Hugo Nominee: “From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled”

This is it: the final story. Read it here and comment below …
Rich Horton:

“From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled …” is fascinating SF about a human embassy to an alien city. The city is attacked, and everyone killed but one human, who escapes in the company of one of the aliens, wearing a spacesuit whose intelligence is based on his now-dead lover. The story deals with economics, with the biology and culture (and economics) of the aliens, and with the dangers of crossing an unfamiliar planet — it is intelligent, full of adventure, original, wry. This is really fine smart SF, and I particularly liked the economic slant to the whole thing. It’s not a breathtaking story, and I rank it behind most of this ballot, but it’s strong work.

Aliette de Bodard:

In “From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled …” by Michael Swanwick, Quivera is a diplomat sent from Europa to a planet peopled with insect aliens—and most particularly to Babel, greatest of the alien cities. When Babel falls to the hands of other cities, Quivera and the alien Uncle Vanya have to carry the library of Babel—the only record of that civilisation—to safety, without being caught by the soldiers hunting them.

This is one of the two standouts of the issue. Swanwick keeps a taut pace throughout the narration as his protagonists try to rally the safety of another alien city, and he succeeds in making the aliens a fundamentally different species for whom the reader can still grieve. The ending is unexpected and a bit hard to accept at first, but in retrospect, it is perfectly in keeping with both the story’s theme and the various characters involved

Tpi:

Story starts straight away in action. Human station on an alien planet has been attacked, and sole survivor, his AI survival suit with a personality modeled on his girlfriend killed on the attack and an alien must make a hasty escape. The start of the story is a bit confusing, as fairly little back-story is given. The story improves a bit towards the end, when it comes a bit easier to understand just what the hell is going on. I wonder if this story is a part of some series?

Matt Hilliard:

Out of all the nominees this one is the most traditionally structured story, which these days is somewhat rare for this length (of course it just barely slides in under the novellette wire length-wise). The world was interesting and the writing was effective. In fact, pretty much everything was great except the story actually being told, which wasn’t all that interesting to me. Unfortunately I exalt plot over other things so this left me feeling vaguely disgruntled, but it’s worth still worth reading.

Best SF:

The opening paragraph is a doozy – it describes the titular city on Europa, and does so quite beautifully across several sentences, and then kicks into a higher gear as the narrator describes herself : a simulation of one of the humans killed in the destruction of the city, and then the story starts with a “Here’s what it was like…”

It’s an opening that you could use over the first month of a Science Fiction Writing 101 course, and the rest of the story lives up to that standard. The narrator, Rosamund, is embedded in the hi-tech suit of one of the survivors of the meteorite strike – Carlos, her lover. She has to care for him using the suit’s advanced medical capabilities to get him to the point of being in a state to be brought back to consciousness, and we follow them as she guides him, and one of the strange, definitely non-human race on the planet. In order to escape the armed warriors of his race, Uncle Vanya has to undergo the unkindest cut of all – “The first thing we have to do is castrate you..” is the kind of line you can only come up with after some years in the business. Swanwick takes the unlikely trio through an alien world, effectively getting across the alieness of Uncle Vanya through his speech patterns, and cleverly intertwining the action with backstory.

And the ending is just terrific – with Rosamund left embedded in the spacesuit, hanging up in a locker. It’s a story that is simply top class.

Russ Allbery:

Swanwick stories are often at a bit of an angle to the rest of the genre, and this one is no exception. The plot, once you dig it out of the story, is full of classic SF tropes of alien contact, diplomacy, misunderstanding, and cross-cultural confusion. There are some fun branching syntax diagrams of alien speech patterns thrown in, which I greatly enjoyed probably because they’re similar to, but more subtlely done than, something I played with in my own writing. But the story is told from the perspective of a protective suit worn by the nominal protagonist and is full of weird diversions and fun descriptions of how the suit works. It also has an unexpected ending that fits its viewpoint. Without the charming perspective, it’s a rather forgettable story, but the perspective makes it worth reading. (7)

John DeNardo:

“From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled” by Michael Swanwick starts with a meteor strike on a human city on an alien planet of millipede-like creatures. The human named Quivera is guided to safety by his armor suit AI, which is based on Rosamund, the woman with whom he had an affair. Quivera’s trek through the dangerous steam jungles of the planet with “Uncle Vanya” (a native millie with low social status) leads to several interesting discussions about their two economies: the humans based on information, the millies’ based on trust. As much as I usually dislike economics in my sf, I have to say this didn’t bother me a bit, as it offered up a nice contrast to the two characters whose relationship begins as one of mutual utility, but evolved in the face of their predicament and adventures.

