Monday, April 25, 2011

Snarky Theolgy 6: Easter: HE IS RISEN

Today's work of art is provided by the ever-charitable Matthew Funtime.  I don't know about you, but I find it funny as heck.  But then again, I am quite possibly a sick, sick man.

And it's Easter, so there.

When I first started this blog series, I promised you I would introduce you to the rabbit hole that is my faith, but I wouldn't shove anything down your throat as far as my belief in it.  This still holds. I'm going to do a little walkthrough on the story of Easter Sunday.  Pretty much it.

As mentioned in my surprisingly popular blog post on Lent, Easter is more of an estimated time, and it's conveniently located at the start of spring.  Or, if you live on the East coat of the United States, when spring is supposed to start.  It was put in near Passover, and there were a whole bunch of computations put into the matter that I don't pretend to understand. 

I want to say it was programmed up against a pagan Roman festival of Ester, though I think I may have had my wires crossed there, if only because the Catholic church did something similar with Christmas, put up against Saturnalia, a pagan feast that involved an orgy of food and drink and other things that happen at orgies -- it's still celebrated as the office Christmas party.

Anyway ....

Monday, April 18, 2011

Snarky Theology 5: The Passion, Jews, and Good Friday.

Yes, I know I considered doing a post on Atheists, but it didn't really fit into snarky theology.  More like snarky good behavior...

This Friday is Good Friday, so guess what I decided to do instead.

You got it, we're looking at the last 24 hours of the pre-Mortem life of Jesus of Nazareth...

Yes, pre-mortem, as opposed to the postmortem life.  Back when I started these Snarky Theology blogs, I told you I had lived in a strange sort of rabbit hole. 

This one is going to be blogged more or less by random trivia I've had kicking around in the back of my head for a while now, so forgive me if there are any minor mistakes.  I would hope no one would try to use me for a footnote on a historical paper.  And, once again, this is my attempt to translate, to the best of my ability, Catholic theology into plain English.  If I thought Catholic education was worth a darn as far as educating Catholics in their own religion, I probably wouldn't bother.  But I don't, so, here we are.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Guest Blog Index -- "Catholic fiction"

This is going to look like a strange post.  But I like things to be organized.  I try not to buy history books unless I go to the index and see if they have certain topics.

For example, there is a recent biography of a Protestant minister involved in the Valkyrie plot to assassinate Hitler .... you may have seen the movie ... I went and looked in the index for Pope Pius XII.  And I found him!  I flipped to the page....

And the minister "met with an aide to Pope Pius XII for a meeting."  That's it?  That's all you had to say?  You don't know anything else?  Thanks, I'm not buying you, you stupid book....

Yes, I think of books in terms of anthropomorphized entities.  If you didn't know I was weird before, You do now.

But, our guest blogs have been some of our most popular thus far.  The only series to outdo them have been the Snarky Theology series, and the blogs beating up on the Phelps Family.

So, my mild OCD has kicked in, and I'm going to do a little sorting.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Review: Infinite Space, Infinite God II

[A Review of Infinite Space, Infinite God II, a science fiction anthology of Catholic-related tales. Edited by Robert and Karina Fabian ]

One of the themes of this blog is that I try not to get too religious. Most of my consistent readers are not Catholic, or even Christian, so it just won't fly. And, as I've said before, the most I really want to do with this blog is possibly explain the utter insanity that is my religion …. which, as far as some religions go, might be the most reasonable (And if you don't believe me, look up the Aztecs, and the Roman cult of Mithras).

Infinite Space, Infinite God II, however, fits in perfectly well with the rubric. It's not preachy. And there is not even a whiff, a hint, a suggestion, of pro-Catholic propaganda. In fact, the entire premise of this book is that systems fail, fall apart, and don't solve everything, leaving it up to individuals. Sometimes, an individual combined with faith, and sometimes not.

Sometimes, the individual isn't even human.

Welcome to the world of Catholic science fiction.  And, in case you were wondering, yes, there are Catholic science fiction nerds, as evidenced by my DragonCon posts on this blog.

This is not, mercifully, one of those books where you have to be Catholic to understand everything. In fact, aside from a few in-jokes, this is not a book that requires you know Catholic theology—one of the authors is a Presbyterian Minister. Far as I can tell, if you don't mind having Catholics as the good guys, this book is quite enjoyable. This doesn't even require a belief in God.... but it doesn't hurt, either

The sense of humor in some is almost sly. You don't need to be Catholic to understand the actual jokes, though there are some bits where there are Catholic in-jokes.

Karina Fabian's tale of interstellar rescue nuns includes their base convent as being the Convent of Joseph du Cupertino—the patron saint of pilots. Most relevant jokes are spelled out: one ship is called the Mark 16, even though there were only seven models—only to discover that it's actually Mark 16:18...

Let's just say that I've never seen “Snakes on a Star ship.”

There was also a question from an alien to a nun that started

“What do the wings on the hat signify? Something to do with aviation?"

"This is a full habit."
"I didn't ask how often you wore it."
It's cute.

However, one of the more interesting parts of this collection is that it's a science fiction story that uses—gasp—science. We get to keep inertia, Kepler's laws, and no, you are not going to rewrite history as a time traveler. Thank you.

(If you are not an active science fiction fan, let's just say that finding science in science fiction can, occasionally, be hit-or-miss. There are Baen novels, some of which use so many scientific elements that they have physicists co-writing books, and then there's Star Wars and Star Trek media … don't even ask).

Now, to be fair, this comes with the usual mixed bag in any anthology. There are one or two stories that I read and didn't think came up to the standard set by the editors' own tales. I don't know if they were feeling charitable, or if they just really liked “The moral of the story.” The biggest, and I mean the biggest, problem with this anthology is actually … in the introductions. Some of the story intros push a little too hard in trying to explain the moral of the story, and some even give away the ending. But then, if that's the biggest problem with this book, it's not that big at all, when compared to the fun of the rest of it.

