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by Crawford Kilian
Published by Del Rey, 1988
Recommended by: Greg Slade
Rogue Emperor is part of Kilian's "Chronoplane Wars" series. It's a bit of a twist on the usual time travel stories. Many authors, including Poul Anderson, have written stories about travelling backwards and forwards in time. A few, such as H. Beam Piper, have written stories about "sideways" time travel between alternate worlds. Kilian puts forward time travel with a twist. He posits alternate worlds, but they are out of phase with one another. Thus, Jerry Pierce, the protagonist, can travel in time to meet Thomas Jefferson or Napoleon, but he can do so openly, because any changes he causes in the other chronoplane will affect that chronoplane's future, not his own past. Thus, present-day Earth can conquer and colonise the other chronoplanes.
In this volume, a white supremacist group which has been banished to an uninhabited timeline manages to sneak into Ahania, the equivalent of the first century in our timeline, where Domitian rules the Roman Empire, and some eyewitnesses to the earthly ministry of Christ still live. Once there, they subvert the Praetorian Guard, assassinate the Emperor, and set up their own leader as the new Emperor, ready to make their own twisted version of Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. (Among other measures, the new Emperor immediately sets out to exterminate the Jews.)
It might be tempting to read this book as an attack on Christianity, but I don't believe that that was Kilian's intent. In fact, he makes it quite clear that the Christians of Ahanian Rome regard the new Emperor and his associates with some fear, and no little disapproval. When Pierce is sent to discover why the Roman Christians don't rise up to support the new regime, he is told:
Most are Jews, and many have been slain in the last few days. I do not think the Gentile Christians will put their lives in this stranger's hands. Least of all when he behaves more like Titus to the Jews than like Christ to his disciples. (pp. 190-191.)
In case that's not quite clear enough, Kilian later introduces Pierce to Mark the Evangelist, who says:
They have clearly had some exposure to the gospel... though in a distorted form.... It is up to the individual to grasp the message or to reject it, and to face the consequences. Is that not freedom? To choose between known consequences? We have chosen eternal life; Martellus and his followers have chosen eternal damnation. (p. 235.)
While Mark speaks suspiciously like a late twentieth century American, the main thrust of Kilian's argument is quite valid: those who would commit atrocities in the name of the Prince of Peace would not be welcomed as brothers by the early Christians.
But this is not a theological treatise: it's an action adventure with a science fiction backstory set in a historical period. As such, it demonstrates a fair amount of research on Kilian's part, getting the details of first century Roman customs right. It also shares the pessimism of much of the SF of the period, concerned that society would soon exhaust the Earth's natural resources, leading to widespread disease, famine, and war unless some unforeseen event arrives to change things.
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