Das Ubernerd:

Swanwick’s story also uses an ancient SF theme: two seperate aliens that cannot trust each other are forced together by circumstances to join together in order to cross dangerous territory. In this case it’s a human from a libertarian distopia joining with an alien from a society that holds trust as the highest virtue. Together they’re on the run from the destruction of the alien’s city which was betrayed and they carry with them a library containing information beyond calculable value. What makes this story work is the ambiguousness of it; while both character’s hold their society’s values in great esteem they also recognize the limitations of it even before the story begins. So while it plays with the “learning about other cultures” theme there is an undercurrent that both already know those lessons. It also helps that the story has a unique viewpoint: a ghost AI that runs one a spacesuit. It’s a subtle story that has some interesting layers and I appreciated it for that.

Abigail Nussbaum:

Johnson’s story makes for an interesting counterpoint to Michael Swanwick’s “From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled,” which is good old fashioned Proper SF, set in the far future and on an alien planet, and featuring interplanetary intrigue, cataclysmic destruction, fights to the death, a mad scramble across hostile, alien terrain, and bug people. Swanwick is a pro at this stuff, and “Babel” finds him very much on top of his game. It’s exciting and well-done, cramming a hell of a lot of exposition, action and description into every single sentence until it draws a meticulously detailed portrait of two civilizations, their history, their cherished values, and the often fraught interactions between them. Still, given all the pyrotechnics and grand adventure involved in getting us to its end, “Babel” is somewhat underperforming.

Underpinning the story is a discussion of the economics of the two species–humans, represented by the diplomat Quivera, have an information-based economy, while that of the bug-like Gehennans, represented by the sole survivor of the recently destroyed Babel with whom Quivera flees its ruins, is based on trust–but Swanwick’s descriptions of of these systems are messy and difficult to follow, and I found myself unpersuaded by his conclusions. “Babel” ends with one half of its unlikley partnership sacrificing himself to save the other, and in order to safeguard the precious (in many different senses) cargo they are carrying, but it’s left to us to decide whether the survivor acted as an adventure hero would and honored his friend’s dying wish, or whether he cashed in on an unexpected windfall. Obviously Swanwick is trying to undermine the adventure plot, and remind us that in the real world, it’s cold hard numbers, profit and loss, that drive our decisions, but this feels like a petty sort of ‘gotcha!’ to the readers, whom Swanwick has worked hard to invest in the adventure aspect of his story only to snatch the rug out from under them at the last minute. I can’t help but compare “Babel” to last year’s Hugo-nominated novelette, “The Cambist and Lord Iron” by Daniel Abraham, which so much more intelligently and elegantly managed to fuse adventure and economics into a single, satisfying whole, without ever resorting to wagging its finger in the readers’ faces as Swanwick seems to be doing.

British Science Fiction and Fantasy: A Survey

Earlier this week, Liz posted the agenda for tomorrow’s BSFA/Science Fiction Foundation AGM event. Those of you who were paying attention may have had your curiosity piqued by this item:

10:05 BSFA Panel – Launch of the British Science Fiction and Fantasy Survey 2009: chaired by Niall Harrison, and featuring Nick Harkaway, Paul Kincaid, Juliet McKenna, Kit Whitfield, and Paul McAuley

This is entirely Mark Plummer’s fault. A little over a year ago, he posted me a copy of a fanzine he picked up at Orbital, produced for Mexicon III, a UK convention held so long ago (1989, to be precise) that information about it available online is limited to a few cryptic mentions in Ansible. Mark sent this ‘zine with a note:

Niall — I picked up the enclosed at Eastercon. I can’t remember if I’ve thrust a copy at you before [he hadn't] but in case not I thought it might interest you. Also, I note — with no ulterior motive — that next year will be twenty years since Paul’s survey, a convenient round number for a suitable fan to contemplate updating…
Mark

I didn’t actually read the note all that closely when it arrived, and I put the fanzine on the Pile Of Stuff To Read without looking too closely at it, either. Skip forward a couple of months, and I pick it off the pile as my “something else to read in case I finish my book” for a Eurostar journey.

