Published in 1981, Mission by Patrick Tilley has been unavailable for quite some time; a reprint was issued in 2012. I first reviewed the book when it came out and I found it as difficult to classify as Russell H. Greenan’s It Happened in Boston?
This is a shortened version of my original review. Judging by several reviews on Amazon, it’s a beloved book by many; others found that while they remembered it with affection they were disappointed on re-acquaintance. At the very least, it’s a thought-provoking book.
The tale begins with Jesus Christ (The Man) arriving DOA at Manhattan General Hospital on the 1948th anniversary of the Resurrection: he subsequently awakens to confront the narrator, Leo.
Was God an astronaut? Mission could so easily fall into this dread von Daniken-cloned slot; yet Tilley’s handling of the central characters, especially The Man’s, adds depth and freshness and redeems the book. Apparently, Tilley spent twelve years researching to produce this riveting, consistent, learned, often humorous, iconoclastic novel. All the sham and ceremony, the hypocrisy and timed-serving attitudes are torn away from the world’s religions, while still respecting their essence. As The Man says, ‘Religion is not what it’s about. That’s something you people dreamed up.’ Man-constructs, not divine.
Leo is a cynical wisecracking questioning lapsed Jew, and attorney. The Man has chosen him to pass on the True Message – how is left till the quite devastating end.
The book is shot through with sardonic wit, calling upon diverse things and people: the Turin Shroud, parallel universes, George Lucas, the Silmarillion, Martin Scorsese, Carlos Castaneda, Michael Moorcock, Doris Lessing, social conscience, drug and sex commercialism, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Zoharistic Kabbala, the Hasidim, pre-dynastic Egyptian gods, the Talmud, Hinduism, Nicolas Poussin, the Albigenses, Hugo Gernsback, Spielberg, Walter Tevis, Sufism, Gnosticism, and karma!
It’s a book of the eighties, with realistic characterisation, a convoluted gripping and believable story using the symbols and questioning stance of the time. Throughout, Biblical quotations slot neatly into The Man’s story. And it’s about selfless love. Through the ages there has been a battle between good and evil, involving ancient celestial bodies, the Ainfolk, trapped within humans. There are nine universes, seven non-temporal, non-dimensional in the World Above, beyond the Time Gate. The World Below consists of the physical cosmos which we inhabit whilst the Netherworld is a mirror-universe of anti-matter, created as a prison. At the time of the creation of the World Below a rebellion erupted and the rebels broke out into our physical universe, and thus the struggle has gone on through the human millennia.
The conclusion may be that people seem to need a spiritual goal, a storm-anchor in agitated times. Good against evil does seem naively black-and-white. Not necessarily ‘good’ as we’ve been educated to understand it, but the ‘good’ that is instinctive, a gut-feeling that makes sense, devoid of passion or self. Life has always been – and still is – considered cheaper than property, land or nationhood. The plea that rises from Mission could so easily be a clarion call to begin the spiritual fight. As The Man says, ‘All of us are involved, whether we like it or not.’