I’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.