First, about this book: Prayers for the Assassin is simply bad science fiction – the kind which, when translated into a movie, can't hold your attention because it expects so much from you. For example, the two most important characters in the book are former Islamic super soldiers in the classic comic book sense of the term: they underwent extensive physical, psychological and martial training, and then also got a high-tech set of generic and biological cocktails that amped them up with lightning reflexes, enhanced senses, and the ability to heal fast and well.
Sounds like the X-Men, right? The problem is that you have to believe that the society-in-decline portrayed by Ferrigno that is sliding down hill because of its theo-luddite tendancies and intellectual xenophobia has, or has had, the intellectual moxie to invent super-warriors. I'm the kind of guy who can gloss over Capt. Janeway and Lt. Torres trading completely meaningless technological babble to invent a solution for a somewhat-stilted technological problem, but at least they don't pretend that they have any historical relationship with the world I live in today. They live once-upon-a-time in the 24th century; they encounter fairies as easily as they encounter the Borg. Ferrigno wants me to believe that this future is only 30 years away. In other words, if we shuffle through a calendar, he wants me to believe that that main henchman in this book is undergoing these treatments, like, next week. In an Islamic country.
Another hard pill to swallow was the lopsided weight he placed on the lure of Islam. He calls it repeatedly a source of hard, fast answers in a world which seems to have slipped off the objective coil. But throughout the book, he makes it plain that the Islam which apparently has taken over the world is a system of lies within lies – and that those who advance to the highest positions of authority in those religions are various kinds of self-deceivers and liars. That is to say, they don't believe a word of it, and it is only a platform for personal power.
The problem with that is two-fold: the first problem is that even if I conceded that there is no doubt that some abuse of power exists inside the authority structures of Islam, and even if we toss in my clear-throated rejection of the objective truth of Islam, I think it is completely lopsided to try to say that Islam is top-heavy with cynical opportunists who don't really believe in the system they are advocating.
The second problem is that Ferrigno's understanding and portrayal of Christianity is pretty wildly stereotypical. It is clear to me, for example, that Ferrigno has never encountered a single evangelical Christian who was older than 12. His portrayal of the "peckerwoods" as somehow all victims of postmodern license somehow overlooks the fact that in the contemporary landscape, it is the evangelical Christians who are standing up for some kind of moral compass in our society. And you read it here first: his portrayal of Catholics is shameful. Whether you're a hard-reformed advocate or not, to read Ferrigno's description of Catholics as the cause of moral decay in the sense he presents it is simply far-fetched and somewhat insulting to what they represent sociologically.
There are other problems I have with this book in particular, but most of them ought to be chalked up to genre and conceit – I hate the genre that Ferrigno writes in, and I think his conceits are adolescent and wooden. For example, the central antagonist is an ageless schemer with a global network of influence who is working to establish a global kingdom which he will rule. Like Fu Manchu, or the Kingpin. And his chief agent of change is – hmmm, let me think now, what kind of henchman would he employ – an affable psychotic with the same skills the book's hero has, but with a flair for the dramatic and no regard for human life.
See: it's one thing to write comic books, and another thing to try to make comic book plots into 300+ page novels. What Ferrigno uses to fill in is graphic violence and sex – which frankly I can do without in my casual reading.
Which brings me back to why Hewitt has lost the ability to surprise me: he has highly recommended this book. He has endorsed it as "fully imagined". He's enthusiastic about the way this book represents the clash of cultures and the apparently-nuanced view of Islam Ferrigno has presented. But he has overlooked all of the shortcomings of this book – especially from a Christian worldview.
We probably can't expect Hewitt to reproach the secular/atheist cynicism Ferrigno presents in this book. But you would think that Hugh could muster the gumption to refrain from endorsing a book filled with soft-porn titillation and graphic violence.
Well: you would think. Apparently Mr. "In not Of" has forgotten that you ought to be careful in how you pick your friends.