Secular City Limits
Author: Matthew Barron
Publisher: Self-published (I think?)
Genre: speculative fiction
Length: long novella
Rating: 3 ½
In a dystopian near-future ruled by religion rather than state, single-mother-by-choice Helene seeks to save her young son, as well as herself, from a bleak Catholic future. With the help of a pair of homosexual teenage boys, Helene sets off for the near-mythical Secular City, where the last vestiges of a separated-church-and-state government remain.
I bet I could fit a few more em-dashed phrases in that blurb…
When I met Matthew Barron, I was drunk. He got really excited when he found out I was a reviewer and vanished, and I fended off a few more drunken handsy male horror writers. Suddenly, elfin Matthew Barron pops up in front of me, leprechaun-like, and hands me this book. I added it to the bizarre collection of novels crammed between the waistband of my pants and my back, gangster-gun-style (had to have both hands free to double-fist the drinks being offered by the illustrious Shroud Publishing guys!) I vaguely remember the eager glow in Matthew’s eyes, and I can’t remember at all what he said about the book, so when I regained consciousness at some point the next morning, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the bent and sweaty novella I dug out of the back of my pants (I’m the only person at the Shroud party who can boast about having Hiram Grange in her pants, just so ya know).
And luckily, I was pleasantly surprised. Barron is a talented new voice in fiction. His style and voice weave an effective story that is part speculative fiction, part social commentary. At times, the commentary gets a little bit loud and preachy (not that I disagree with it—it was just a bit overbearing), but the overall effect of the book is one I think is very relevant to today’s society.
In Barron’s fictional future US of A, the country is basically divided into religious factions, with each faction determined to kill or convert. Those who don’t go along with the brainwashing are ostracized in the more civilized church-states, and outright murdered in others. There is one sanctuary for those who are open-minded, or sick of the oppression, or have lifestyles that conflict with whatever religion’s rules. One thing I liked is that at no point does Barron trash faith itself. The exaggerated fanaticism, while far from reality, in reality, is reflective of the attitudes of some of the current mega-church leaders of today. It illustrates the point that one misguided idiot can completely destroy the lives of those seeking God. The characters seek sanctuary in a place that is regarded by most as either a myth, or a place of utter debauchery. There, they will find religious freedom, sexual freedom, freedom from societal mores, and complete acceptance. I found that concept perhaps a bit too simplistic. Barron helped temper the stark contrast with terrorist attacks at the gates of the perfect city.
Overall, it’s a short, interesting read. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the cover, but the editing was clean, and the interior presentation was great (Matt, never mind that bizarre conversation we had with a couple of other people regarding the size of the font, etc…again, blame the booze).