If the editors are reading, a simple word of warning for the next volume: stop trying so hard. The story will sell itself. And if you don't think it does, move the introduction of each story to the end of each tale. That's it. “Problem” solved.

And, in this entire collection, I can only suggest skipping two stories. That's it, two. Well, one and a half, really.

The opening tale, The Ghosts of Kourion, is so full of exposition, and takes place so much inside of the protagonist's head, that I can't honestly recommend it. I got bored, and moved on.  And, to be honest, I'm not a big fan of anthologies, considering how variable the quality can be.  I was very tempted to give up on the entire book, if Ghosts of Kourion was going to be an example.  It might be me, but I couldn't really get into it...

And then I read the Karina Fabian tale Antivenin … referred to above as “Snakes on a Star Ship.” Rescue nuns and poisonous snakes. In zero-gravity.  It was fun.  It was a nice, solid adventure.  Though I did expect there to be a line that read "I am sick and tired of these .... snakes on this .... star ship."

It made up for "Ghosts of Kourion," in spades.

As for the rest of the stories, well …

An Exercise in Logic: A nun brought in to argue for saving a few thousand people, in a logic game of chicken.  The alien race's argument? “Yes, we could save this planet … how do you know that the aftereffects won't endanger more people?”   And I can't quibble about a nun who has to fight the urge to slip into the vocabulary of a sailor.  It was entertaining and amusing.  And the ending was cute.

As I mentioned before, I'm a bit of a philosophy nerd, so this one appealed to me. The philosopher Kant once argued that since you can't see all of the ripple effects of your decisions, saying that the ends justify the means is an invalid premise. This story deals with an alien race that argues, The name of Kant is never mentioned, but I liked this one if only for the premise alone.

However, the funniest part of this story may be in the brief bio on author Barton Paul Levenson, who is, in fact, Presbyterian, not Catholic.

However, the best line of the story: "You can't pray to your god in here! This is the Ecumenical Temple! Stop it at once!"

And there will be no fighting in the war room ....

Cathedral (Author: Tamara Wilhite) A short summary of this one could be “Blade Runner goes to church.” A biologically engineered soldier has a limited lifespan, and only has a few months left to try to extend her lifespan ... or to make her life mean something.

This was a very well-designed story, with a nice punchline.  The setup was nice, and the takedown was well executed.  It was touching.  I generally despise "touching," but this one worked for me quite well.

Otherworld (author, Karina Fabian, one of the editors): Remember when I mentioned that there was one and a half stories I would not recommend? This is the half.

The premise here is that there's a Jesuit doing missionary work in virtual reality (VR) … like a net chat room, complete with trolls (not literal … okay, some of them are literal). Imagine that a VR World of Warcraft, or perhaps Second Life, can be so addicting, it can cause the user to fall in and never come out.

I like this premise. Honest. I like the idea of VR missionaries. And how can you not enjoy a story that has a line like “I've just left a discussion on Catholic Social Justice with a white rabbit, a raven and a hamster. I feel very close to St. Francis at the moment”?

However, the main problem isn't the author, or the story, but the narrator. Our protagonist, a Jesuit priest, is a very, very serious fellow. I understood the character's problems because I'm Catholic, and while I even agreed with what our first-person narrator preached, the way it was delivered was in a rote fashion, without thought or explanation to the audience. Why do I blame the narrator, and not the author? Because Karina Fabian is also the author of Antivenin, noted above, which was a fairly excellent story.

And, yes, I'm a mildly schizophrenic author who sees no problem blaming a character as a completely separate entity from the person who writes him.  We've covered this before.

The Battle of the Narthex (Alex Lobdell): I loved this one, it was hilarious. It had intergalactic politics, alien princes going to mass, an old bodyguard who wants to get away from cutthroat palace politics, military tactics, an assassination squad, and motion sensor flush toilets as a threat to invisibility camouflage units. And we get to see a “Come holy spirit” banner on fire.

Imagine the Catholic church from the point of view an alien, and you get something that looks like my “Catholic Cannibals”post from a while ago. There is no theology in this one at all, and the protagonist of this one is an old alien soldier who's an atheist … but there is a nice little touch at the end...

Let's just say that Father Brown would be proud.

Tenniel (Colleen DrippĂ©): In the future, when humanity meets alien worlds, there will be alien converts. In this story, an alien Catholic Bishop comes face to face with one of the local alien “pagans,” who is intent on wiping out the “alien faith,” and any who worship it. The barbarians here really are at the gates, and they are pissed.

I suggest you skip the introduction on this story altogether, since it gives away the ending, and pushes far too hard on the moral of the story. The story speaks for itself.

I'm thinking ... Constantine.

And not Keanu Reeves.

Tin Servants (J Sherer). In 2147, a Catholic priest has gone undercover as an android soldier being shipped into Africa, and what happens when, for once, the human has to act like an android, instead of vice versa. 

It's a nice inversion of cliches.  In the grand tradition of science fiction, it deals with a lot of modern problems with a fictional guise. Though in this case, the guise is a thin gauze. Not that I'm complaining. Half the science fiction I read lately seems to have a light crust of science over a Grand Canyon of politics—Tin Servants is downright subtle in comparison. There isn't much in the way of theology here, and that's a good thing. It's nice and low key and elegant, with a solid punchline you won't see coming.

Basilica (John Rundle). I loved this story. Up until this point in the collection, I thought that Antivenin alone would justify the cost of this book.  This was just as good.  Possibly better

This story is very much like a Doctor Who episode. To prevent a super-weapon from falling into the hands of ancient heretics, a priest has to hijack a star ship and fend off a boarding party of killing machines.

