The Anomalous Archive, Part II: 'The Death of Man' by Cris Jesse

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on March 16, 2010.]

"The Death of Man," 2nd in Issue 1 of The Cross and the Cosmos

The second short story in the first issue of The Cross and the Cosmos moves quickly. "The Death of Man" by Cris Jesse packs a surprising amount of complexity into a short-story plotline. No fewer than five characters are developed in the story's seventeen pages -- three good characters, and two villains. Much conflict naturally arises out of all this characterization. The ability of the author to portray such an intricate web of character and conflict with relatively few words may be this story's greatest strength.

Another strength is the mood produced by the Post-Apocalyptic atmosphere. This "apocalypse" is not the literal Apocalypse foretold in Revelation; the story is not end-times fiction. However, the setting of a community deliberately patterned on the Holy Bible in the face of the near-extinction of humanity after some kind of nuclear war is quite interesting. Technology has been eradicated along with human culture, and the world to which the surviving community must adapt is empty and pastoral. This "primitive" setting along with the simple, patriarchal communal lifestyle and the supernatural elements of the plot give the story some of the feeling of epic fantasy, although it clearly does not primarily belong to that genre.

I had some trouble getting into this story, at first. Because its plotline is so ambitious, it's harder to follow than most short stories. The reader is faced with both action and backstory from the very begging, and the plot proceeds from conflict to conflict, like in a novel. However, as a short story, "The Death of Man" cannot spare the space for any of the subtlety and craft that a novel employs in bringing out its many conflicts. The result is that the story feels somewhat choppy. Even though it is not too long to read comfortably in one sitting, the story seems too dense to digest all at once.

The writing itself is not particularly special, but it does its job well enough for the most part. Unfortunately, the dialog is sometimes quite forced and awkward -- probably another result of the plot being too loaded. The characters have to come out and say what a novel could take a hundred pages to reveal. Neither the narration nor the dialog is of sufficient quality to do the awesome story and the deep characters justice.

Interestingly, the end of the story leaves an opening in which the plot could have continued, except that the author closes this possibility with a quick and simple resolution. Cris Jesse could rewrite his story, making it somewhat longer, and then leave this plot twist open. Then, the current story would become the first few chapters of a very promising novel!

Despite the flaws mentioned above, "The Death of Man" is satisfying to read. The Christian message of this story is not hidden at all; the author makes a very good point about the danger that secular philosophy poses, as well as the destructiveness of selfishness in any society. Altogether, "The Death of Man" is an exciting and rewarding story that is well worth the small effort that it may require to get into, at first.

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