stock up on toilet paper and pimp out one of those Cold War emergency fallout shelters in an abandoned hotel–and joke about picking up a bunch of girls to repopulate the world with.  “Why was it fun to think about civilization ending?” Henry asks himself in a moment of introspection, “Why did it put Henry in such a good mood?”

Probably because, even as he watched YouTube videos of a woman being eaten from the inside out by, he didn’t really believe it.  The government was firebombing Miami–rest in peace collateral damage; go to hell alien invaders!  And besides, even if we can’t nuke the alien bacteria/plant thingies, there’s always H.G. Wells’s common cold working for us, right?


The truth is, author Noah K. Mullette-Gillman posits in his second novel Luminous and Ominous, human’s can’t even deal with human-scale disasters (oh hello, Katrina)–how are we supposed to cope with galactic problems?

By 2014, the dozens of people Henry hand-picked for his bomb shelter civilization are gone: it’s just him and two women, Laura and Samantha, and none of them are thinking about repopulation.  Not when they’re out in the alien jungle searching for a glimpse of green, in the middle of Cornucopia Blue:

The extraterrestrial fruit was heavy and thick.  They could smell the sweet juice inside.  Blue skin leaked orange liquid in heavy drops which painted the sticky brown grass beneath it.

It would have been wonderful if it didn’t just feel so wrong.  It was a beauty at their expense, a beauty that mocked them.  Cornucopia Blue was stronger than any life on Earth.  It was healthier, more beautiful, and it wanted to life more than the life on Earth did.

The people who survive the end of the world (as we know it) have a harder task than saving civilization, or even fighting to stay alive: in this book, the real fight is to stay human.

Amidst the glut of End-of-Days books coming out just in time for 2012, Luminous and Ominous is unique.  There are no zombies, or robots, or spaceships, or (as excited I am about V tomorrow) lizard-people taking over the government.  There’s no identifiable enemy, and no way forward for the conquering mentality.  Do we like the thought of the apocalypse because it offers a chance for our imaginations to rebuild and remake the world in our image?  That’s not what happens in Noah K. Mullette-Gillman’s imagination.  Luminous and Ominous is a thoughtful novel without cliches or a deus ex machina victory.  It’s not even about staying alive.

If you’ve read anything on this blog before, you probably know that I’m not a religious person–but I do know my Genesis.  In the Garden of Eden, the first woman took a bite from the Tree of Knowledge and lost her divinity.  When Laura, one of the last women, takes a bite from the alien Tree of Life, she loses her humanity.  As Laura says, fingering a plastic dinosaur she keeps in her pocket, it’s adapt or die.

At what price?

Noah K. Mullette-Gillman’s Luminous and Ominous seems, superficially, nothing like his debut novel The White Hairs, a meditative work of “spiritual mythology.”  Luminous and Ominous is certainly closer to the science fiction mainstream, but I still see a thread of continuity with Mullette-Gillman’s first book: both are thoughtful and thought-provoking, spiritual without ever getting preachy, and beautifully-written.

Luminous and Ominous is available as an ebook on Amazon for $2.99


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