Basically, run.

Cloned to Kill (Derwin Mak): A military clone named Lorraine … hiding in St. Joan of Arc church … and she hears voices.  Enough said.  This one was fairly awesome, and very well constructed.

Frankie Phones Home (Karina Fabian). This was a cute story, told mostly in the form of dialogue – imagine if the kid from E.T. went along with his friendly neighborhood alien back to his home planet … and then came back.

Dyads (Ken Pick and Alan Loewen) – Premise: Catholicism doesn't mesh with non-human species, but we can all get along.  However, when a missionary from a backwater sect decides to covert the local "heathens" his way, interstellar diplomacy can get messy. 

The nice part about this one is that the culture shock isn't human to alien, but two religions (one human, one alien) looking at a third and saying "Wow, are you weird or what?"

Dyads takes time to really get going, but it's ultimately worth it. There are some details that are a touch overwritten, and there were some sections where I would have liked dialogue, not exposition. But if you ever wanted to see what would happen with interstellar cultural misunderstandings and missionaries, you have an interesting story here. Ultimately, it's quite touching. As I said above, this is coming from someone who typically holds standard “cute and cuddly” in the highest disdain.

Oh, and fair warning - - there are furries.  Tall, bipedel, fox-like furries.  They're aliens, but still, you have been warned.....

At the end of the day, if you like science fiction, you'll enjoy this book. It's worth the price of admission, and I'd even pay money for it, even though I already have a digital copy.

And if you don't want to take my word for it, I'm sure other people can give you a second opinion.

And, now, you get several samples from Infinite Space, Infinite God II

Excerpt from "Antivenin" by Karina Fabian:

No, Ann was not durak. Now if Rita could just keep from doing anything lethally stupid. She grabbed the line, gave it a tug of her own to make sure it was secure, and pulled herself to the Mark 16:18.

Once inside the other ship, they exited the suits, positioning them for emergency donning. Then Rita set up the rescue balloons: nanomylar bags large enough to hold a man. Once sealed, a small motor generated air and heat for thirty minutes--an hour with an expansion pack. She pulled out the retractable strap on her medical kit and slung it over her shoulder.

Ann, meanwhile, had tried to contact the pilot and passenger both via the intercom and by yelling down the hall. Nothing.

Sr. Thomas spoke over their headsets. "Small asteroids coming. Brace yourself!"

They managed to grab the threshold just as the ship jinxed wildly to the left.

Sr. Thomas called, "At least two more, but you have a couple of minutes. Ann, can you disable those sensors before we jerk that tow line off?"

Rita's stomach clutched at the thought. "You go to engineering. I'll search for wounded."

Ann hurried down the corridor, while Rita followed more slowly, opening each door to scan the room. The ship was larger than she'd expected: six doors on each side led to rooms that had been converted to storage. Most were packed wall to wall, floor to ceiling, with an empty strip just wide enough for a person to pull something off a shelf and carry it out. She wondered what kind of cargo the ship carried.

It was eerily quiet, with nothing but the background hum of the engine, the hissing of doors and the sound of her own footsteps. What had happened to the crew?

"Rita! I found someone in the center compartment. He's unconscious. Respiration shallow. He's drooling a lot. I've never seen anything like it."

"Ann, pull up your collar, now." She pulled at the collar of her own skinsuit. The tightly compacted fibers stretched until the fabric covered her mouth and nose. She pressed along her nose and cheeks with thumb and forefinger, creating a seal. The fabric, actually a sophisticated biofilter, would enable her to breathe while blocking most airborne hazards. "Make him comfortable. I'm on my way. If there's nothing you can do, go on to engineering."

"I thought I heard something in the port corridor. I'm going to check that first."

"But if the tow line breaks--"

"Basilica has more. Tommie will catch us again."

It only took Rita a minute to get down the long hall, through the pie-shaped galley room and into the central hub. Ann had set the man upright against the wall and put a slap-patch on his cheek: Oxyboost and a mild stimulant. A second patch read his vital signs.

Rita knelt beside him and puzzled over his stats. They looked more like poisoning than a virus. His face was slack, eyelids drooping. She lifted one. The dilated pupils responded sluggishly to the bright light of the room.

Sr. Thomas called over the headset: "Brace!"

Rita braced one hand on each side of the victim. Again the ship jerked. Rita heard the metallic sound of dishes sliding and clattering to the floor. The man bumped against her arms, but did not fall.

Sr. Thomas said, "One more coming. You've got about two minutes-thirty, maybe three."


"I'm fine. I definitely heard something this time. Last room on the left, port corridor. Door's jammed."

The man was stirring feebly now, but not enough to help. Rita muscled him around until she could get her arms under his and drag him back to the rescue bag. Despite the months of heavy exercise, she was panting from exertion as she all but dumped him into the nanomylar bag. The man forced a moan. His hand twitched and bumped her.

"Be still. We'll get you to our ship where we can treat you."

He tapped the floor: three slow, two fast. Universal Space Code for "Attention."

"You want to tell me something? Go ahead. I'm listening." They'd drilled the universal tap code daily in her training, and at the convent Mother Superior declared "tap code hours" to keep everyone in practice. It had annoyed her no end, but she was glad of it now.

But he tapped, "No. Look. Attention."

"All right. I'm watching your hand." Slowly, as if it took great will, he spelled:






Ann called, "Got it! Opening the door now."






"Antivenom? What?" Was he hallucinating? She pulled up his sleeves, then his pantlegs.

"Rita?" Ann's voice was a thin ghost of a wail. "Serpents..."

Two small puncture marks, like pinpricks around a slightly swelled area.

"Annie. Just walk out quickly but calmly--"

"Brace!" Sr. Thomas called.

