While I do attempt to support artists local to me on a regular basis, it’s kind of hard to want to sometimes. This might sound cynical, but the Harrisburg arts scene, whether it’s music, painting, fiction, etc., isn’t one of the most quality scenes in the country. While such quality is a matter of subjectivity to an extent, it can still be judged in light of general standards of art, if such things exist. All that to say I get a little skeptical when someone asks me if I want to go see some local band or an art show comprised of local artists. Perhaps it’s because I’m cynical, but I feel as if there are many out there who call themselves “artists,” but, well, suck at it, and wonder why no one buys their work.
The same is true of authors. I’m very rarely looking in the local section of any bookstore I enter, not only because I have my own list of books in my head that I look for, but also because I tend to have a lack of high hopes for quality from them. I know that not being published nationally doesn’t mean it isn’t good; I just feel like I’m less likely to find it. When my wife brough home The Gospel of Matthias Kent by Mike Silvestri, a local author AND a coworker of hers, as a birthday gift for me, I had to stifle my skepticism (it was still a thoughtful gift). A local author? Really?
The book sat on my shelf for about a year and a half. I tend to let my fiction sit for long periods of time because my nose is usually in some theology book, but around the time that I caught Lyme disease, I decided to pull it off the shelf and give Silvestri a try. This turned out to be a good decision.
The Gospel of Matthias Kent is a sci-fi/fantasy novel set during the year 2159 in what used to be the USA (Now called the United Christian States of America; think Fox News as its own country). Two civil wars split up the US into different countries, with people fighting between religious freedom for all and the establishment of one national religion and language. Our titular protagonist Matthias Kent is a recently elected member of the Synod, the ruling body of the UCSA, which utilizes a ssytem of supply and demand (read: sin and redemption) to keep the people in line and true to the “faith,” that being Republican Christianity.
Through an adventure to the nation’s former capitol, Kent comes across an old Bible, all of which were thought to have been destroyed by a fungus known as the Rot, which has eradicated all plant life in America (as well as infecting much of the human populous). Think this treasure will mean even more power and status for him back home in Philadelphia, Kent takes it with him, only to find that the Synod’s Bible and the old Bible don’t exactly read the same way. When the Synod finds out, Kent finds himself on the run, seeking refuge in the Federation States, who practice freedom of religion.
There’s a lot going on with this book, as can be the case with sci-fi. The difference between the Republican fundamentalists and the liberal Federationists is polarizing; Silvestri makes it clear what camp he falls in, sometimes to a fault. There were a couple times I wanted to say, “OK, I get it. They’re evil hypocrites. Let’s move on.” There’s also a lot of characters that come and go rather quickly in the protagonist’s journey, to a point where I kind of wish I had had time to get to know them (then again, I’m sure Matthias Kent had as well). Many of them are killed off before you get a chance to really feel sad about it.
Silvestri definitely wants your focus on the protagonist, whose whole world is collapsing around him and his faith is being destroyed by the reality of not being a member of the fold. You watch Kent go from devout believer in the god of the Synod to an atheist because of the events of the book. Where you don’t feel pain for the loss of other characters you do feel Kent’s growing isolation and loneliness; all these people are dead because of him, and the ones that don’t die he is yanked away from due to circumstances beyond his control. By the end of the book, Silvestri succeeds in getting you to identify with Kent and his struggles, and it ends on a satisfying note.
My one hope with this book is that Silvestri brings out more. This world he’s made needs to continue. I want to see what happens following the events of this book, and I promise you I will be in line to buy that book if there is one.