Other Worlds, Other Gods, edited by Mayo Mohs

Other Worlds, Other GodsI’m a sucker for speculative fiction anthologies, especially these themed editions from the sixties and seventies. There’s something aesthetically vibrant about old sci-fi paperbacks, with their weirder-than-thou cover art depicting God knows what strangeness in an attempt to grab the wandering eyes of potential readers.

I found this tattered copy hiding somewhere in the middle of a big stack of mass market SF in the local warehouse of an online bookseller. This was a few years ago, back when they used to let you wander around their warehouse; they’ve since closed it up and only sell online, which if you ask me, is a real loss. I spent a lot of hours and dollars in that place back then, based only on a weird cover that I had to check out. A title and an ISBN in a list on a website just doesn’t compare to those stacks of musty books.

Other Worlds, Other Gods was published in the early seventies, and contains stories ranging from the fifties to the sixties, all religiously themed. A few of these were originally commissioned and published by the late Harlan Ellison® in the first of his Dangerous Visions anthologies.

There are only two or three terrific stories, a few decent ones, and a few that weren’t particularly good but at least were interesting conceptually, with prose that left a little to be desired. All of the stories however, are worth reading and finishing, and the book itself, long since out of print, is worth tracking down for the terrific seventies SF artwork. I greatly enjoyed the collection and ended up finishing it in a few sittings.

The Cunning of The beast, by Nelson Bond: 4/5
Fun concept, great execution. I would’ve liked a little more info on these non-corporeal beings that authored man though.

A Cross of Centuries, by Henry Kuttner: 3/5
Good/Evil internal struggle. A little formulaic, relied too heavily on a reveal toward the end that was entirely predictable. Posed some nice philosophical questions though: Does the end justify the means? What power to facilitate change toward peace does a peaceful person really have?

Soul Mate, by Lee Sutton: 4/5
I liked this concept a lot, and disliked the protagonist with a passion. I am fairly sure that his fevered misogyny was written as a negative character trait, and not so much as the author’s voice. You never know with some of this old sci-fi. Different times, etc…

The Word to Space, by Winston P. Sanders: 3/5
The idea of contacting an alien race and having their sole pursuit be proselytization is such a hilariously juicy concept. The exposition was terribly clunky, and the resolution seemed a bit idealistic (breaking up a theocracy simply by illustrating its flaws and logical problems). In a perfect world, etc, but that’s not how people behave in reality. Having this suggestion come from Catholicism of all sources, was a little more irony than I could accept.

Prometheus, by Philip Jose Farmer: 3/5
This is the longest story in the collection. A planet where birds seem to be the dominant species, nearly capable of audible speech. A monk is sent to observe their development and begins to interfere. I think that this would work a little better as a full novel, or even a series of novels. The birds progressed much too quickly to be believable. The ethical and theological concerns this monk has over the group that is eventually following his lead, is the core of the story, and was handled decently.

The Nine Billion Names of God, by Arthur C. Clarke: 2/5
A cautionary tale of sorts. The lesson? Don’t look down on those who seem less intelligent than yourself. Cliche story, but Clarke’s writing style is worth a couple stars on it’s own. I’ve seen this story get high marks from a lot of SF aficionados, and my dislike may be a case of having read it much too late in my life.

The Vitanuls, by John Brunner: 5/5
Such an amazing short story. Stop what you’re doing now and track it down.

Judas, by John Brunner: 5/5
Okay, I have to read more John Brunner. This story was incredible and exactly the type of thing I was looking for from this book. Easily my favorite of them all.

The Quest for Saint Aquin, by Anthony Boucher: 4/5
A catholic priest and a robot donkey (“robass” really? Couldn’t think of a better name for it?) ride in search of a miracle in a future where Christians are a persecuted minority. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Actually, it was quite good.

Balaam, by Anthony Boucher: 2/5
The only thing that really saves this story for me was the multisided POVs. Again, Boucher found a way to work in a “Mule” character, this time on Mars.

Evensong, by Lester del Rey: 4/5
A desperate God on the run from Man’s vengeance. The idea of man slowly becoming more and more powerful, until God fears Man is really intriguing. Nice prose.

Shall The Dust Praise Thee?, by Damon Knight: 3/5
God’s vengeance may have been a little bit more than he bargained for. It seems that man could only take so much torment. This could’ve been executed a lot better, but I liked the concept.

Christus Apollo, by Ray Bradbury: 3/5
Poetic speculations into a slightly differing Christ mythology on other worlds.

