C. Clarke. Dr. Werner Von Braun. Gene Roddenberry. Doctors
Carl Sagan and Robert Goddard. Dr. Buzz Aldrin and Neil
Armstrong. Dr. Gerard K. O'Neill, and, not least of those
is one, Dr. Robert Zubrin. Dr. Zubrin, renowned visionary
and space engineer, shares with these great men the honor
of having won the prestigious Robert A. Heinlein award
for "lifetime achievement in promoting the goal of
a free, spacefaring civilization."
Zubrin, the 9th person to have won the award, is the
author of multiple
books and hundreds of papers through which he promotes
his visions of the exploration and eventual colonization
of space, with a special focus on Mars. Now, Zubrin has
turned his ability to envision the possible beyond Earth,
and focused it sharply on the impossibly absurd right
The Holy Land is built on a unique concept that
is both brilliantly conceived and wonderfully implemented;
science fiction as a vehicle for satire. With penetrating
insight, Zubrin lines up the crosshairs and lets fly a
volley of satirical missiles at his target - the Palestinian-Israeli
conflict and the larger war on terrorism. The resulting
direct hits expose the absurdity...and the truth...of
it all to the reader with the force of a physical blow.
Given the recent pain of September 11 and the ongoing,
daily struggles in the Middle East, it takes chutzpah
write a book lampooning those events; but Zubrin pulls
it off masterfully. Sometimes the only way to come to
grips with a situation so out of control that it makes
you want to sit down and cry is to do just the opposite.
Zubrin begins The Holy Land by establishing his
premise, which quickly becomes apparent to anyone who's
read a newspaper in the past two years. The Minervans
are an alien race of human-like beings who have suffered
terrible persecution from the Central Galactic Empire.
They were nearly wiped out by that empire, in fact, until
the Western Galactic Empire intervened. The WGE (Weegees)
help the dispersed Minervans to establish their own homeland,
in the city of Kennewick, Washington, U.S.A., ...Earth,
which they claim is their ancient homeland.
The Weegees barely tolerate the Minervans themselves
because of minor differences in an otherwise common religion:
The Weegees worship a triune goddess, while the Minervans
accept the divinity of one, but not the other two, of
those goddesses...the goddess Minerva.
The Americans are another story, however. The United
States is a fanatical, fundamentalist theocracy. The presence
of the Mivervan "pagans" is intolerable to them,
and the U.S. government sets out to exterminate them all.
With their superior technology, the Minervans make quick
work of US forces in a disastrously one-sided battle,
and the ensuing dialog between the president of the United
States and the Secretary of Defense gives us an early
insight into the workings of the mind of an opportunistic
despot in an exchange that is at once hilariously absurd
and chillingly recognizable:
"We've lost 40,000, but they've lost 400. That's
one of theirs for every 100 of ours. We can afford that
easily. There are 300 million Americans and only 1 million
Minervans. At this rate, we will defeat them by simple
attrition. No wonder they are begging for a cease-fire."
The President bowed his head in prayer. "Let us
all give thanks to God for this glorious victory."
The exchange is recognizable, yes, but only if we imagine
it coming from, oh, Iraq's minister of information, for
example, and therein lies the genius of Zubrin's satire.
The transposition of the cultures involved awakens the
reader like a slap in the face to the insanity of situations
to which we've become inured.
The parallels between Zubrin's alternate world and real-life
conflicts intensify when the United States, realizing
that direct assault won't work, sets out to turn Galactic
opinion against the Minervans. Some of the original inhabitants
of Kennewick remained when the Minervans settled, living
side-by-side with and enjoying the fruits of an advanced
civilization. But others chose to move away, and those
are rounded up by the government and forced into refugee
camps in Kennewick. They live in squalor, under the constant
eye of the Galactic News which willingly reports on the
oppression of the Kennewickians, by the Minervans.
But if conditions are so bad for the Kennewickians in
the camps, why won't the government send food and medical
supplies? Better yet, why don't they help them to relocate?
Why, because they're Kennewickians, of course.
Kennewickians can only live in Kennewick.
