Optimus 4 by Ross G. Gaehring
In the year 2063, Earth is dying, beset by the geopolitical and ecological disasters of the Great Tribulation. Isolationist America is under the iron-fisted rule of General George Brinton Mclellan, a tyrannical century-old right wing dictator, obsessed with 1970s pop music, Busby Berkeley musicals and Ronald Reagan. Two Special Forces Troopers are assigned the unpleasant task of entering the “Dead City” of Detroit to retrieve a Christian radical and former war hero, Commander Rance Edwards. Descended from a famous African American, an aristocratic Wehrmacht General, a legendary Native American, a Jewish freedom fighter and European Royalty, Edwards became a member of the despised Christian sect after being wounded in the disastrous Euro-American War. A gifted fighter pilot, he is needed for the Dictator’s last desperate gamble to save America; the invasion of another planet. Rance soon finds himself tempted by a burning love for his former fiancée Christine St. James, newly married to another man. He’s also about to face his greatest challenge… preparing his fellow fighter pilots for the imminent climactic battle in space.
When this book showed up in my Recommended for You feed on Amazon, I remembered that I had bought this in 2014. I checked Amazon to see how the reviews were tracking and was surprised to see that there was only one review and it consisted of two words: “Great read”. Only one review and such a short one pushes my buttons! I really feel for an author when this happens. I also noticed that this book is now out of print.
I decided that seeing I had bought this book due to its plot and that there was only one review, I would read it now seeing I was taking a break over the Christmas/New Year period from reviewing author requested reviews. I am glad I did as this is an excellent debut novel by Gaehring.
The first impression I had was that Gaehring writes well and this novel is a joy to read. He has a confident use of the English language and I found myself looking up some words that I had not seen before and others that I had very little understanding of. I enjoy doing this in a novel as this challenges my understanding of the English language, I learn more words and I love seeing how the word fits in with the context of the sentence structure and paragraph. The dictionary feature of the Kindle comes in very handy here and encourages me to do this.
The next thing I noticed is that Gaehring knows how to research and construct a novel with his plot well supported from this and integrated well in the same. This makes the novel very credible and realistic and adds depth to the warfare and science fiction elements. It also aids in the cohesivity of the overall novel.
This is the only novel I have read where each chapter is broken into segments. Each chapter has three of these. The first is a paragraph that has a holographic disc jockey announcing the songs of the 1970s that is pumped all over the USA. Reminds me very much of the DJ in Good Morning Vietnam, the role played so memorably by the Robin Williams. In this segment, our DJ, Jazzy, mentions the songs that America’s dictator, the Great General George Brinton McLellan, favours and other songs that are mentioned in the narrative of the novel that later follows in the chapter. I laughed at this as there were so many of these 70s songs that I knew and had them playing in my head as I was reading. Really enjoyed this! That was a very clever and creative effect by Gaehring and balanced out the drama of the plot and its dramatic and suspenseful events. Gaehring has an extensive knowledge of the songs of this decade as evidenced in the Sources and Notes section at the back of the novel, which is very impressive, where all the songs are listed over 10 pages of the Kindle version. Five hymns are also included but these are not mentioned by Jazzy but rather sung by Rance’s Christian community.
The next segment of each chapter is a running account of the upbringing and background information to General McLellan’s life leading to how he became this General and dictator. It does provide a detailed account of his character and the events that influenced him to seek dominance and dictatorship but I am not sure why Gaehring included this to the extent that he has (in every chapter) as despite him being one of the main character’s, I would have preferred the author to have treated Rance, the major character with this treatment as I felt that Rance needed more development as what development Gaehring has given him is very effective, but it would have given Rance even more credibility in his rank as Commander and as a Christian, seeing Rance is the protagonist and one the reader endears themselves to.
On this latter position, Gaehring has depicted Rance as one self-confident and self-assured Christian who knows who he is in Christ, is well grounded and founded in the Bible and lives this out in every aspect of his life as the Bible instructs Christians to do. He also has a tender heart towards God and is in tune with the Spirit in all he does as evidenced by the many mini prayers of repentance, intercession, and supplication that he offers to God during the course of each day in the various duties, events that he is involved in, and interaction with Christians and non-Christians while also experiencing the direction and presence of the Spirit as well during these times. This latter interaction with the Spirit is rare in Christian fiction today, and I and another reviewer, call this genre, Spirit-filled fiction. It is defined as follows,
(These books) are focused upon characters with (or who develop) an intimate relationship with the Lord. They talk with Him all the time, day in and day out, hour by hour, minute by minute. It can be very potent in a first-person account told by a character.
