|Infinite Space, Infinite God
edited by Karina and Robert Fabian
Published by Twilight Times Books, 2006
XXXXX DELETE ME XXXXX Abebooks.com: various editions
Recommended by: Elliot Hanowski
The Roman Catholic Church enjoys a unique and paradoxical place in science fiction. For most early writers, the march of Science and Progress meant that religion would have little place in the future, and the least likely organization to survive would be the Roman Church. Was it not hidebound, superstitious, repressive? Modern rationalists inherited Protestant polemics and reserved special wrath for Catholicism as the implacable enemy of science, reason and freedom.
And yet... the Roman Church's great age and size, its vivid colour, its certainty, made it hard to ignore. If you had to include religion in your story, would you rather have a Congregationalist minister wearing a suit and tie, or a robed pontiff, enthroned in glory? What about all that stained glass and candles, incense and beads and statuary? A time-honoured code of sin and virtue, salvation and damnation? All this means that Catholicism has been more likely to turn up in science fiction than any other Christian denomination, even if only in a bit part, or as the detestable villain of the piece. Even the angriest of Catholicism's opponents viewed it as they would a car wreck horrible, but strangely hard to look away from.
Of course, there's another side to the story. A careful examination of history shows the Roman Church frequently promoting the growth of science, as well as occasionally coming into conflict (or at least tension) with it. It's possible to find Catholics conducting Inquisitions but also Catholics opposing them, Catholics conquering native peoples and Catholics defending them, Catholics oppressing and Catholics liberating, all acting (at least in their own minds) as faithful servants of God.
In the field of science fiction, there have been faithful Catholics who knew these facts and who worked to build bridges between tradition and modernity, science and religion. For example, Anthony Boucher (aka Anthony Parker White) was an early, influential science fiction editor who loved the genre and his Church, and whose classic short story "The Quest for Saint Aquin" brilliantly reflects those two commitments.
Infinite Space, Infinite God, a new anthology, follows in Boucher's footsteps. Edited and compiled by Catholic science fiction fans, the stories in this collection all imagine the future role of the Roman Church. Not all of the writers involved are Catholics, but their tales are respectful and envision a Church against which the gates of Hell have not prevailed.
As is the case with any anthology, the quality of the writing varies from story to story. Some of the writers are veterans, while others are still honing their skills. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the majority of these offerings, and was more than once borne away by a concept that at first glance seemed unpromising.
Among my favorites was Colleen Drippe's "Brother John." John Melchior is a thug-turned-monk, who along with his order tries to bring the Gospel to a lost space colony. One hears echoes of the early Jesuits in his struggles with the authorities, the natives, and himself.
Another memorable tale was "Stabat Mater," by Rose Dimond. I always find stories about unconventional Popes interesting, whether it's the African Pope from Russell's Children of God, or the improverished Pope in Wolfe's "How the Whip Came Back." Dimond's Pope has "one foot and four toes in the grave" but is striving to end a war and ensure the survival of the Church on other planets. The main character, Theresa, has a special task entrusted her by the Virgin Mary, and tries to carry it out in the face of destruction and despair.
Other stories will stay with me, like Tim Myers' "Brother Jubal in the Womb of Silence," which is about a hermit practicing contemplation on the Moon. "Hopkin's Well" by Adrienne Ray, channels R.A. Lafferty's sardonic wit and sense of the absurd in a tale of church-state tension on Mars. "Our Daily Bread," by the editors, Robert and Karina Fabian, relates the story of a hard-working Catholic deacon on an asteroid mining operation.
The Fabians' introduction and prefaces provide interesting information, though I would suggest reading the section prefaces after you read the related fiction, so as to approach the stories on their own terms.
All in all, Infinite Space, Infinite God is an interesting addition to the field that will appeal to most fans of Christian-themed science fiction. (January, 2007)
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