Teddy Lee Brown set himself a heady task with his 2002 Ethos Award-nominated novel Dropping the God Bomb 2.0: to offer a reasonable middle ground somewhere between the ideological extremes of pure evolutionism and fundamental creationism and wrap it up in a tidy satirical bundle. Or at least a tidy third of a satirical bundle, since it's the opening move in a projected trilogy postulating the havoc a surprise alternative to the two diametrically opposed beliefs might wreak on both groups of true believers.
Paleontologist Greg Plummer, an academic who loves nothing so much as getting the collective undies of the evangelical religious right in a bundle, receives word from his estranged intellectual mentor of an archaeological find that could tip the scales in the extended debate between evolution theory and creationism the "wrong" way. Plummer packs up his long-suffering wife, Debbie, and hauls her off to Buffalo, New York, for a super-secret weekend conference on the find: a tomb in the Mideast containing the remains of what its discoverers believe to be the biblical Adam, Eve and Abel.
Also on his way to the invitation-only conference is the Reverend Jack Frye, a wildly successful televangelist whose handlers have their eyes on the Big Prize: the White House. The bodies from the tomb represent vindication for the fundamentalist Frye, and a shoo-in to the Oval Office. But the deepening rift between the Reverend Frye and his son David threatens to make the triumph a bitter one, at best.
Straddling the two extremes in an unorthodox, New Age-y kind of Christian stance is Greg Plummer's old college buddy, Billy Lee, the author of The Confessions of a Born-Again Heretic, a big but gentle man who communes with a noncorporeal being as he moves through a spiritual rite of passage. Greg has no patience with Billy Lee's newfound spirituality -- he really has no patience with anything -- but his wife bonds with her husband's old friend, confiding to him a little bomb of her own she's afraid to drop on the frantically defensive Greg. Jack Frye has his own bone to pick with Billy Lee, albeit from the other side of the fence: he believes that Billy Lee is an instrument of the devil whose book is the wedge driving his son farther and farther from the "true" faith.
While Billy Lee tries to help save Greg Plummer from himself and his delusional psychological projections, Jack Frye's right-hand man is bent on making the rift between father and son a permanent and infinitely deep one, the better to secure the presidency for Jesus. Adding to the mayhem are a couple of demoted nuns (seems there was an incident at a professional hockey game...) and a mischievous, interdimensional kind of spiritual manifestation named Bear determined that the God Bomb, whatever the outcome, be dropped.
Dropping the God Bomb 2.0 is unlikely to sway anyone firmly committed to either literal interpretations of the Bible or the theory of evolution. It will appeal to those people caught in the middle, those looking for the framework something like theistic evolution -- the idea that evolution is a fitful process guided by a higher power -- can provide. The novel's premise is intoxicating, but the execution of the story it's wrapped up in is not always up to the intellectual level of the thesis. A firm editorial hand deleting every adverb would improve the story's readability, as would taking the sometimes sophomoric sarcasm down a notch or two across the character board. Striking nonessential dialogue and delving into the single likeable character most readers will be able to identify with -- Billy Lee --
sooner would make a pilgrim's progress through the early stages of The God Bomb a little less rough. All other considerations aside, though, Teddy Lee Brown is to be commended for suggesting that fundamentalism of any sort, whether secular or religious, is ultimately dangerous -- and that a new paradigm might be what it takes for us to save us from ourselves.