The ship swung, knocking Rita off balance. Through the headset and the ship, she heard Ann scream.

Excerpt from "An Exercise in Logic " by Barton Levenson:

In her room, Julian pored over data she had downloaded from the honendo library. She aligned pictures of a honendo, a desli, a meschottu, and a human. The first three had tails, the human didn't. Tails? Could it be that simple?

Don't be stupid. Look at the other similarities. The three alien species were all reptiles, and all about the same size -- the human picture on the same scale was shorter than the others. All three alien species were egg-layers, and that was probably a big part of the picture. If reproductive physiology was as important to them as it was to humans, that might be the key. The religious primers she had looked through often used a picture of an egg to illustrate existence. Their writers talked about the inside of the shell of the sky when talking about astronomy. And even though their written symbol for "zero" was a sort of check mark rather than a circle, the word for zero (sfuh) also meant "egg."

Doesn't matter. Whatever the difference is, they don't believe humans can produce a luendo. It's a dead end. Think of something else.

* * *

Seventeen days to go.

"How many worlds do the honendo still occupy?" Julian asked the High Council.

Greddil replied, "If you mean how many have a honendo majority, I'd say about eight, isn't that right, Rann?"

"Eight is correct," said Rann.

"But there are over a hundred worlds and habitats with at least a few honendo on them," added Greddil. "Used to be millions, but we've declined since then."

"Do your people ever indulge in interstellar travel?" asked Julian.

"It has been known to happen."

"Then I submit to you that there could be honendo on New Canaan now, even as we speak, and one of them may have laid an egg. The egg may contain a fetal luendo."

"It doesn't seem very likely," said Greddil. "But I'll put a request through TravelNet. It may take a few days to get an answer."

Uh oh. There went her argument, except in the unlikely case that she was right. "Does TravelNet keep tabs on every individual honendo?"

"Of course," said Greddil.

* * *

Thirteen days to go.

"I have researched legal precedents," said Julian. "Please take note of the case In the Matter of Charril, 11,319,255. The court held that Charril had, and I quote, 'The legal, moral and religious duty to render aid,' and that she had failed egregiously in not warning the family of the defect in the robot's programming."

"You raise an interesting point," said Greddil. "We do respect court decisions here. Will you hold on a moment while I review the case?"


Greddil manipulated something on the bench. It was too high for Julian to see if he had a Pad or used something built in to the surface in front of him.

After a while, Greddil said, "The court referred to the earlier precedent of Honendo Sphere of Enlightenment v. Drann 5,123,582, which said that the legal, moral and religious duty to render aid was implied by the duties to one's family, and that all living honendo were ultimately to be regarded as one family in such matters."

"Surely that distinction is not pertinent," said Julian. "In a larger sense, are not all sentient beings creations of the gods, or as my beliefs have it, of God? And are they not all, therefore, to be regarded as one family in the sense required? A great expounder of my religion, anticipating the coming days of space travel, said, 'Those who are, or can become his sons, are my brothers even if they have tusks or feelers'."

"Well, that's very nice, but note that the Honendo really are biologically related to one another, having all come from the same evolutionary ecology. We and humans did not come from the same ecology and are not really related."

"You're not related to desli or meschottu either, but they can produce luendos, can't they?"

"Yes, but humans cannot."

"Why not?"

"It should be obvious," said Greddil. "You're not our type."

"But don't you see Lewis's point? It's not the physical things that matter. What makes someone a person is the ability to reason and make moral decisions, not how they're shaped or what color they are or what planet they come from!"

"That may be," said Greddil. "But we have no legal precedent for saying so."

* * *

Eight days to go.

Julian said, "Imagine a polity coming together from a state of nature in which individuals of many species are forming a government. They have to make their social system function fairly. They deliberately adopt a veil of blindness -- they do not know, beforehand, which roles they will occupy in the new society. Is it not obvious that they would not institute rules making one species the masters and another slaves? Because with the veil of blindness, they might wind up as the slaves!"

"I see your point without taking its significance," said Greddil.

"People should be treated with a presumption of equality whatever planet they come from. I submit that it is immoral to treat humans differently from honendo based solely on the fact that they are of different species."

"Based on the social contract you envision?" asked Greddil.


"But, you know, societies don't really form that way," he said gently. He began to talk about anthropology.

* * *

Five days to go. "At T minus two days we're going in," said Captain Todd. "It's against my orders and I'll undoubtedly be court-martialed for it. But I don't give a damn if the library gets blown, and I certainly don't care about my career path. I'm not going to stand by and let thousands of innocent people be wiped out. T minus two days, and I'll grab those honendo bastards by the scruff of the neck and make them give us the recall code."

"If the library wipes its memory it may wipe the recall code as well," said Julian.

"Unless one of them already knows it."

"Why would they?"

"To be prepared in case they change their minds!" said the captain. "If I were in their situation, I would want to know the code."

"But you can't be sure."

"No, I can't be sure. But it's a better chance than doing nothing and allowing all those people to die!"

"Perhaps you're right," said Julian. A thought occurred to her. "How, exactly, would you make the priest give up the code?"

"Have you ever heard of waterboarding?"

* * *

Three days to go.

"Tomorrow, if you have not recalled the asteroid, Captain Todd is planning to blast in here, capture you, and get the code out of you," said Julian.

Greddil looked at each of his companions. "Are you referring to the use of military force?"


"The Temple Guard will fight them."

"The Temple Guard will lose." Julian looked down. "Captain Todd didn't want me to say anything, and I haven't told him that I'm telling you this. But I'm telling you because I don't want it to happen! They're planning to torture you on the chance that one of you might know the recall code."

"None of us know it," said Greddil. "It's in the library. And the library will wipe if anyone forces their way in here."