Pantsuit Nation, edited by Libby Chamberlain

Pantsuit NationThese stories and photos are powerful. They are a more accurate representation of American greatness than any idealized non-existent past that some are eager to return to. America is already great, and these people prove it.

The first half of the book contains pre-election writing, and I can’t help but feel a sense of dread and impotent omniscience reading this along with the knowledge of what ended up happening on election day, and the continual trainwreck that has followed since then. The stories are hopeful and heartbreaking. It’s wonderful to see so many different kinds of people coming together in an attempt to stop a disaster. Up until about 8pm that night, it seemed to be a sure thing that Clinton would be the next President of the United States, and against all odds (and the majority of Americans’ votes) Donald Trump won.

The day after the election was terrible. I live in a small university town that is generally a pocket of reason in an otherwise notoriously under-informed backwater state. Close to my work there’s a small coffee shop that I walk to when I need to stretch my legs a bit. I usually get coffee and a bagel a couple times a week, and it’s always a bustling, vibrant place. Cheery faces with kind, hopeful demeanors. Youthful, artistic energy. That early November morning everyone was still in a state of shock, thousand yard stares on their faces, envisioning what kind of future we might have now that the worst possible candidate that has ever existed, was elected to the office of President of the United States by a minority of the voting public. There was a sense of hopelessness in everyone I saw. I think we all felt like we were just going through the motions of our lives, unsure what we were doing. No one thought he could win, the whole thing was an absurd joke, until it wasn’t. Now, everyone was on edge, and in the midst of an existential crisis.

Libby ChamberlainThe second half of the book is post election, and these events are still very fresh in my mind. It’s comprised of reactions to the news that our votes didn’t matter this year, and yes, Americans really are misinformed enough that almost 46% of them thought a reality television character was the best option for Commander in Chief. And for some reason that was enough to elect him to office. This is where the stories became the most emotionally powerful for me. People pull together, we regroup, we redouble, we protest in large and small ways, and we keep working toward the type of future that we want. It’s good stuff, and highly motivating.

As I’m writing this, Robert Mueller and his team are investigating  the Russian interference in our 2016 election, and it’s starting to look like Donald Trump’s presidency might be one of the shortest in the history of the United States. I am very eager to see this monomaniacal bond villain caricature’s tenure come to a quick and decisive end. Although, his line of succession is equally terrifying. Hopefully they’re all tied tightly into his many crimes, and will go down together, RICO style. It’s a beautiful dream, but I realize it’s most likely just a dream. In reality, powerful people often get away with it.

This is a difficult book for me to review because it keeps forcing me to imagine how things could’ve been different in the 2016 election. As they say, Hindsight is 20/20, and looking back with some perspective, I don’t think Clinton was the right candidate to defeat a monster like Trump. I’m a humanist, feminist, atheist and generally liberal leaning dude, but I pay enough attention to history to never call myself a Democrat or a Republican. I know how quickly these divisions can mutate into something they were never meant to be. Just look at the neo-conservative, alt-right takeover of the Republican party in the last ten years. I feel terrible for legitimate conservatives who have no representation in our government anymore. The GOP has completely lost its mind, and I fear that the DNC may be in the midst of a similar problem.

Personally, I’ve never been an avid fan of Hillary Clinton. I think her statements against the LGBTQ+ community in the past have been appalling (something she’s very recently started to change, thankfully). But she was undeniably the much, much better candidate of the two options that were presented to us last year, and I voted for her wholeheartedly.

I’m still very disturbed by both the DNC and the GOP’s behavior in the primary elections. The best candidates from each camp did not make it to the general election; the most incendiary ones did. The ones that banks and plutocrats knew they could leverage for their own benefit. I understand how necessary representation is, and I genuinely hope our next President is a woman. Girls and women everywhere seeing themselves reflected in such a powerful position, would carry an unknowable importance and a far reaching, generational effect. If Clinton had won, I would’ve been extremely pleased, but there would always be a sliver of disappointment that it wasn’t someone even better. I can only hope that the DNC stops playing the games they’ve been playing and realizes the only way forward is to let the people be heard with a candidate that is genuinely incorruptible and won’t cower to money, or dogma’s influence. That is, if such a candidate is allowed to exist within the realm of the established party in 2020.

Whoever that ends up being, whatever their gender, sexuality, race, religion, I do not care. I’ll support THAT candidate wholeheartedly. And in the meantime? Midterm elections are the most important thing we can put our energy into right now. We need better congressional and senatorial representation. I want a president who represents the people of this country, and I can’t accept that Donald Trump is an accurate representation of us.