An underutilized strength of science fiction is that it is an ideal vehicle for satire. The Holy Land is science fiction satire in the tradition of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., John Sladek, and James Morrow, effectively using wit and humor to frame important social issues. Author Robert Zubrin -- a renowned expert on the planet Mars, whose only prior novel, First Landing, concerned a manned mission to Mars -- tells a story of the future to skillfully illustrate the absurdity of events transpiring in the world today. The Holy Land is a science fictional retelling of circumstances in the Middle East, from the creation of Israel through the current War on Terror. This is a sensitive topic to make light of, with painful memories of 9/11 still fresh in our minds, but it is a subject that richly deserves to be satirized. ...In The Holy Land, Robert Zubrin makes his points by making us laugh.

The Holy Land begins with humanoid aliens called Minervans occupying the town of Kennewick, Washington, which they claim as their ancient homeland. ... The Minervans are looking for a quiet place to escape the persecution they have suffered at the hands of other space-faring civilizations, including a recent attempt by one of the major galactic empires to exterminate them completely.

The United States government, largely controlled by Christian fundamentalists, finds the presence of these pagans on American land intolerable. It launches a military campaign, which the Minervans defeat with their technological superiority. American Sergeant Andrew Hamilton is captured in the attack. We see much of the ensuing culture clash through Hamilton and his captor, Priestess Aurora.

Unable to evict the Minervans by force, the U.S. government turns to guile. It forces former residents of Kennewick, most of whom had already settled in other parts of the country, to live in squalor in refugee camps outside Kennewick, then trains the refugees' children to carry out attacks on the Minervans. The government knows these attacks will be ineffective...and will result in the children being killed or maimed when the Minervans' defensive systems destroy the guns in their hands.

All of this is designed to generate bad publicity for the Minervans and sympathy for the "Kennewickian" refugees. The other galactic races, including the largest galactic power, the Western Galactic Empire ("WGE"), are shocked by the Minervan mistreatment of the Kennewickian refugees and the atrocities against the Kennewickian children.

Matters are complicated when Earth is found to possess huge reserves of helicity, a valuable resource necessary for space travel. The proceeds of helicity sales soon begin to line the pockets of corrupt American officials. Some of the funds are used to purchase anti-telepathy devices. These devices facilitate suicide attacks against the WGE, beginning with the hijacking of four spaceships, three of which succeed in destroying WGE planets.

The WGE knows full well that Earthlings carried out these attacks, but is reluctant to take action that might interrupt its supply of helicity. The Americans, aided by an extremely friendly galactic press, try to persuade the WGE to place the blame on the Minervans, on the theory that their mistreatment of the Kennewickians caused the whole situation. Failing that, the U.S. tries to divert WGE reprisals to Peru and Mexico, where the terrorist training camps were located. Never mind that the terrorists were Americans, funded by Americans.

If this has not yet started to sound familiar, you should go find some newspapers to read before trying The Holy Land.

As you may have guessed from the above, Zubrin's outlook is generally pro-Israeli. He does not exempt the Israelis from criticism, however, as shown by his Minervans' attitudes toward Earthlings, which range from condescending to racist. Prejudice against Earthlings, whom Minervans' refuse to acknowledge are even human, is the main barrier to the relationship between our main characters Hamilton and Aurora.

Through the WGE and other galactics, Zubrin shows disdain for Western attitudes toward the Middle East. The galactics' outrage over the plight of the Kennewickian refugees does not reflect any real concern for the Earthlings. ... The galactics are motivated instead by their desire to keep the helicity flowing and by their dislike of the Minervans -- whom they despise because the Minervans' religious beliefs differ from their own in ways that are almost as trivial as the differences between Christianity and Judaism.

Most contemptible of all are the American leaders. The American president is depicted as entirely self-interested, making use of religion and religious fanatics as tools to further his own ambitions. It was a deft choice for Zubrin to have the United States stand in for the sponsors of today's Muslim terrorists. Hopefully this will prompt readers eager to find fault with America to consider how they would react if the U.S. began to behave like most Arab governments.

Early on, Zubrin busies himself setting up his bizarre version of the Middle East to the exclusion of much characterization. In the second half of the novel, however, Zubrin warms to his own characters. Aurora is forced to travel incognito across America with Hamilton, and their interactions with each other and with other Americans they encounter work well, particularly a moving conversation between Aurora and Hamilton's bigoted father.

Still, the social satire is the main attraction. In the course of the novel, Zubrin makes fun of nearly every aspect of the Middle East situation. His barbed humor reaches much further than politics of the Middle East, however, hilariously lampooning topics as diverse as religion, the military, gender differences, and political correctness. Many of the funniest lines have nothing at all to do with the Middle East, but simply play off mankind's innate goofiness. Zubrin is always careful not to take himself too seriously, and at times the story seems rather silly, but that's what makes it funny. Like a funhouse mirror, the reflection it shows us is outrageously distorted, but it's still pretty easy to see ourselves.


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The Holy Land
by Robert Zubrin

September 3, 2003
ISBN #0974144304
304 pages
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