BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

As it is ...

Since I get so many of the books I cover here either as review copies, or from the dollar store, I guess it's worth noting when I pay actual retail (or the on-line discounted version thereof) for a book, and in the case of Revival: Resurrecting the Process Church of the Final Judgement, even pre-ordered it. Yes, you can say “Wow!” … I'll wait. OK, so that's the first thing I needed to mention about this … next is that it's a fiction title. As those of you keeping track at home will realize, fiction has had a vanishingly small presence in my to-be-read piles over the past couple of decades, I'm guessing somewhere south of 1% of what I read. So, this is both a fiction title, and something I shelled out near cover price for … what makes it so special? Well, it's by William Sims Bainbridge, a sociologist, co-director of Cyber-Human Systems at the National Science Foundation, and a prolific author with a couple of dozen (non-fiction) titles to his name, including the remarkable Satan's Power: A Deviant Psychotherapy Cult, which arose from his joining the notable Process Church of the Final Judgment, and studying it from within back in the 70's.

Now, I guess I'm going to have to throw in a couple of caveats … number one: this is fiction, and I feel somewhat out of place reviewing this category, as I've observed on the web that most fiction aficionados have various levels of freak-out over “spoilers”, something that I, as a non-fiction reader, have a limited appreciation for … so this is likely to not be a particularly comfortable review for either of us. Number two, and this is a biggie … I almost didn't go to college because I was hanging out with the Process' successor organization, The Foundation, back in the mid-70's. This was the one place I've ever felt I “fit in”, and especially so at their New York HQ, which is a key location in this story. As I've noted in another review, it's very hard to separate my experiences from books on this subject, and so there were several places here where I was alternately getting quite wistful and expectantly excited (until I recalled that it was just fiction). I had been familiar with The Process, and interacted with its members out on the street corners where they were “funding” (exchanging newsletters and magazines for donations), and had even tired to show up at their house up in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood a few times (it was just a couple of blocks from where I lived), but never got an answer at the door. I sort of lost track of them after they moved (down to Wells Street in its counter-cultural prime), which I later discovered was due to “The Schism” when a substantial portion of the organization split from Robert deGrimston (the “Teacher” who wrote all the theological materials), and set off on its own, minus the previous doctrinal underpinnings. The Chicago center had done a rather dramatic “rebranding”, and I, honestly, did not realize that the two were connected until I'd been loitering around the coffee house for months. I ended up opting for college instead of “going in” (and after reading Wyllie's book, that seems to have been a good call), but stayed active as a lay member for many years, even visiting the new HQ out in Kanab, UT back in August 1994 … as I was only on the periphery of both groups, I probably saw all their best, and very little of the worst (well, I was frequently tasked with cleaning out the vegetable bins, and that was typically pretty horrible).

I suppose it probably would be useful to paint the broad strokes on the Process theology here … there were four God patterns, two forming the “Union”, Jehovah and Lucifer, and two forming the “Unity”, Christ and Satan (the main public tenet being The Unity of Christ and Satan) … knowing this up front will make a lot of the book a bit more understandable (although Bainbridge does fill in backstory as needed).

Before I get into the book, I should reiterate that I enjoyed reading it, and found a lot of the stuff in it fascinating, but I really don't connect well with fiction, or (as is often bitched about here) “teaching stories”/parables, and I had numerous things that likely irritated me far more than they would most folks (who, honestly, might not even have registered the dissonance). I do not do well with intimations of what things are, and really like to have things defined, and so much here (and, of course, this is not unique to Bainbridge's book) is sketching out some symbolical representation of what's being addressed, which I, at best, find frustrating, and at worst, miss altogether (with a nagging residual sense that I am, indeed, missing something).

Anyway, to the book. The central character whose point-of-view the story's set in is one Robert Anson head of the “Social Computing” department of the “National Social Science Institute”, clearly based on the author and some of his work at the NSF. The book starts directly with a swerve into fiction, as it opens with Anson getting a delivery from the recently-deceased Colin Stewart, who supposedly had re-started The Process at some point (I don't think that Bainbridge specifies this any closer than “a third of a century” past 1974, placing that in the first decade of the 2000's). This is one of the disconnects I had with the tale, as that would mean that Colin's version of the Process had only been around a decade or so prior to the present day (where the story appears to play out), and it seems to have a lot more of an established base than what one might assume for a short-term re-creation of the old Church.

There are a plethora of characters to try to keep straight, but the core group are four people from the NSSI … aside from Anson, there's Watson Skinner, who's head of psychology program, and the first person that Anson goes to when the box from Colin Stewart arrives, Cora Benedict, director of the anthropology program, who is also an old flame of the narrator's, and Anne Parsons, director of the sociology program. Obviously, each is bringing a useful expertise to the situation, but I can't help but wonder if they're also supposed to be manifesting the various Processean god patterns (although, typically, I wasn't able to suss out any specifics on this in the reading), a likelihood when they eventually drift towards coupling up (as in the Union and the Unity). There is also an ambiguous character going by Jack Grau or John Grey/Gray (a figure in Processean literature), and other names, who appears to be involved with some intelligence service, and is active in one of the Process Chapters.

