Harry Turtledove is renowned for his alternative historical tales. Oftentimes, one small change is all it takes to create an entirely different possible outcome. And, to be fair, I have enjoyed all of his prior stories that I have read. Therefore, I was slightly surprised to find that Alpha and Omega was less about a historical event and more about the present and, to some extent, the future. I was no less entranced, to be sure. In fact, it caused me some serious introspection when I put the book down. Curious? Then keep reading for more about this wonderful book.
Armageddon, the End of Days, whatever you might want to call it, is a huge part of many religions. The concepts of salvation and damnation oftentimes hinge upon followers obeying or following certain rules and precepts. And folks, I hope you will pardon me if I misspeak on any of these points, my grasp of organized religion or at least the practice of it is tenuous at best. But since most people believe that their particular religion is the correct one, it stands to reason that if there is an End of Days-styled event, some folks may find themselves on the wrong side. This is actually a point that has bothered me for decades, to be fair. I have long been interested in theology, hoping that one day I will have an epiphany or discover something that would change me forever. So far, I have not but I keep reading and wondering.
The story laid out in Alpha and Omega is one that starts off in a mundane, albeit religious, archaeological setting. The main cast is comprised of people representing many of the major religions, all working together in a secular setting. But when they discover a secret room that houses the most stunning find ever, their worlds come crashing together. I do not want to reveal any spoilers, but since it is on the book’s cover, I can tell you that finding the Ark of the Covenant would be a game changer for any group. But finding it in one of the holiest places on the planet would definitely complicate things. It does, in fact, within these pages; so much so that as an American, I cannot fathom the impact it would have on the Muslim or Jewish faiths.
But this is only the first of many miraculous things to happen in our story. In fact, it is actually one of the lesser climactic events. Shock, disbelief, anger. All of these emotions and more well up from every country, every place across the globe. But as more and more events occur, it becomes increasingly difficult to argue with the idea that what the world is seeing is, in fact, what it appears to be. The greatest change is the perception of the main characters, many of whom are not true believers in any one faith. In fact, a couple have no faith at all. But the events they bear witness to challenge them in ways we can only imagine. For in the end, who would be able to deny the existence of God when miracles happen all around?
And that was where it hit me: This story is not about what would have happened, but rather what could happen. The “What If” part of this is something yet to be determined, making me wonder how we as a country, as a people, as a world would react if this were to happen. It is quite sobering, especially with all the other parts to this story that I cannot tell you. And let me say, writing this spoiler-free is harder than you might imagine because some of the things that happen in the book will shock and amaze even the most diehard reader.
This is not science fiction, it is not fantasy, it is religious fiction laced with a plethora of parables and allegories for the reader to consume. I would love to have a conversation with Turtledove about this story. He dives deep into many communities, religions, and practices treating them fairly and equally almost without fail. Does he address every religion? No, but that would be impossible in 466 pages. What he does is give the reader a wider view of events, enabling empathy and curiosity to reign supreme. The text is neither preachy nor accusatory. It is literally just a great plot that puts the reader inside the story. And I highly recommend this to any and all who might have the slightest interest in the topic. Beware the ending, however, you will not be expecting it.
What would happen if the ancient prophecy of the End of Days came true? It is certainly the last thing Eric Katz, a secular archaeologist from Los Angeles, expects during what should be a routine dig in Jerusalem. But perhaps higher forces have something else in mind when a sign presaging the rising of the Third Temple is located in America, a dirty bomb is detonated in downtown Tel Aviv, and events conspire to place a team of archaeologists in the tunnels deep under the Temple Mount. It is there that Eric is witness to a discovery of such monumental proportions that nothing will ever be the same again.
Harry Turtledove is the master at portraying ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events, and what is more extraordinary than the incontrovertible proof that there truly is a higher force controlling human destiny? But as to what that force desires . . . well, that is the question.