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.

The review is here

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."

"Ann?"

"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:

A...
N...
T...
I..

"Anti?"

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

V...
E...
N...
O...
M

"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?"
"Certainly."
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.
"Yes."
"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?"
"Yes."
"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.”

1 comment:

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