Substitute "Palestinian" for "Kennewickian"
and suddenly a political dynamic that seemed impossibly
complex is shown for what it is - more propaganda than
Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, wrote,
"The Holy Land ingeniously highlights the absurdity
of the Palestinian position." The book certainly
does that, but the Israelis don't escape Zubrin's barbs
The Minervans, while they would be willing to coexist
with and even help the Earthlings, look down on them as
inferior. Zubrin explores that relationship through the
interaction between the two main characters - Hamilton,
a POW Army Sergeant, and his captor, Aurora, a Minervan
priestess (3rd class). As those characters are developed
throughout the story, Aurora at one point concedes that
some Earthlings might possess just enough rudimentary
intelligence to maybe, just maybe, be "potentially"
But the distance between the two characters in terms
of experience, civilization, knowledge, and religious
and social training is so vast that it is impossible for
one to even comprehend, much less agree with, the beliefs
and perceptions of the other. Those unbridgeable differences
make conflict between the two cultures a foregone conclusion
- compromise is impossible where no common ground exists.
The American efforts to gain sympathy from the Western
Galactic Empire fail. Even indoctrinating the Kennewickian
children into Minervan hatred and sending them on suicide
missions to "martyr" themselves (while staying
"in frame" for the duplicitous galactic press)
brings no sympathy, and the Americans realize that more
drastic measures will be required.
The tension between the Weegees and Americans is complicated
by the fact that Earth, and particularly the North American
continent, contain huge reserves of "helicity,"
a substance that fuels the galaxy. Weegee "bluebacks,"
paid in exchange for the helicity, enrich the corrupt
American government officials and fund their plans for
To declare all out war against the Weegees would be suicide,
of course, so the Americans plan a series of stealth strikes
against them. Training camps are established by the American
government in Peru, and recruits are sent there to learn
how to strike. Weegee bluebacks are used to purchase advanced
technology to aid the terrorists.
The worst attack on the Western Galactic Empire comes
when American terrorists hijack four Weegee spaceships
with the intention of using them as weapons on a suicide
mission designed to cause massive casualties.
Three of the hijacked vessels succeed.
The date of the attack is August 11.
When the Weegees come to Earth to exact retribution,
the Americans divert them to Peru, where the terrorists
were trained. Never mind that the hijackers were Americans,
trained and funded by Americans. The helicity must flow.
Zubrin doesn't let the real-life Americans off the hook
either, as you can see by the situation above. Far from
it - his cutting wit slashes and hacks at every aspect
of the Middle East conflict, exposing the raw innards
for the inspection of anyone with the eyes, and the intellectual
honesty, to see.
Nor does Zubrin stop at purely political nonsense. Rather,
his humor illuminates the silliness of virtually every
aspect of our present-day lives. No one and nothing is
safe from Zubrin's satirical volleys.
Not our male-dominated cultures:
"Some of them, for example Earth, really do have
governments largely led by men..."
The princess looked astonished. "But that's absurd!
How could they possibly survive?"
Pallacina shrugged. "Apparently, not very well."
"...The men own all the factories and fish farms
and have all the jobs in them...Of course, since we
control the government we can balance the scales a little
by taxing their excess income."
"How much of it do you tax?"
"Only 90 percent. However, when a Minervan woman
chooses a man for a husband, she assumes ownership of
90 percent of his income. Thus together, these two measures
set the male share of national income at 1 percent,
which is bearable, although we hope to trim it considerably
and obtain a more reasonable split in the future."
"Ninety-nine to one isn't reasonable enough for
"Of course not...It's pretty much the same way
all over the galaxy...But the cause of women's rights
is advancing, and I think that some day we will obtain
And certainly not political correctness:
"...We're being placed under guard, while those
assassins are being given the free run of the ship."
She shook her head.
"They're reporters," Danatus said. "They
need to be able to move freely to get their story."
"Aren't you at least going to search their boxes?"
"We can't. We don't search other reporters, and
they are suspicious, so searching them would be suspicion
profiling. That would be illegal."
Aurora shook her head again. "May Minerva awake
The Holy Land is a literary caricature of a world
gone mad, a warped mirror in the face of which the reflections,
while often grossly exaggerated, are mostly instantly
recognizable (but sometimes only subtly so - look up the
location of Kennewick, Washington, on a map. Then look
at the location of Israel, and compare the relative positions
in relation to the surrounding enemy territories).
Dr. Robert Zubrin has produced a cutting, eye-opening,
satirical tour de force. The Holy Land is a must-read
for anyone with a social and political conscience. It's
also funny - fearlessly funny. If you've already
staked out an immovable position on Israeli/Palestinian/War-on-terror
issues, then you might just be in need of a wakeup call.
Maybe you're right, chances are you're not...in which
case, may Minerva awake you.
If She doesn't, The Holy Land surely will.