"You will never convince Captain Todd that none of you know the code. Your library will be destroyed and so will each of you if you don't call off the asteroid."

"An argument by the use of force is no argument at all," said Greddil. "It is a logical fallacy. It cannot determine truth."

"I know that! I don't want to see it happen! It wasn't my idea to threaten you! But it's not up to me. Please, I beg you -- save human lives, and honendo lives. Recall the asteroid."

"I'm sorry, not under the threat of force." Greddil smiled. "I was coming to like you, Sister Julian. You plural, I mean; humans. This destroys any respect I had for you. Of course we will not change our minds if threatened. If anything, it will only make us more adamant."

* * *

T minus 51 hours.

Greddil yawned. The priests on either side of him also looked sleepy, with drooping eyelids. "You wish to see us at this ungodly hour?"

"In three hours Captain Todd is going to launch his assault," said Julian. "They didn't want to let me out of the ship; I had to sneak out with the help of a crewman."

"What do you want of us?"

"To recall the asteroid."

"I'm sorry, I see no reason to do so."

Julian said, "Then I will pray until you do." And with that she knelt on the floor and brought her hands together in front of her lips. "Father in Heaven, please move the hard heart of this man to protect your children who are in danger from the unholy wrath of this dead empire. Break their hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh. Let them know the despair of your children as doom approaches, and let a little love bloom in their hearts. Make them--"

The honendo priests had watched in growing astonishment as Julian prayed. "Here! Here!" said Ahherril, the sociologist and philosopher. "You can't pray to your god in here! This is the Ecumenical Temple! Stop it at once!"

Excerpt from "Cloned to Kill" by Derwin Mak

Lorraine, a clone who has escaped from a cloning lab and sought sanctuary in a church, has been watching a baptism.

Lorraine had been standing by the statue and watching the baptism. A woman wearing a blue jacket and skirt stood with her. Father Markham approached them.

“That was a beautiful ceremony,” the woman said.

Markham said, “Thank you, Sister Clara.” He turned to Lorraine. “What did you think about it?”

“Is it part of the human experience?” Lorraine asked.

“For some humans, it is,” Markham said.

Sister Clara said, “I’m going to call the Big Chicken Coop. What do you want?”

“The usual,” Father Markham said.

“The roast quarter chicken dinner,” said Lorraine.

“Gravy with your French fries again?” Clara asked.

“Gravy,” said Father Markham.

“I will have baked potato with sour cream instead of the French fries,” Lorraine said.

“Money,” Clara demanded.

“Oh, yes,” Markham said as he gave his money card to Clara. “It’s still got fifty dollars.”

“That should be enough,” the nun said as she took the card. “I’ll call the Big Chicken Coop and go pick up the order. I’ll be back soon.”

She turned to Lorraine. “Place the plates and knives and forks on the table, like I showed you, will you?” Lorraine nodded. Clara left for her car, leaving Lorraine alone with Father Markham.

“Is it true that only humans can be baptized?” Lorraine asked. “Sister Clara told me that you do not baptize animals or equipment.”

Father Markham had noticed that when Lorraine was fighting, she spoke in an angry, emotional tone. But when she was calm, she spoke in an emotionless monotone. She never seemed happy, and she never smiled. This had to be due to a life without family, friends, and schoolmates, a life of only neuro-programming and combat training, Markham thought. “That’s true, only human beings can be baptized,” Markham replied.

“Was the baby human before he was baptized?”

“Of course, he was.”

“Then why does he need to be baptized if he was already human?” Lorraine asked.

“While it’s true that only humans can be baptized, baptism does not make someone human,” Markham explained. “Baptism is for people who are already human. It’s a ceremony of purification and entry into the Christian community.”

“Purification? Was that baby impure?”

“In a limited sense. He was born with original sin. The baptism is a remission of original sin.”

“Original sin. I read about it in L'Osservatore Romano in your library. Sister Clara talked about it with me. It is a general condition of sinfulness into which all humans are born. However, I am not sure how it exists and works,” Lorraine said. “Unlike you, I was not born from humans. I was cloned from a donor’s cell. Do I have original sin?”

“I think you do, and for once, I think that’s wonderful,” Markham said.

“Wonderful? How can being sinful be wonderful?”

“Because it means you’re human.”

“Only inside this church. I am non-human outside it,” Lorraine said. She paused for a moment and asked, “Father, if I am truly human, will you baptize me?”

She was unsmiling and unemotional as usual when she asked about baptism. She did not fully appreciate people’s feelings for life’s milestones. Not yet.

“I’ll baptize you if you are willing to learn and join the Christian community. The choice is yours.”

“Perhaps I can do that. I will read more articles in L'Osservatore Romano.”

“You might have to read more than L'Osservatore Romano,” Markham said. “Don’t worry, I won’t make you recite the names of the sacred monkeys in the Vatican.”

“If the monkeys in the Vatican are sacred, have they been baptized?” asked Lorraine.

Markham wondered if Lorraine had developed a sense of humor.


The rectory was in a house separated from the church but still within the church grounds. In the rectory, Father Markham, Sister Clara, and Lorraine again dined on take-out food from the Big Chicken Coop.

“What do you say when I pass the bread to you?” Markham asked.

Lorraine took the basket of bread. “Thank you?”

“That’s right. You’re learning.”

Lorraine bit into the bun.

Father Markham felt happy about Lorraine’s progress. Her neuro-programming and combat training had included no social graces, but she was learning them faster than he had expected.

“So how was your day?” Clara asked.

“Why do you need to know?” Lorraine said in her flat, emotionless tone.

“It’s just something people do when they eat together. They make ‘small talk,’ harmless conservation about things that happened,” explained Clara.

“Oh, okay,” Lorraine said. “I heard the voice in my head again.”

