John W. Steele, The Chronicle of Belthaeous
reviewed by Bill Bowler
An excerpt appears in issue 453.
The Chronicle of Belthaeous
Publisher: CreateSpace, Aug. 20, 2011
Length: 472 pp.
ISBN: 1456586203; 978-1456586201
The Chronicle of Belthaeous is a pulp novel of profound ideas; philosophy wrapped in “B” sci-fi; a long, strange trip to a moment of revelation.
What are the ideas? None of them is original. They’re beat up, worn, old and dusty. They’ve been tossed around for a long time now. They’re questions, mostly, about what constitutes good and evil, about the nature of the conflict between them, about the choices men face and the consequences that follow, about the illusions of this world and the realities they mask. And the thing is, despite centuries, millenia of debate, the argument rages on.
How are these questions posed in Steele’s novel? How is this old debate explored and conveyed anew? Through the infiltration of Earth by ten-foot reptoid alien storm-troopers from the constellation Vulpecula; through mortal combat with heartless demons parading among us as human; through erasure of the barriers between levels of existence and consciousness; and perhaps most of all, through the conflict between father and son.
Despite the prominence of these ideas, Belthaeous is not a philosophical treatise. It’s a work of art. It engages the reader intellectually, but beyond that, and more important than that, it provides an aesthetic experience. The power of the novel is not so much the ideas themselves, as the panoramic, detailed, weird yet recognizable world the novelist creates to embody them, the brutally familiar yet fantastic world in which the novelist immerses the reader.
Steele may seek to persuade his readers, but first and foremost, he entertains them, even amuses them, for amidst the dark narrative are sharp flashes of wit and humor. In reading Belthaeous, who can doubt for a moment that the fanatical, war-mongering powers of this world are, in fact, brain-washed puppets controlled by evil aliens from the fifth density?
Belthaeous is a quest, one man’s search for identity and meaning, a psychic, cosmic journey that takes Rodney Neumann from the familiar and mundane surroundings of this life into fantastic realms and dimensions of altered consciousness and perception, where aliens and humans, demons and angels struggle for supremacy.
Belthaeous is full of ideas, and has plenty of plot and dialog, but the real strength of the work may lie in scene and character. Neumann, Dr. Nacroanus, Jerus, Jigme, Mindy Whithers, Ursula, Colonel Falkenhorst, Baron Xenotula, Empress Roam, Lord Tartarus, the Archon Belthaeous, all are portrayed in depth, their physical, psycho-emotional and spiritual portraits vividly depicted for the reader.
The novel is grounded in scene, concrete and detailed. Rodney Neumann’s journey takes him from the corridors of Columbia University to the frozen peaks of the Himalayas, to his opulent mansion near Seattle, to the vast network of hi-tech underground alien bases and tunnels hidden deep beneath the Earth’s surface, to the great hall of the U.N. General Assembly, where the final scene unfolds.
Along the way, Rodney meets his fellow men and women, encounters alien reptilians from Vulpecula, confronts demons and angels from higher and lower densities. In his search for truth and meaning, Rodney faces danger, illusion, deception, temptation, and betrayal, all in ambiguous and layered guises, all with risks and the promise of reward.
Rodney must find a way to understand, to sort through the paradoxes, to see the faces behind the masks and the realities behind the facades. He must decipher the conflicting illusions and truths, decide what really matters, and cast his lot, perhaps not knowing whom really to trust. Against the odds, Rodney must make his choice and take a stand, and in the end, he does.
Copyright © 2011 by Bill Bowler