How to make the world divide into three camps over a single hour: make them pick between science, fantasy and religion. Give them a situation, a hypothetical situation, then give them three possible reasons for it happening – could be aliens, could be God, could be something we made ourselves and just haven’t worked out yet – and ask them to choose.
First there was static, heard in every corner of the world. Some shrugged it off as a malfunction, governments were concerned it was the sign of an attack and, of course, some people were convinced it was aliens. Then there came a voice. “My children. Do not be afraid.” Is it the voice of God or an elaborate hoax? If it is God, then whose God is it? Is it an act of terrorism?
The Testimony tells the story of the world in chaos, through the accounts of twenty-six people, in the style of an oral history. The Broadcast is a global event, effecting all countries and people with wide-ranging beliefs. How many times have you read a disaster/dystopian novel and wondered what the hell is happening in the rest of the world? Well, The Testimony cannot be accused of falling into that trap. Yes there are characters at the centre of the commotion, the White House Chief of Staff, a British MP, a government research scientist, and a reporter at a major TV station. Yet there are also the tales of everyday people, a sales executive in London, a doctor in India, a child old beyond his years in the Congo, a retired woman in New York, a gamer in Shanghai, a nun in Vatican City, a drug dealer in Johannesburg. Then there’s the people who didn’t hear a thing.
The book starts with a quote: Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Well it’s actually two quotes, one from Dr Carl Sagan on the existence of deities or aliens and the other from Donald Rumsfeld talking about weapons of mass destruction. It’s the ideal quote for the book, which deals with questions of faith and what world powers do when they don’t have any answers. The multiple viewpoints allows the story to unfold without being anti-religion or anti-science. In fact it’s about faith and the faith that people have in different things and that includes science and a government’s ability to protect. Some people lose faith, some people gain it, whatever that faith might be in. Some are so strong in their faith that it never wavers, despite those holding up The Broadcast as evidence. A crisis of faith is enough to bring the world to its knees.
Some might think the divided narration could detract from the pace or the character development but it’s a compelling read. The structure somehow makes the characters more real, that it could be journalism and not fiction. They all have their own little stories which are just as important as the big picture and I never wanted to skip past one of them. There are parts which are touching and others even gave me a little chuckle. I mean, if you can’t laugh when the world is ending, what else can you do?
There’s a whole bunch of stuff I would like to talk about which would involve spoilers so I’ll stop now. You should go away and read it and then we can have a little chat. It’s thought-provoking stuff with terrorism and politics landing in the middle of religion and science.
The Testimony is published by Blue Door, an imprint of HarperCollins and is currently available in hardback and ebook formats. Thanks go to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review. You can follow @jpsmythe on Twitter.
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