“Do you recognize the voice? Do you know whose it is yet?”

“No, I do not. All I know is that it is a man’s voice.”

Father Markham took a sip of wine. “Does it remind you of a voice you heard during neuro-programming?”

“I do not remember.”

“Could it be an instructor at the mercenary training camp?”

“No, it is not one of them. They are within my recent memory. I would remember them.”

After the dinner, Father Markham brought a decanter of port to the table. Drinking port after dinner was a tradition of Canadian military officers’ messes.

“May I have some port too?” Lorraine asked.

Father Markham shook his head. “You’re too young. Do you want coffee or tea?”

Lorraine shook her head and stood up. “No, I will go back into the church and look at the statue.”

“Don’t leave the church grounds,” Father Markham said. “The Clymene Biogenesis people might try to capture you.”

“I can protect myself if they try to capture me,” Lorraine said.

“I know you can,” said Markham. “It’s your enemies I’m worried about.”

“All right,” said Lorraine as she left the room.

As Sister Clara poured some port into her glass, she said, “She seems to like that statue of St. Joan of Arc. I think she identifies with St. Joan after reading about her in The Lives of the Saints.”

“Like St. Joan, she hears voices in her head,” Father Markham observed.

“At least she doesn’t think it’s God’s voice. We get enough people hearing Him,” said Clara.

“I suspect the voice is someone she remembers from her neuro-programming. I’ve heard of other neuro-programmed and force-grown clones experiencing voices or visions. Some of them become mentally ill due to the way they grow up. After Lorraine was created, her creators force-grew her to a sixteen-year-old size in five months, and she learned eight years of primary schooling in six months of neuro-programming.

He sipped his port. “What she doesn’t have is all the people and experiences that develop a teenager’s mind: family, friends, schoolmates, or any memories of childhood or adolescence. She has none except the cloning hatchery and the mercenary training camp.

“In addition, clones are brainwashed into slavish devotion to a specific role, usually dangerous or low-paid jobs, like uranium miner, landmine sweeper, garbage picker, or prostitute.”

“But Lorraine’s different. She’s the first of her kind, an elite combat soldier,” Clara said.

“Yes, a soldier who can get killed without any pensions or payments to a surviving family,” Father Markham said. “She’s the perfect expendable human. Sorry, non-human.”

He shook his head. “Have we come to this: creating people just so they can kill? Or just so they can die?”

“You were a military chaplain,” Clara said. “Is creating a clone any worse than recruiting and conscripting people into the military, where they may also be forced to kill or die?”

“No, that’s different,” Markham said. “Society considers natural-born people to be human, and they keep all the rights of a human being and citizenship when they join the military. They have the free will that God gave them. Even a conscript can disobey orders that are illegal. I told my soldiers that it was their duty to refuse any orders that violate the laws of armed conflict.”

He put down his glass. “We treat clones differently. They have no human rights, and they don’t have any rights of citizenship. And we neuro-program, brainwash, and train them so they won’t have any free will, just an urge to obey us.”

“Not Lorraine,” Clara said. “She escaped from the mercenary training camp because she wanted a different life.”

“She resisted her programming and training,” said Markham. “Something must have gone wrong in the factory.”

“Perhaps,” said Clara. “She got some rather intense training, though. I’m amazed that she hasn’t attacked us.”

Father Markham grinned. “She came here on Victoria Day, when I was wearing my medals for the parade. I must have imprinted on her mind as a military officer, and therefore, a commander.

“But she hears voices that aren’t there, so I don’t know how long I can control her.”

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Interview with ISIG2 editor / author Karina Fabian

Yesterday, we had guest blogger Karina Fabian, editor of Infinite Space, Infinite God II (ISIG2) give us her views on faith, science, and writing science fiction.

If you didn't read yesterday's post, feel free to go back and read it, we'll wait for you....

All caught up now?  Good.

Now, as a bonus blog, we get another shot at Madam Fabian.  Now, it's time to sit her down and ask her some questions about the book itself. 

You all remember that ISIG2 is an anthology of Catholic science-fiction short stories.  What exactly does that entail?  Are we going to have more acts of blantantly violanting the laws of physics?  Will we have alien converts?  A patron saint of starships?  Worse yet, a Saint Captain Kirk?

Read on to find out.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Guest Blog: Karina Fabian of Infinite Space, Infinite God II

For those of you who may have missed last week, we had a guest blog from the gracious and talented Margaret Ann Lewis, author of Murder in the Vatican, the Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. It was followed shortly thereafter with an interview and a review.

 If you were looking for another Snarky Theology blog, sorry, you're out of luck. Because this week we have a guest blog from author Karina Fabian, editor of Infinite Space, Infinite God II, an anthology of Catholic science fiction. You can find it at B&N, Amazon, etc.

Some may ask why I would host a science fiction author / editor on my blog. Murder in the Vatican was at least a Catholic mystery, and, in a way, A Pius Man is a mystery, but science fiction? Since one of my top five post at the moment is a report from DragonCon, 2010, I'm assuming there's an interest.

Oh, yes, and while I think of it, I have been asked to inform you that the first book, Infinite Space, Infinite God is on sale for .99 cents through April 13. It and the sequel are for sale for 2.99 through April 23rd.

From here on out, Infinite Space, Infinite God II will be shortened to ISIG2.

This concludes all the formalities.  Now, the blog:

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Review: Murder in the Vatican, the Church Mysteries of Sherlock Homes.

After a guest blog from author Ann Margaret Lewis, and the interview with her, it's now time for my review of her book. 

Which you can find here

I wanted to hold off on this for the end, to make certain that there would be no influence on her one way or another.  The same ground rules will apply next week for Infinite Space, Infinite God II editor Karina Fabian, who will also submit a guest blog, and be subjected to an interview.

