21 December 2007

A collection of better-than-average SF stories that mix the theological with the technological

Other Worlds, Other Gods: Adventures in Religious Science Fiction
Mayo Mohs
Doubleday, 1971

I've long wanted to teach an undergraduate course on religious themes in science fiction, so when I chanced upon this anthology at the library I was very excited. After completing its 12 stories and one poem, I am less excited, but only because a few of the stories seem a bit dated. In his introduction to the anthology, editor Mayo Mohs (who was the religion editor for Time magazine) explains his criteria for selecting the stories contained herein: "All, in one way or another, have to do with religion, religious myth, conscience or that inestimable beyondness about life that we call the transcendental" (p. 12) In my estimation, the best of the stories were those that did not necessarily wear their religion on their sleeves, that suggested theological and philosophical ideas rather than telegraphing them to the reader.

My personal favorites included: "The Word to Space," a wry story in which a Jesuit is called upon to confound a planet of religious zealots whose interstellar broadcasts comprise little more than hyperdogmatic screeds; the centerpiece of the collection, "Prometheus," by Philip Jose Farmer, in which an adventurer-turned-monk inadvertently introduces a race of sentient avians to language, and with it, theology; John Brunner's chilling "The Vitanuls" which extrapolates the implications of a Hindu cosmology of rebirth in a world that has conquered death; and "Balaam," in which a rabbi and a priest find themselves reprising the roles of that famous Moabite and his donkey. Also included in the collection is Arthur C. Clarke's famous "The Nine Billion Names of God," a story which leaves me cold because of its inaccurate descriptions of Tibetan religion (i.e., Tibetans, who are Buddhists, don't have one name for God, let alone nine billion) but which is also a classic of religiously themed SF.

I really enjoyed this collection, and would love to find a copy to add to my home library. Too bad there aren't more anthologies like this.

(This review was originally written on April 10, 2007.)

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