Hal Duncan's Testament was published by Eibonvale Press in October 2015.
Information about Hal Duncan:
Hal Duncan is a scion of 1970s Scotland, a queer kid who left Kilwinning to study at Glasgow University and never looked back. In the early '90s, he joined the Glasgow SF Writer's Circle, torched everything he'd ever written, and wrote his first functional short story, "Slab City, April 16," published in the Flamingo Book of Scottish Short Fiction 1994. The gods having patently smiled upon his sacrifice, he figured maybe he should take this writing malarkey seriously after all, and set to work.
His debut Vellum was published in 2005, garnering nominations for the Crawford, Locus, BFS and World Fantasy Award, and winning the Spectrum, Kurd Lasswitz and Tähtivaeltaja. He's since published: the sequel INK and a collection of four stories in the same Book of All Hours mythos, Errata; the novella Escape from Hell!; a poetry collection, Songs for the Devil and Death; two chapbooks, The A-Z of the Fantastic City and Fabbles: 1; and numerous short stories in magazines or anthologies. He's also worked as anthology editor himself, on Caledonia Dreamin'. His first short story collection, Scruffians! was released from Lethe Press in April 2014, alongside a non-fiction book Rhapsody, a book-length study of strange fictions.
Click here to visit the author's official website.
Information about Testament:
What you have been taught, lover of the sublime,
is a lie that made you live a lie...
In the 21st century, a scalpel slices bible pages, passages spliced to restore lost truth. In the days of King Herod, the messias rises, calling to black sheep: walk with me. Now, here, between two aeons and across Æternity, a beloved student rebuilds his Gospel for the era of Anonymous: anarchist, socialist, atheist, revolutionary. Forget the tale you were spun and open your ears to the teacher who said, I will have mercy and not sacrifice. From the Hebridean fishing village of Capernaum, to a Jerusalem under Il Duce Pontius Pilate...
The Empire ends today.
A REVIEW OF HAL DUNCAN'S TESTAMENT
Because I enjoyed reading Hal Duncan's The Book of All Hours duology (Vellum and Ink), Escape from Hell! and the speculative fiction anthology, Caledonia Dreamin' (Eibonvale Press, 2013), which he co-edited with Chris Kelso, I was eager to read Testament. I was mesmerised by it, because it was something totally different and turned to be an intriguing and thought-provoking novel.
Testament is something truly unique from Hal Duncan. It has been a long time in the making and now that it has finally been finished and published, readers have an opportunity to immerse themselves into its world. It's a novel that be interpreted in different ways depending on the reader's religious beliefs and view of the world.
Testament is one of those novels that offers quite a lot of challenge to readers and reviewers, because it's anything but an easy and simple novel, but it's a rewarding reading experience. It's definitely worth delving into, because it delivers an original and surprisingly daring vision of the Gospels and features a bit different kind of a glimpse into the life of Jesus and the fate of the Empire. There have been a few retellings of Biblical stories (and there have also been many speculative fiction stories that feature protagonists called Adam and Eve), but none of them can be compared to this novel and its daring uniqueness, because the author's uncompromising vision is enthralling.
By the way, if you happen to fear that Testament is a typical and boring Biblical novel, you're wrong, because it's anything but typical Biblical fiction due to the way it has been written. The author's vision of the Gospels is strikingly good and imaginative, and he handles the mythological, religious and historical aspects of the story in an excellent way.
Testament defies easy categorisation and that's one of its strengths. It's a complex and extremely well written novel that rewards its readers with a fascinating and thought-provoking story. It's not an easily comprehensible novel because of its ambiguous contents, but it'll appeal to readers who love literary fiction and want to be challenged by what they're reading.
The best way to describe Testament and its contents is to say that it's a complex and unique remix of the five Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Thomas). It's a daring and mesmerising glimpse into their world (according to an interview with the author, it's "an anarcho-socialist atheist humanist détournement of the gospels" and that's an excellent way to describe its contents). I classify this novel as speculative fiction with religious, surreal and thought-provoking elements, because it's perhaps the easiest way to encompass everything that it contains.