When I was thirteen, I started reading through the collected stories of Sherlock Holmes. I made it about halfway through. I had been stopped dead by "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott"—the one and only time Holmes was the narrator.  I wasn't the only one who had a problem with that story. Another author of the day, G.K. Chesterton, said that the Gloria Scott showed why Watson was relevant: because Holmes was an awful storyteller.

Since then, I have been critical of anything about Sherlock Holmes written after the death of Arthur Conan Doyle. Some stories went wildly off track. Others were riddled with so many anachronisms it was painful. Of the vast quantity of Holmes-related material published, my family of readers owns only a fraction.

When Robert Downey Jr. starred in Sherlock Holmes, I crossed my fingers and hoped it didn't suck … instead, I got a checklist of what they did right.

When Doctor Who scribe and show runner Steven Moffat created a show called Sherlock, I also crossed my fingers. It was surprisingly awesome.

Then I heard about Murder in the Vatican. The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes on the newsletter for the Catholic Writers Organization. It had an interesting premise: author Ann Margaret Lewis takes Watson's offhand references of Holmes working on cases for the Pope, or involving religious figures, and turns them into entire stories.

I experienced the same feeling of dread. How off would the narration be? Would someone try converting Holmes? How lost would a detective from Victorian, Anglican England be in Catholic Rome? How many different ways were there to screw this up?

I stopped worrying when I read the first sentence. And, oh my God, this book is awesome! I loved this book...

Lewis caught the voice of Dr. John Watson as though she had taken it, trapped in a bottle, and used it to refill her pen into as she wrote. I liked the voice. I liked Watson, the doctor, trying to diagnose an ailing Leo XIII (85 at the time of the events of the first story). I like the brief sketch of the political situation between the Vatican and Italy. I even enjoy Watson's discomfort at the Pope slipping into “The Royal We” when he speaks of himself as the Pope.

Even the artwork was as though it had been lifted from issues of The Strand magazine.

Someone had fun here, and it shows.

Thankfully, there is no overt attempt to convert Holmes, evangelize or proselytize him. There is only enough theology in the entire novel that explains to the casual reader exactly what the heck the Pope is doing. The closest the book comes to exposing Holmes to theology is a page-long sequence that ends with Leo saying, “Perhaps you should spend some of your inactive time pondering that conundrum [of Jesus] instead of indulging in whatever narcotic it is with which you choose to entertain yourself.”

That is the best zinger I've ever seen a character use on Holmes regarding his drug use. Even the most secular person I know can appreciate a page of theology for one of the better one-liners I've ever seen.

Also, the little things were entertaining for a nerd like me. For example, the casual mention of John Cardinal Newman, referred to as “a recent convert.” The political situation at the time is given just enough of a sketch to explain what's going on, but nothing obtrusive; history nerds like me can be satisfied, but you don't have to have a degree in it to comprehend what's going on.

There are truly parts where the novel seems to merge all the best qualities of Sherlock Holmes with those of G.K. Chesterton's Fr. Brown short stories ...

At this point, I must make a small confession. I write these reviews as I read the book. There is plenty of backtracking, to fill the blanks, and rewrite it as the book goes. I wrote the Father Brown line when I finished the first tale. In fact, the interview questions I sent to Ann Margaret Lewis were written before I even received a review copy of the book.

I then read “The Vatican Cameos,” and discover a Deacon, named Brown …

I swear I didn't see that coming

The first story in this collection is "The Death of Cardinal Tosca."
In this memorable year '95 a curious and incongruous succession of cases had engaged his attention, ranging from his famous investigation of the sudden death of Cardinal Tosca -- an inquiry which was carried out by him at the express desire of His Holiness the Pope . . . .
—Dr. John H. Watson, “The Adventure of Black Peter”

Imagine Sherlock Holmes on vacation … if you see that vacation turning out like an episode of Murder, She Wrote, with a body hitting the floor at some point, you pretty much have the setup. It has a poison pen letter, with real poison, some Masons, references to two different cases in the space of two paragraphs, and a Papal commando raid with a real pontiff. This story is so delightfully odd and over-the-top, but still preserves as much reality as any other Holmes tale. I enjoyed every moment of it. And I can't argue with any story where the pope gets most of the amusing one-liners.

Heck, even the murderer gets in a good line. When confronted, our first killer sneers. “Let me guess. You're going to explain, to the amazement of your friends, how I did the deed?” Holmes replies, “I've already told them that. It would be old news. They already know you blundered badly.”

I think the story concludes on a nice, solid note. As Holmes tells Watson, “[Leo XIII] is genuinely pious. He is also imperious, but in a most endearing way.”

Watson merely replies, “Yes, well. I'm used to that.”

Let's see Martin Freeman deliver that line with subtlety and dry wit.
"I was exceedingly preoccupied by that little affair of the Vatican cameos, and in my anxiety to oblige the Pope I lost touch with several interesting English cases."
—Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles
The second tale, "The Vatican Cameos," is a bit of a flashback episode to when Holmes first met the Pope. Leo XIII has sent a collection of cameos to Queen Victoria. The cameos are secured tightly in the box they're delivered in, but upon their arrival in London, the box is empty. The Queen has a simple solution: send Sherlock Holmes. Watson is busy with a medical emergency, so he wasn't around.

When Watson asks Sherlock about the incident, Holmes says, quite clearly “Watson, I am incapable of spinning a tale in the way you do. The narrative would read like a scientific treatise.”

Madam Lewis certainly read "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott," as well as the others.

So, there is only one person left who can narrate this tale … the Pope himself. This was the story that truly showed that the author did her research, assembling little details of Leo XIII's interests and hobbies and putting them together into a rich, vibrant character. He is shown here as witty, humorous, and bright.