The result of this type of relationship is that the Lord moves much more obviously and powerfully in the lives of the characters. The Lord heals people, and gives miraculous resources and solutions to characters—both the believers and non-believing characters. The Lord becomes an active character in these books. It’s a wonderful thing to read and experience. When it is done well, we finish the book in an attitude of worship—built up and empowered by what we have experienced in the lives of the characters.
Gaehring has depicted Rance as not being afraid of the Gospel of Christ, providing a defense of the Gospel when he meets resistance against it, ridicule, humiliation for being a Christian in this post-rapture world where Christianity is banned and those penalized/banished by identifying as such. I found this depiction of Rance as a Christian very encouraging and uplifting to my faith, and I can see that this could be a valid witness to a reader who does not yet believe in Christ and see what Christianity can be like and that there is no valid grounding in being an atheist or humanist.
It was again encouraging that Gaehring depicted the redemptive nature of the Gospel and of the Spirit where two characters accepted God’s gift of salvation, where the plan of salvation as presented was not preachy or overdone. Again, I adhere to a specific new genre of fiction and it is classified as redemptive fiction,
These books offer standard rebirth scenarios where a person accepts the Savior as their Lord. They give their life to serve Him and their lives are transformed—sometimes almost violently, often slowly and gently. They show a realistic look of the daily walk of faith for a believer. A clear Messiah is revealed who died for our sins. Through repentance and baptism, a person is forgiven and cleansed, beginning a new life in the Kingdom of God.
The last segment of each chapter is the continuation of the plot. It is here of course that all the action, suspense, battle scenes in the likes of Star Trek and Star Wars takes place but not to any great detail as we are used to in these movies; this novel is only 242 pages so length limits this, but it still gives a good picture of the battle between the Greys of Optimus 4 and the human invaders. Most of the plot takes place aboard the spaceship USS Hornet showing the raving machinations of General McLellan who is so obsessed with eradicating and exacting revenge on the Greys for what they had done to Earth and being the supreme autocrat for the Earth, despite its dying status and this new planet, Optimus 4, that he seeks to colonise as Earth dies. It is here where Rance and the General clash and Gaehring shows the true nature of how a Christian should treat conflict without compromising their faith or actually sinning in the process. To me, this shows the depth of Gaehring’s relationship with Christ and it is again, encouraging and uplifting to my faith.
I also liked the example of how Rance dealt with sexual temptation from his ex-girlfriend and this is portrayed exactly as it needs to be dealt with, knowing where you stand in Christ, not compromising your faith or relationship with Christ, stopping the advances before arousal and desire are sparked in the Christian and in the scene, being firm and forceful in asking her to leave. Rance’s mini sermon about sexual purity to his small Christian community was also a breath of fresh air and I applaud Gaehring for not holding back in the depiction of this biblical truth.
The only reason I gave this novel a 4/5 star rating (Strongly Recommended is my equivalent) is that as stated previously, I cannot see why Gaehring provided such a detailed account of McLellan’s life as he is not the only main character. Also, I felt the novel ended abruptly, leaving a few plot lines unresolved such as what becomes of the human survivors and the relationship between Rance and his ex-girlfriend? What happened to the remaining Greys? I can only surmise that these will be addressed in a sequel as this novel screams out for one, but by the title it does not imply that this is a series. For all the positive elements I have outlined in this review, I would love to see this story continue and the author provide more of these spiritual/biblical/Spirit-filled themes.
Strongly Recommended (4/5 Stars)
Peter Younghusband has been an avid reader from as early as he can remember. Since becoming a Christian in his early 20s, his passion for reading led to specifically Christian fiction and this has developed into reviewing them on his blog. He loves reading new author’s novels or authors who have not had many reviews or exposure and giving them much needed encouragement where appropriate.