It turned out to be no normal convention ‘zine. It’s about a hundred pages long, for starters, and consists almost entirely of the results of a survey of working British sf and fantasy writers, orchestrated and analyzed by Paul. The questions were, as the introduction put it, deliberately broad — Do you consider yourself a writer of science fiction and/or fantasy? Do you consider there is anything distinctively British about your work, and if so, what is it? And so forth — with the answers to each considered in separate chapters of the ‘zine.

As Mark quite accurately predicted, the idea of repeating this survey, twenty years on, appealed to me. And now I am doing just that. The results will be turned into a standalone publication for BSFA members towards the end of this year. The plan is to include the original survey, as well, since obviously a large part of the aim is to see what, if anything, has changed.

So that’s what the panel tomorrow morning is about. We’re going to be talking about, essentially, writerly identity — how writers perceive their work; how others perceive it; how that changes, or doesn’t, over time and from place to place. Do come along! Only the AGMs are limited to BSFA and SFF members; the rest of the day’s panels and talks are open to all.

In the meantime, I’ve been sending out surveys to every active British writer of sf or fantasy that I can think of, and find contact details for. In keeping with the spirit of the original survey, I’m casting my net wide, to get as wide a spectrum of opinion as possible. So I’m including writers published within the genre, and writers published by mainstream houses (or as YA); writers from other countries resident in the UK, as well as UK-born writers resident in other countries. Because there has to be a threshold somewhere, my arbitrary definition of “active” is “has published at least one sf book, or more than three sf stories in semiprozine-or-higher-level publications, this decade”. If you meet these criteria, would like to participate, and I haven’t contacted you, please email me! I have a list of publishers to write to this weekend — I keep thinking of more — but as I say, I want as many responses as possible, from as broad a range of writers as possible.

Hugo Nominee: “Evil Robot Monkey”

… aka the penultimate discussion. The story is here — and at 942 words, if you’ve got time to read this post, you’ve got time to read the story (is it the shortest piece ever to be nominated for a Hugo?).

Abigail Nussbaum:

Misunderstood robots also appear in Mary Robinette Kowal’s “Evil Robot Monkey,” which beats “Article of Faith” hands down in terms of prose and its ability to elicit emotion, but which also isn’t really a story at all but piece of one, a thousand-word vignette in which Sly, an uplifted monkey, rails against his handlers and their refusal to ackowledge his personhood. Kowal is a good enough writer that Sly’s plight is compelling, but that doesn’t change the fact that “Evil Robot Monkey” doesn’t do anything beyond establishing that plight, or that it does so in ways that are both trite and familiar. Once again, this premise, of artificial creations gaining a measure of personhood only to see it, and their desires and aspirations, denied, has been at the heart of a significant portion of classic science fiction, and in order to be worthy of a Hugo nomination I think a story ought to do more than simply tip its hat to these works and then stop. In a way, I find Kowal’s nomination even more baffling than Resnick’s. Hugo voters either like him or his particular brand of sentimental pap, but as far as I know Kowal hasn’t amassed that kind of following yet, and it’s hard to imagine a non-story like “Evil Robot Monkey” arousing enough passion to make it onto the ballot on its own rather flimsy merits.

Rich Horton:

At less than a thousand words this must be one of the shortest Hugo nominees ever. It’s about an uplifted chimp, doing pottery but forced to be on exhibition and thus driven to a rage by the taunts of schoolchildren. Quite simple, but convincing and bitterly moving.

Tpi:

Extremely short story about monkey working with potter’s wheel. Pretty good, but nothing special. I really don’t understand why this story was nominated over so many other good stories, I can’t find it special in any way. Nice little mood piece, but that’s it.

Ian Sales:

The title is a silly joke – the monkey in the story is a live Chimpanzee. A “smart” chimp, in fact. Who makes pots out of clay. The story is around four pages long in the mass market paperback Solaris anthology. It is mildly amusing and mostly inconsequential. It’s not even the best story in The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction 2.

