By Jamie Buckingham (Chosen Books; 1981)
Here we have the Christian version of WESTWORLD. As elucidated in this short novel, Jesus World is a giant amusement park, located in Florida near Disney World, with Bible inspired rides and skits. These include robotic replicas of Jesus reenacting the crucifixion, Adam and Eve cavorting in in a mock-up Garden of Eden and Samson getting his hair cut, as well as a fast food restaurant called Jonas set inside a giant fiberglass whale and an elaborate holographic lightshow depicting Jesus’ resurrection, accomplished with an excess of deadly microwaves. All this might sound like a bad joke, yet the author was the late Rev. Jamie Buckingham, whose religious convictions were apparently unimpeachable (look him up). This means there are thrills to be had in JESUS WORLD, but one has to slog through an excess of dull sermonizing to get to them.
The protagonist is Simon, a wealthy businessman whose friend Bert Jessup, a celebrity evangelist, creates Jesus World. Before long the place becomes known worldwide, and its attractions grow increasingly elaborate. Simon winds up working at Jesus World, but not before undergoing a period of mourning after his wife commits suicide, apparently because Simon didn’t pay her enough attention (the idea that the gal might have had an existence outside her wifely role is never breached). Simon is helped by one Joe Panther, a highly devout Native American cowboy who owns a ranch near Jesus World. Panther warns Bert and Simon repeatedly about the dangers, spiritual and otherwise, posed by Jesus World, but neither listens until it’s too late.
To be sure, Jesus World does become quite suspect, being gradually taken over by a computerized satellite called DEOSAT that christens the park’s main robotic guard Golem. Things eventually go completely haywire in the bloody climax, with a Jesus robot malfunctioning and beating a woman to death while Simon’s acid head son goes into a frenzy, running around the park ripping the heads off robots, and the microwave resurrection inevitably claims its first victim.
Unfortunately the author cops out in the final pages, in which Simon embarks on a religious pilgrimage. As for Jesus World, nothing is resolved. I suppose one can view the park as a metaphor for America, i.e. a wonderland started with the best of intentions that gradually succumbs to excess, but such an interpretation would be giving this silly book far more credit than it deserves.