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R.P. BenDedek

R.P. BenDedek Book Review: 'The Travelers' by J.L. Sconce
By R.P. BenDedek
Jan 17, 2014 - 7:33:01 AM

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I enjoyed reading 'The travelers' by Joseph Sconce but recognize that it may have limited appeal.

At the beginning of the book there is a name list with accompanying personal details of the various characters. I personally don't like this kind of detail, preferring instead to discover the characters as they appear in the story. My brother on the other hand really appreciates such lists. He once told me of an occasion when upon commencing a new novel, he wrote detailed notes on each character as they appeared just so that he would be better able to follow the story. When all the characters were killed in an explosion at the end of chapter two, it was all he could do not to rip the book to shreds. 'Each to his own' as the old saying goes.

There were only two things about the book that I felt to be unwarranted. The first is the author's 'block bold highlighting,' by which I mean that sometimes whole paragraphs are in bold type (at least in the PDF copy that I received). The other was the personal mention of his mother's death in a way that did not seem to be directly connected to the story.

The story (written from a Swedenborg theological perspective) is about the afterlife and as such it might not be a topic of interest to many people and certainly not to those with a 'set in stone' theology. It is also a very long book of more than 600 pages.

Despite these issues, it should appeal to those with an interest in psychology or who like 'Fantasy or Sci-Fi stories.' One does not need to believe in Vulcans and Klingons to enjoy reading or watching Star Trek stories, or believe in witches to read 'Harry Potter.'

At my request, the author allowed me to publish the introduction to the book at Magic City. That introduction provides the foundational concepts from which the story line is derived -- the spiritual writings of Emanuel Swedenborg 1688-1772.

With a background in Theology, Psychology and Sociology I personally found the book extremely interesting. Mr. Sconce's perceptive understanding of human nature is quite obvious and the tale -- irrespective of one's theology -- provides fine insight into the way humans interact or perhaps more to the point - 'react.'

I hope Mr. Sconce will forgive my obviously poor attempt to explain the Swedenborg theological perspective, but as I understand it, the story is about the journey that each person must make upon death. The soul or spirit of the person enters into a transitional state in which they must decide whether they are going to go to Heaven or Hell.

One would imagine that the decision would be an easy one, but in the same way that a person who has had a lifetime of abuse might become an abuser because essentially that is all they understand, the newly deceased might not be capable of accepting a new way of thinking and acting, and so may at the end of the journey, choose the Hell they know rather than the Heaven that they can't understand. That being said, the concept of 'Hell' that one finds in this theology is somewhat different to the traditional one.

Whilst it is quite obvious that Mr. Sconce uses the novel to espouse his theological beliefs it is equally obvious that he uses it to criticize various attitudes and practices of the "New Church" (a Swedenborg religious organization in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania). Toward the end of the book one begins to see just how much of the author's personal life is used in this story.

Chapter two commences with Joseph Sconce (same name as the author) who was killed when a truck jackknifed in front of him, waking up in a hospital ward. The hospital is an illusion designed to help the departed person to transition to the spiritual world called 'World of Spirits'; a place between Heaven and Hell. In this chapter the spiritual foundation of the book is revealed through a discussion about Swedenborgian spiritual concepts.

The recently departed (in ICU) need special transitional help in adjusting to the spiritual plane because for a variety of reasons, their perceptions while alive interfere with their adjustment in the new world, and this is particularly so for those with the strongest religious convictions.

The story line through the first half of the book concentrates on nine individuals who 'wake up' in various degrees of acceptance or otherwise of their demise. After an initial explanation of their situation, the nine set off on a journey designed to affect their emotions and thoughts in an effort to guide them toward their final destination. Which way they go of course will depend on how they cope in their new environment and new perceptions of themselves. It is basically a story of people coming face to face with 'exactly' who they are and what kind of person they were and perhaps still wish to be. They cannot reach Heaven until they can emotionally accept that God is 'pure love' and that 'negativity' (nastiness, pride, unkindness) of any kind will keep them out of Heaven.

As for those who initially appear to be headed straight for Hell, they also battle through a similar trial. Ultimately they may succumb to that within themselves which is evil; preferring the evil they know to the absence of evil which they cannot accept. This issue receives detailed attention in relation to one of the original group of nine characters, but not before a new character named Dorothy joins the group. Dorothy is a spousal abuse victim who was well on her way to Hell but who eventually joined the motley crew on their journey.

My favorite character in the group is 85 year old Jane McCormick (a rich, sophisticated, unkind, snobbish, widowed, fundamentalist Baptist) who had done more than most in her earthly existence to 'earn her salvation.' Poor lady! Thank God she was already reformed by the time the Muslim Abdul joined the group. Dorothy and Abdul's addition to the group took the total to eleven, but by the end of the book only ten travelers arrive at the next stage of their journey.

There is enough in the story to challenge both the fantasy reader and ardent Christian theologians of all persuasions, as well as provide a challenge to those whose ultimate god is their own superior knowledge of what is and is not. The main characters are an assortment of religious and neo-religious folk and it is interesting to see how the author deals with the characters, their religious beliefs and their character flaws.

If you can get beyond your 'theological' perspectives, I think that you will find this an interesting book to read if only to understand a little more about human nature.

R.P. BenDedek

'The travelers' by Joseph Sconce
Format: Perfect Bound Softcover
Pages: 662
Size: 6x9
ISBN: 978-1-45257-736-4
Print Type: B/W
Price $33.99

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