What makes Testament especially intriguing is that Hal Duncan has taken the source material and edited it into a single narrative with a bit of (re)translation that puts a whole new spin on the familiar and well-known story. This reconstruction of the Gospels brings a lot of freshness to the story of Jesus. I think that most of us are familiar with the story of Jesus, because many of us have been raised as Christians by our parents and society, but none of us have probably ever read this kind of an interpretation of his life and deeds.
This novel is simultaneously a story about Jesus and a story about an unnamed narrator who experiences and interprets the stories related to Jesus in his own way. This kind of storytelling forms a stunningly effective glimpse into the life of Jesus realised through the eyes of an author who has a lot to say about many things.
It's intriguing that Hal Duncan has renamed Jesus as Joshua and Creator as Worker etc. These tiny changes make a big difference during the story, because they add different meanings and nuances to it. The story is so clever, intelligent and extremely well wrought that it benefits from re-reading.
The author follows Joshua's life, deeds and tribulations in a fascinating way. I think it's possible to say that Joshua resembles a brave social anarchist who has his own views about things and who fights for what he believes in.
The unnamed reader who reads about Joshua has his own personal and poignant views about the world. Some of his comments and thoughts are surprisingly visceral, explicit and insightful, because they're connected to real events and brutalities that are happening in our world. The author doesn't glorify any of these happenings, but avoids being overly explicit.
What surprised me most was the author's way of infusing the story with a few elements related to crimes, homophobia, homosexuality, sex and eroticism; some of these elements are more visible than others. This is something that is seldom seen in reinterpreted Biblical texts. I was also surprised by his ability to add tiny bits of humour into the story. His humour is of the twisted variety and it adds a touch of spiciness to certain points. I'm not sure if all readers will be able to spot the humorous elements, but they can be found in the text.
This novel has a deep gnostic feel to it, but I'm not sure if I should actually call it a gnostic novel because of its contents and the way the author writes about the happenings. The author's approach to gnostic elements feels so daring and strange that it is not quite possible to classify it as a true gnostic novel, at least not in the normal sense of the word.
Testament is a memorably overwhelming and compelling reading experience in its ambiguity, boldness and complexity. The structure of the story makes it something special, because the narrative consists of the Gospel sections and the narrator sections. The Gospel sections feature King James English (and they've been printed using two columns) and the narrator section feature striking modern prose.
Perhaps the most important reason why this novel works so well is that the author makes his readers question many things. He intelligently provokes them with his intellectually stimulating prose. Just like the actual Gospels, this story can be interpreted in many ways, because each of us may feel differently about its contents. The author has given us his own vision of the Gospels, but it is up to each of us to decide how we feel about his vision and how we react to it.
It's very likely that Testament may not be to everyone's liking, but this kind of thought-provoking novels seldom are to everyone's liking. There are always those who don't understand them and can't put their contents into the right context, but fortunately there are readers who appreciate this kind of daring quality fiction and understand its purpose. I personally consider this novel to be a masterpiece of speculative fiction and imaginative storytelling.
In my opinion, Testament serves as a fine example of the fact that literary speculative fiction is an excellent and indispensable tool to write about difficult themes and issues in an intelligent and thought-provoking way. Speculative fiction supplies authors the proper platform to write almost anything, because it gives plenty of freedom to explore various difficult themes and issues.
I highly recommend Hal Duncan's Testament to speculative fiction readers and to those who love beautiful and well written prose with a sharp edge. This novel is such an ambitious and daring novel that it deserves to be read by speculative fiction readers (it can also be recommended to readers who want to read something different). If you're intrigued by literary fiction, striking prose, mysticism, Christianity and the Gospels, you should take a look at this clever and brilliantly written novel, because it's a truly unique and thought-provoking reading experience.