First Line (Prologue): The Bible is a peculiar, mysterious book.
This book was received as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.
There’s lots to like about Michael S. Heiser’s The Facade. There’s also a lot to dislike. As a novel, I think it fails. Utterly and miserably. As a scholarly exploration, however, I found it intriguing and compelling.
And that’s where the difficulty comes in offering some insight into The Facade.
Let’s get the story part out of the way first, I suppose, so we can end on a high note.
The premise is a strong one. A secret agency, both within the government and, yet, outside its purview, is gathering some of the greatest scientific and theologic minds in the United States. Gathering them forcefully, I should add. Their task? To ready the world, specifically the world’s religions, for the coming of extra-terrestrials.
The concept is brilliant. The execution… not so much.
It starts off painstakingly slow, with the point of view head-hopping around from person to person without ever becoming omniscient. A single scene might start of with a 3rd person limited view from one character, shift to another a page later, and then back to the first… all without any names being used. At times it is, in the early pages, horribly confusing, because even with all the head-hopping, Heiser never lets the reader in on what the hell is going on. That head-hopping continues throughout the novel, and though it gets a little easier deal with, I often found myself re-reading paragraphs and even full pages to find out when the PoV had switched from one character to another.
But that’s not my biggest issue. Nothing ever happened. Easily 75% of the book is two to five characters sitting in a room talking. Granted they were talking about some interesting stuff, but nothing was going on. No one was actually DOING anything. Oh, they talked about doing things… but it never went beyond that. And the dialogue… holy moley. I can’t remember reading a book where the dialogue was so poorly constructed. And when all characters ever do is sit around and talk to each other, that makes for a very difficult slog.
But that’s not my biggest issue, either. The plot felt… contrived. Regardless of how interesting the topic of conversation was, the plot was boring. When something interesting did happen, it felt so out of place – so out of character – that it just didn’t make sense. And it’s as if Heiser knew it didn’t make sense, because later he would have two or three characters sit in a room and discuss how much it didn’t make sense, how much it went against someone’s character. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that every single scene that had the characters doing something felt awkward and false.
And even that’s not my biggest issue. This is a story that’s right up Dan Brown’s alley. It’s filled with conspiracy theory and mystery and good old fashioned sleuthdom (I think I just made up a word – cool). It’s also horribly predictable. There are two “big reveals” late in the novel designed to throw everyone off, and I saw them coming at least 200 pages away. Worse, after the reveals arrive and stun the characters involved, they don’t react to them. Or, if they do, their reactions are contrived and go against not just their own characters, but against the character of developed relationships. None of them, not the street-smart conspiracy nut, the scholarly theologist, nor the government sponsored biologist ever get an inkling that they are being played – that they themselves have become entangled in a conspiracy theory all their own. And their ignorance comes across as an unwarranted stupidity rather than any kind of endearing reluctant-yet-in-the-dark hero kind of mentality.
Nope. That’s not my biggest issue.
So what is my biggest issue?
All that crap is in the same damn book! The story here – the plot, the pacing, the characters, the climax, the relationships, the quality of writing, the dialogue, the nonsensical twists and turns, the “reveals” – there is just nothing good in the story.
The scholarly stuff. The research. The theological conjecture and theory. I found Heiser’s interpretation of the Bible to be fascinating. True, there were many times it felt as though I were reading a dissertation (which I would put money on, actually, and which I would probably thoroughly enjoy), but there was a lot here that was new to me. I’m no biblical scholar or conspiracy junkie, so I was fascinated by, for example, the theory/interpretation that the Christian God is simply one of many gods – the boss God, if you will. While I had heard a little bit about that particular interpretation before, Heiser goes into much more detail than I had been aware of. Bad plotting, dialogue, and all, I found myself quite compelled to read on and on just to learn more about that particular view of The Bible. I love learning about other world views, regardless of whether I “agree” with them or not, and The Facade gave me quite a bit to love, especially in the 2nd half of the book.
The end result is that, as a novel and story The Facade is, I think, one of the worst put together things I’ve ever read. If you want a Dan Brown type thriller where you’re sitting on the edge of your seat, then this probably isn’t the book for you.
As a book of ideas, however, The Facade is, I think, quite brilliant, fascinating, and one of the most educated and compelling books I’ve read in a long, long time. If you want a smart, forward-thinking discussion on alternative theological viewpoints, The Facade may be right up your alley.