For every well-balanced Christian who looks forward to the Second Coming, sometimes it seems as if there are two or three who treat prophecy as science fiction, or as a contest over who can come up with the most interesting prophetic interpretation. And, in reaction to them, other Christians are turned off by eschatology altogether.
I hope I’m part of the first group, but I periodically find myself sympathizing with the third because of the over-enthusiasm (or extreme depression) of the second. Being balanced is hard. And sometimes it seems that Christian fiction complicates the problem—if I didn’t know better, it would be tempting to blame the Left Behind series for the lack of balance in how many Christians approach prophecy. But British pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones was publicly expressing his worry over how people respond to prophecy some forty years before anyone thought of writing prophecy-based novels, and I guess he wasn’t the only one.
So the Left Behind novels, and others, are more a symptom of the problem than they are the problem itself. But they were enough of a symptom that, for a long time, I simply assumed that it was impossible to write a decent Christian novel that included prophecy. Apocalyptic fiction as a genre, in my mind, was out.
Then I read Swipe.
Swipe is among the very few recent apocalyptic fiction novels to show no interest in global politics. Although the author, Evan Angler, seems to hold to the premillennial, pretribulationist views that became prevalent among evangelicals during the 20th century, Swipe includes almost none of the buzzwords associated with that viewpoint. Later books in the series get a little more specific, but the specifics are not the focus of any of the books. Angler seems most interested in telling a good story to a younger audience, not providing a model for adults on how the Tribulation will pan out. No one would even think of using the Swipe series as a prophecy manual—and that is among its strengths.
Swipe introduces Logan Langly, so far the main protagonist of the series. (Whether Spark, the fourth novel, will change that when it comes out this fall, I’m not sure.) Logan used to look forward to being Marked when he turned thirteen—until his sister Lily flunked her Marking procedure. A part of Logan now dreads his own Marking, but he faces a more immediate threat. Since Lily’s death, someone has been watching him, slipping into his room, moving things, leaving windows open. Erin Arbitor, Logan’s new friend, thinks that someone is a Markless teenager only known as Peck, who is wanted for kidnapping, assault, and murder. But as Logan and Erin try to solve the mystery on their own, Logan begins to think that the accusations against Peck don’t add up. Why does Peck really track twelve-year-olds who are about to be Marked? Is Logan’s life truly in danger? And if so—from whom?
Sneak, second book in the series, opens with Logan Langly on the run from DOME, the Department of Marked Emergencies. Separated from Peck and betrayed by his best friend, Logan is still determined to find out what happened to his sister. Peck is just as intent on saving Lily, but his friends, the Dust, are not nearly so eager. Logan’s detective adventures in Swipe cost them their home—twice—and they aren’t keen on becoming involved with him again. Logan’s discovery that Lily is being held at a prison called Acheron in Beacon City means a cross-country trip at the very least, which would be difficult enough. But the prison is such a guarded secret that it exists mainly in urban legend. Breaking into Acheron seems progressively more complicated, but Erin Arbitor has an additional concern—even if Logan, Peck, and the Dust manage to break in, will they be able to break back out?
In Storm, the American Union is filled with chaos. The Markless have taken to the streets, protesting unjust treatment, and the Dust are using the protests as cover to try to find Eddie, who was left behind in Acheron. But Logan, Peck, and Logan’s old friend Hailey have an entirely different set of concerns. Erin is dying. The vaccine she received to counteract Project Trumpet, a deadly bioweapon, has somehow been activated. If they can find Dr. Rhyne, the scientist who designed it, there is a chance that Erin’s life might be saved. Others, however, are aware of their intentions. DOME is still determined to hunt them down once and for all. Logan’s sister Lily, now an important military leader, is tracking them as well. But Lily has her own agenda, and years spent in Acheron have taught her not to lay her cards on the table. When she appears with a mission for Logan, will he trust her? And, if so, at what cost?
Angler’s series has its weaknesses—mainly a need for more character development. Some additional description would also be helpful—the author never tells us what Peck looks like, for example, despite how largely Peck figures into the series. Sneak feels a little rushed; again, more character development would help. (Frankly, Angler’s editor should have pointed out some of these potential problems. In fact, I kept catching myself wanting to do the editing, mainly because I liked the books so much. I re-read them immediately and repeatedly after getting them. Something in them pulled at me; also, I have an absurd taste for books about fugitives.)
Overall, I think the series is quite an accomplishment. Evan Angler has done what I thought was impossible—he has written respectable Christian apocalyptic fiction. And he doesn’t do that by spending his time unfolding his interpretation of end times prophecy. The Swipe series indicates an encouraging tendency among younger Christian authors—the understanding that good Christian fiction is, first of all, fiction. That means it has to start with imagination, whether it is set in Genesis, Revelation, somewhere in between, or in another universe altogether. One of the most admirable characteristics of the Swipe series is the carefully drawn futuristic world. We spend Swipe wondering, along with Logan, whether the Mark is really a bad thing after all.
The Swipe series is also an enactment of another principle that some Christian authors have missed. The truth fiction offers is narrative truth, not a sermon outline. Despite the fact that his series deals with the Tribulation, Angler is very careful about when and how his characters mention Christianity. Logan becomes a Christian in Sneak, but we don’t see it happen. There are no painfully written prayers for readers to skip over. (I don’t make that comment to demean prayer. I make it to demean poor writing.)
I do not know precisely how old Evan Angler is (since, according to his bio, he is on the run from DOME, I suppose his birthdays are among his less significant concerns). But the Swipe series is an encouraging beginning to his writing career, and I, for one, hope that his writing continues to improve. The Global Union is a fascinating place to be, even when—especially when—you spend your time among characters dedicated to tearing it down.