by Victor J. Banis
Reviewer: Craig Burke, author
It takes a very talented author to pen over 150 diverse and very entertaining books over the course of a career spanning more than 50 years, but it takes an exceptionally talented writer to write a sci-fi adventure book that both keeps the reader on the edge of the seat and at the same time is very unsettling and dark and is a tale that one day could be closer to fact than fiction. With his latest novel, Angel Land, this is exactly what the prolific Victor Banis has done.
Angel Land is a dark and cautionary tale of what can happen when a state sponsored religion is wielded as a cudgel of power and retribution over the populace. Set in the late 21st Century, much of the United States has been cordoned off, by the state sponsored church, into the Fundamental Christian Territories such as the area called Angel Land – nothing more than a ghetto for gays, who are blamed for bringing the Sept virus into the world – the latest strain of the HIV virus. It is a land where Jews, Catholics and even Baptists are branded heretics and are kept in line through terror applied under the guise of religion. Inevitably parallels must be drawn to such travesties of a recent century as Hitler’s Warsaw ghetto as Banis weaves a plausible and chilling tale of what can happen when the true Church and other good people turn their backs and allow those who wield power for evil to take charge. Banis draws the line between religion and spirituality sharply and distinctly.
The story follows one Harvey Milk Walton, who is one of the most likable and interesting protagonists I have encountered in some time, as he enters Angel Land and through his actions and interactions with the residents of an section of Angel Land called the Casa, completely and irrevocably brings changes to the Zone of Perversion. Along the way Harvey meets many well fleshed out and memorable characters and even finds love, for the first time in his life, with someone who would seem to be the last person he would ever choose. In the broadest scope, Harvey Milk Walton represents mans indomitable spirit to overcome all adversity.
The book also contains quite interesting exploration of 20th Century San Francisco and many of its icons, including the Castro district and the Golden Gate Bridge as well as other points of interest. Though the subject matter is on one hand dark and disturbing and is a warning of what might come to be if we allow our civil liberties to slip away, on the other hand the author has always demonstrates his rare gift of being able to leaven even the darkest story with humor and with eternal hope. More than once I found myself chuckling out loud upon encountering one of Banis’ witticisms, such as the reference to one of Henry David Thoreau’s famous works.
It can scarcely be said of most writers that their work over an extended period of time just keeps getting better and better, but it is certainly true of Victor Banis in the opinion of this reviewer. I recommend Angel Land as highly as I have ever recommended a book. Angel Land is a crackling good, edge-of-the-seat adventure that is also an object lesson of what can happen if we as people don’t vigilantly guard our civil liberties, and should not be missed.