Matt Hilliard:

An unusally short story that despite being short manages to have a bit more to say than the other nominated monkey story. Like basically any story of this length, it has one thing to say. It does a pretty good job saying it. I don’t think that’s really award-worthy, though.

John DeNardo:

Mary Robinette Kowal’s “Evil Robot Monkey” (originally reviewed in The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume 2 edited by George Mann) is an affecting snapshot in the life of a chimp with an implant in his head that increases his intelligence. Unfortunately for him, that lands him in the “hellish limbo” of being “too smart to be with other chimps, but too much of an animal to be with humans.” He becomes the subject of ridicule of children in what is presumably a school where he spends his time behind a pottery wheel. The interesting premise is delicately overlaid with emotion by having a single human show the chimp some compassion, resulting in a quick-and-dirty sf short story that is both charming and memorable.

Charlie Jane Anders:

…the story is awesomely depressing. It’s a great examination of art and the creative process, and what it feels like to be an artist who’s looked at merely as a curiosity or as a momentary amusement for child barbarians. And art as a containment device for impotent rage.

Joe Sherry:

Oh, this is a beautiful and heartbreaking story. In fewer than 1000 words Mary Robinette Kowal just killed me. The opening paragraphs paints a picture of a monkey in a pen trying to do nothing more than make pottery but because Sly is a monkey, people think it is okay to hit the glass walls of his pen. The pottery brings the monkey peace. The other aspect of the story that wrecks me is the conversation between Sly and Vern, the handler, about what happened and why and what the consequences are.

Damn, “Evil Robot Monkey” is good. It’s so short, but the story is exactly as long as it needs to be. The story lingers.

So: lingering, or forgettable? Inconsequential, or accomplished?

London Meeting: Ian Whates

The guest at tonight’s BSFA London Meeting is Ian Whates, writer and (as Newcon press) editor of various anthologies, including Celebration for the BSFA last year. He will be interviewed by Simon Gilmartin.

As usual, the interview will start at 7pm, though there will be people in the bar from 6-ish; the meeting is free, and open to any and all, though there will be a raffle (with sf books as prizes).

The venue is the upstairs room of The Antelope, 22 Eaton Terrace, London, SW1W 8EZ. The closest tube station is Sloane Square, and a map is here.

Tracking

The David Gemmell Legend Award:

The DGLA will be presented for the very first time in 2009 for the best Fantasy novel of 2008. The award will be given to a work written in the ‘spirit’ of the late, great David Gemmell, a true Master of Heroic Fantasy.

The shortlist:

ABERCROMBIE, Joe – Last Argument of Kings (Gollancz/Pyr)
MARILLIER, Juliet – Heir to Sevenwaters (Tor UK)
SANDERSON, Brandon – The Hero of Ages (Tor US)
SAPKOWSKI, Andrzej – Blood of Elves (Gollancz)
WEEKS, Brent – The Way of Shadows (Orbit)

The winner:

Andrezj Sapkowski wins the Gemmell for Blood of Elves.

The stats:

Some stats: 10,963 votes overall, from 71 countries… Winning book, Sapkowski’s ‘Blood of Elves’ polled 2,309 VALIDATED votes

The ceremony, one:

The event got underway with fantasy author (and friend of the late David Gemmell) James Barclay coming out on stage and booming out Druss’ speech to the men before the battle at Dros Delnoch in Legend in an impressive and theatrical manner. Deborah J. Miller and Stan Nicholls were the main comperes for the evening and did a sterling job. Stan’s wife came out to give an excellent tribute to David Gemmell, and then Mr. Barclay returned for the charity auction. Seeing people having to sit on their hands for fear of spending too much money was quite amusing, with the signed, mint-condition first edition of Legend (which went for £500) being the highlight of the evening. The featured charity, Médecins Sans Frontières, raised quite a lot of money on the night, which was great.

The ceremony, two:

Mark and I had the great pleasure of helping out at last night’s David Gemmell Legend Awards. It was an amazing evening and it was lovely seeing fans, publishers, authors, agents and the press turn out for the inaugural event.

The winner of the overall prize was Andrzej Sapkowski – author Blood of Elves. Personally I’ve not read it – yet – but I am sure I will get around to it!

