Carnal Sacraments: A Historical Novel of the Future Set in the Last Quarter of the 21st Century
by Perry Brass
In the not too distant future, the world is even more corporatized and consumerist than it is now. “The System” as it's called, is all about creating the next “new” thing that people will believe they need to make them happy, at least for a while. Jeffrey Cooper is a key cog in the machine. His ability to discern what will make a product appeal to the market it's targeted at makes him valuable to the nameless, faceless people who run the system. His reward for his talents is a phalanx of treatments that keep him looking like a thirty-something despite his real age of eighty, and a group of doctors and therapists to help him manage his mental and physical health. The price he pays for this fountain of youth is the abandonment of his past, and even much of himself. And, if he should every falter, become less useful to the system, it will all stop and he will quickly die.
“Carnal Sacraments” is full of interesting ideas. It probably seems, as the author points out in his forward to this second edition, even more prescient today than when it was first published in 2007. Unfortunately, all of those points are buried by some very lackluster writing. The beauty of science, or speculative, fiction is that you can explore ideas that are outside of contemporary culture and technology. The downside is that the author usually has to spend time creating the world in which the book is set in the reader's mind before they can really get down to telling the story. Really good authors manage to weave this “world building” into the character introductions so that we hardly notice it. Sadly, this book doesn't fall into that category. For more than half the book, a few scant paragraphs of actual character interaction is generally followed by several pages of background data dumps.
The pace eventually picks up, but by that point, if you even make it that far, you probably still don't care that much for the characters. Jeffrey remains something of an enigma who perhaps we're never meant to truly understand. The key people around him, who force him to think about things he's long sublimated, are also little more than stock characters.
For all its promise, or perhaps because of it, “Carnal Sacraments” ends up being a rather disappointing read. It comes across as more exposition than story, a sermon on the evils of big business and chasing fads. There's a kernel of a good idea here but it's totally buried under uninspired writing that is more likely to bore you than really make you think.
“Carnal Sacraments” can be purchased from Amazon.