April 13, 2011

After all, 132 pages is not a lot.

Scott Adams would like for you to know that he does indeed lead a life outside of Dilbert.

Any time a book claims that it can change your life, world view, fundamental belief system or whathaveyou, one naturally cannot help but feel dubious. If it also happens to be a short book you can legally download on the internet for free, well, it wouldn't hurt to put your principles to the test (for free!) every now and then.

God's Debris, book cover
God's Debris, Scott Adams' first published novella (and non-Dilbert book), openly markets itself as a "thought experiment," one that could possibly shake the walls of your own spiritual life if not bang on them incessantly with a big stick. If you're a young, impressionable high school ("People under the age of fourteen should not read it," says Scott in the Introduction) or college student possibly looking to expand your intellectual borders beyond angsty pop-rock and supernatural romance novels while trying to make yourself look smarter to your peers *coughmenineyearsagocough*, then sure, the moniker can work.

To be perfectly honest, the central concept Adams tries to highlight in the story would have made a shorter, less-muddled standalone nonfiction book on its own, and the framing device with the delivery man and the old man in the apartment feels unnecessary. Sure, it's a lovely jaunt through roughly fleshed-out narrative, rising action, falling action, organic dialogue, subtly-telegraphed ending and all that juicy quasi-literary stuff, but you can already tell the only thing anyone's going to remember of this whole book is the nifty, water-cooler-worthy "Levels of Consciousness" business.

Avatar SquaredI am the AVATAR! Watch as I assert my spiritual complexity over all of you sheeple!

What was my point again? Oh, yeah: admittedly the questions raised in the book are some very insightful ones. The "thought experiment" is a valid one if you have rarely ventured beyond the ethical dimensions of your own spirituality and dipped more into the metaphysical parts of it. It dwells less on the moral question of why we must do certain things and more on the "practical" question of why God -- assuming one exists -- does certain things.

The questions, however, lie fairly low (read: non-threatening) on the Sliding Scale of Earth-Shattering Revelations: innocent enough not to offend anybody -- or so Adams hoped in the book's Introduction -- but provocative enough to spark some spirited discussion. One wonders if maybe more of the book's metaphysical conflict would be explored in the novella's follow-up The Religion War because, come on, it's got the word "War" right there in the title.

God's Debris also consciously treads that very fine line that separates the devout and the logical-minded; a whole (brief) chapter, "Science," addresses the presumed dissonance between science and religion in a way that reads much like a watered-down Carl Sagan argument. An earnest attempt is made not to alienate any of the religious, though it's unlikely to cause any controversy anyway except maybe over the mention of string theory.

Plot-driving philosophical conundrums aside, as a proper novella I think I liked this book better the first time I read it.... when it was called Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Jonathan Livingston FREAKIN' Seagull
RECOMMENDED LISTENING: Since it's old hat to name-check R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" at a time like this, I shall instead break tradition (not to mention betray my post-grunge bias) by playing "Why I Don't Believe In God" by Everclear. Mostly because it's a legitimately nice song and Everclear needs every hit they can get.

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