This is a key divergence from the classic Process model (where people exhibiting the various god patterns were all mixed together): it appears that Colin had opted to develop separate centers for each of the God types. There are two in the Boston area, one “Christian” and one “Satanic”, the big building in New York (which was the HQ of the Foundation in real life) is here the “Jehovian” one, and they eventually discover the “Luciferian” one in a small town in New Hampshire.

There is quite a bit of technology woven through the book, with a bunch of cybersecurity issues raised via the emails from supposed government agencies, my old stomping grounds of SecondLife (which the narrator uses for several “face-to-face” meetings), and a lot of theory about machine-human life extension, centered around what was in the box delivered after Colin Stewart's death. It seems that he had identified Robert Anson (his old school chum) as the one person he felt safe in sending these four cylinders to be passed along to “someone who loves me and may someday have the technical or economic resources to restore me to life” … each of which contains “a sample of my DNA genetic code and a set of computer disks carrying data about my memories, skills and personality”. While the dispensation of these cylinders are a central plot element, there is very little specifically about them, aside from the competing factions which seek to control them. I understand, from communicating with the author, that Revival is intended to be the first of a series of books, so there are several places where plot points are established, but don't really go anywhere, and I guess the situation of the on-going existence of Colin via the materials in the cylinders is one of those that are slated for future installments.

Aside from the technological material in the book, there is also quite a lot of detail on the systems of institutes like where the main characters (and author) work, including what seemed to me a vast lot on the funding of projects, and how those are approved. Perhaps this is something else I'm just “not getting”, but it seemed odd, except as an instance of Bainbridge writing “what he knows” to give a more solid impression of the fictional institute where the characters work.

Of course, the book also features quite a bit of old Processean ritual, chants, song lyrics (some transmitted by the real-world, reasonably recent, group Sabbath Assembly, which is a Process-themed band that has re-worked several old ritual pieces), and even an example of “P-Scope” work. Of course, in the context of the book, these are divided up between the different manifestations, but it's interesting to have a peek into how Bainbridge envisions that.

Sooooo … here's where my lack of fiction reviewing comes into play … I never know what will be considered a “plot synopsis” and what will be held to be “spoilers” (which rarely, if ever, come into play when looking at non-fiction books!). I'll try to not give away specifics in the following, but figure I should at least do a general outline of the story. You have been warned if you're among the spoilerphobic.

The basics are that the narrator gets a box with a letter from his recently-assassinated old friend, entrusting him with these odd cylinders. The narrator shares the info with colleagues, and they form a sort of team to research the situation. They connect with various Process Chapters, and are shadowed by what purports to be a government agency, but might be something else. In the course of interfacing with the assorted Process groups, they are made Processeans (in the sense that the old Church used to say there were “several million Processeans in the world, some of them quite consciously”, I suppose). Some people are killed. Some buildings firebombed. Technology goes missing. Their team sets up a new Processean web hub. They eventually encounter the Luciferian Chapter. And, eventually they “recognized that without benefit of any ritual, our quartet had become Masters of the Process, ready to found a formal chapter in the Washington area”, which they then set out to do. Again, there's a lot of “set up” stuff for subsequent books right at the end … they bring in two other people from the Institute, they buy a run-down motel complex on the outskirts of D.C. to make into a center, they start organizing the remaining folks from the various Chapters, and they design uniforms for their new center, a new symbol, and some new ritual (their theme is “merging science with religion”, and define the new Process “quest” as being to “unite Mind, Body, and Spirit”, as “the combination of science, technology, and religion for human benefit”). At the very end, they see on TV that several other spiritual centers (the Rosicrucians) were under attack … which provides a bit of a cliffhanger.

As noted up top, I am quite emotionally connected to the Process, and much of what Bainbridge writes here (especially in terms of the new Process being formed at the end), was incredibly enticing to me. I've tried to convey some sense of Revival without getting into too much “spoiler” material, I've also tried to veer away from over-all quibbles I had with the book, as I'm guessing that most of these are just endemic to fiction, and not necessarily faults with the writing.

This just came out in May, so it's new enough that it has a pretty good chance to be physically present at some of the better-stocked (or metaphysical) book stores. The on-line big boys, however, have it at about a third off of cover, and being as new as it is, that's probably your best bet (with free shipping) at the moment, as the new/used guys have it at about a wash with that once you add in their four bucks to get it to you. Again, I liked the book, wish it was real in a lot of parts, found some of it strange (the stuff about grants, etc.), and was quite excited about where it was going. But, of course, the subject is “special” to me, and if you don't know about the real Process/Foundation, I'm not sure how much this will speak to you … but you maybe should give it a try.

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