The byplay between Leo XIII and Holmes in this story was marvelously entertaining. The Pope is shown to be about as smart as Watson … maybe a little smarter. When Holmes first meets the Pontiff, and rattles off conclusions in his usual rapid-fire manner, the Pope takes a minute, and deduces how Holmes came to most of them. Not all, but most. Making Leo this smart only serves to make Holmes as impressive as he should be—yes, everyone else may be smart, but Holmes is smarter.

Also, having Leo XIII using Thomas Aquinas to talk with Holmes of reason and science … it works for me.

And the scene with Holmes, the Pope, and the gunman was fun, too.
"You know that I am preoccupied with this case of the two Coptic Patriarchs, which should come to a head to-day."
Sherlock Holmes, “The Retired Colourman”

"The Second Coptic Patriarch": The third and final tale is from yet another throwaway line of Arthur Conan Doyle's.

In this case, a former criminal comes to Holmes to solicit his services; the priest who converted him away from his life of crime is in jail for murder. A bookstore owner has been murdered with a book (“The Rule of Oliver Cromwell--weighty subject, no doubt,” Holmes quips), and the priest will only say that the victim was dead when he arrived. It's almost Sherlock Holmes meets Alfred Hitchcock ... I didn't know someone could do I Confess like this. It's a fun little read, and possibly the most traditional of the Holmes stories -- it's a good tale. From the perspective of the overall book, it's a perfect cap to the character arc.

Now, after reading Murder in the VaticanI think I'm going to go back and finish the Sherlock Holmes series -- and keep Murder in the Vatican handy, so I can read them all in chronological order.

Ann Lewis said that the book was "meant to be fun and lift your heart for a short time. I had a blast writing it, and I hope you have a blast reading it."

Mission accomplished.

Frankly, between Cumberbatch, RDJ, or Elementary, if you had to live with only one expansion of Holmes works, you buy Ann Lewis. Period.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Interview with "Murder in the Vatican" author Ann Margaret Lewis.

After yesterday's guest blog by the very generous author of Murder in the Vatican, Ann Margaret Lewis, you didn't think things could get better, did you? 

Well, they did. 

Today, Ann Margaret Lewis has willingly submitted to questions from the A Pius Man blog.

You will notice that some of the questions are numbered differently.  These are questions that came with the press packet that I believed readers of this blog might be interested in. 

The questions I came up with are plainly numbered, with no additional lettering ... you'll see what I mean.

So, if you just want to skip to those questions I asked, you can ....

Click here for the interview

We here at the A Pius Man blog would like to thank Madam Lewis for her time.  Murder in the Vatican can purchased through the publisher, It is also carried on and Amazon.  If readers have more questions, Ann can be reached by email via her web site:

Monday, April 4, 2011

Guest Blog: Murder in the Vatican Author Ann Margaret Lewis.

Welcome to the blog for my novel A Pius Man.

The Good News: No Snarky Theology this week.  After Communion, Lent, Sex, and Evolution, I'm taking a break.

The Even Better News: Today, we have a guest blog from Murder in the Vatican author Ann Margaret Lewis.

Since Murder in the Vatican deals with tales from the Sherlock Holmes canon that involve Holmes working with Leo XIII, I asked if she could blog about history in fiction, religious historical character in fiction, or "something like that".   As you can see, I was very helpful about picking out a topic for her.

The below was the result.

For the record, I have not doctored or altered her text in any way.  In fact, the only "edit" I made was that I asked that she insert some hyperlink footnotes to some of her statements.

And, here we go.

Friday, April 1, 2011

GOD H8TS JAPAN; Twitting with Phelps & Co.

Subtitle: Evil Religions 1: Shinto.

I mentioned a while back that I would consider possibly doing a series on Evil Religions, and that I would save this for later.  But I had to get this one off of my chest.  You see, if you've followed my twitter (Apiusmannovel) lately, you will have noticed that I've been having a battle of wits with the Phelps clan. 

Yes, Phelps, of Westboro.  I've mentioned them once ... or three times ....

However, my eyes have been open.  All of that stuff about Japan they've been saying?  It's been right.  God took Japan by the shoulders and shook it like a rag doll.


Because of Shinto.

Yes, Shinto is the most evil religion out there.

As Jim Butcher has noted, Shinto is a nature religion—everything in nature, Shinto says, has a spirit, a kami in Japanese. You respect the kami of a mountain, because it will crush you like a bug! With the kami of a pebble, it's a pebble, who cares?

But Shinto has spawned the worst evil ever known to mankind.

Worse than Imperial Japan.

Worse than the Bataan death march.

Because, in the 20th century, someone decided that they were going to take all of the worse elements of Shinto, and merge it with all of the most violent, horrific aspects of pro-Wrestling.

The result....


We have to get them all .... and kill them!

This proves it!

All religions are eeeeevvvvviiilllll, AND MUST BE DESTROYED!!!







Happy April Fool's Day, from A Pius Man.

Yeah, it was a little obvious, wasn't it?

A real Evil Religion blog series will start after Easter ... maybe.

Oh, for those of you following my duel with the Phelps Klan, I sent them my original article on phelps.  Their response:

  @APiusManNovel Too many boring words Zzzzzzzzzz @jabezphelps

When I suggested that I had been writing for grammar school, and I should have written for the inbred, their reply:

@APiusManNovel @margiejphelps Or maybe you could stop being #boring and get your own sign and you cry out against this nation.

So I sent them Ann Coulter's article on the Westboro Baptist Church. I figure the venom would penetrate no matter what.

I didn't want to give the game away, but the title of todays blog: Tweeting with Twits.
Do you think I used enough small words for them this time?

And, yes, having a battle of wits with the Phelps people is like they brought a knife to an artilery duel.