Below are some snaps we took whilst at the event, helping out and fangeeking.

Reaction:

This makes me rather happy, as out of the finalists, his Geralt novel, Blood of the Elves, is the only one that I liked without reservations. Nice timing on learning about this, as I received my copy of his second series, the Hussite Wars trilogy-opening Narrenturm, yesterday afternoon. While it’ll have to be a while before I review it (I have another Spanish-language book I’m reading and reviewing, as well as me being in the midst of translating a recent interview with that second author), I do plan on reading it this weekend and early next week.

But still, it’s good to know that this work of “heroic” fantasy was chosen to be the winner. I guess the millions in Europe and the thousands in the Anglo-American sphere have spoken, huh?

The Guardian:

“Our winning author is already a huge star in Europe and winning the award will hopefully ensure new readers experience his work in the excellent English translation from Gollancz,” said Deborah J Miller, award administrator and author of the Last Clansman and Swarmthief series. “Genre fantasy is often dismissed as being simply gung-ho or macho, as people outside genre circles tend to imagine it’s all about epic battles, weapons and warriors – in fact, it is all of those things and so much more. Contemporary fantasy fiction is about far more than escape to other realities. Freed of the constraints and preconceptions of other kinds of fiction, it holds up a mirror to reflect on this world and time through the prism of vivid characters and enthralling drama that engage the imagination like no other genre.”

Damien G Walter:

I would be the first to agree that there are many examples of contemporary fantasy that hold up a mirror to our world. Unfortunately the Gemmell shortlist are not among them. Thats not a condemnation of the books. They are good, exciting ‘F’antasy of the epic and heroic kind. I like Joe Abercrombie’s series particularly for its slightly knowing attitude to its subject matter and sense of humour. But these are not books of great reflection on the world as it is. And they are definitely not books to win over non-genre readers to the cause, as they will tend to confirm rather than dispell most of the prejudcies those readers hold.

Sam Jordison:

But even SF fans have it easy compared to followers of fantasy. These are the people Red Dwarf fans sneer at for being nerdy. They are the zit-ridden little brothers of the SF geeks, whose even-less-healthy obsessions include trolls, giving Anglo-Saxon names to phallic weapons, and maidens with magical powers.
[...]
But this list also shows some of fantasy’s strengths. The presence of Abercrombie and his witty send-up of the genre proves it might not be as po-faced as many suppose. Meanwhile, its international composition (with one New Zealander, one Brit, two Americans and one Pole) gives some idea of fantasy’s cross-cultural appeal – as does the fact that the impressive 10,963 people who voted on the shortlist did so from 74 different countries.

Mark Charan Newton:

So where is the wider analysis of the Gemmell Award books? Why hasn’t anyone cranked-open these bad boys (and girls – we are gender neutral here!) to open up a wider discussion on the merits of the books against each other, a real show-down to get people talking about what’s in the books, rather than talking about the people holding them?

I love reading fantasy fiction and all that it can offer, from the fast entertainment to the deep reflection, the challenging content. That sensawonder. But I think we can get caught up in the aesthetics of fantasy as a genre, rather than the content of the individual books. We’re asked to celebrate all that’s good about fantasy – and I’m totally for that – and I think the forums and blogs celebrate the genre well. The community throngs.

But how can we persuade those who look down upon us to treat fantasy literature with more respect if we’re not respectfully discussing these great books in detail ourselves?

BSFA/SFF AGM day

As previously announced, this Saturday is the BSFA/SF Foundation joint AGM day, featuring talks, panels, and the AGMs for both organisations. The guests are Paul Kincaid for the SFF, and Nick Harkaway for the BSFA. Attendance is free, and the AGMs are conveniently positioned to give non-members a long lunch break. The AGM is once again at Conway Hall, and all events will take place in the small hall on the ground floor.

Timetable:
10:00 SFF speaker Welcome
10:05 BSFA Panel – Launch of the British Science Fiction and Fantasy Survey 2009: chaired by Niall Harrison, and featuring Nick Harkaway, Paul Kincaid, Juliet McKenna, Kit Whitfield, and Paul McAuley
11:00 SFF Guest – Paul Kincaid
12:00 BSFA AGM
12:30 Lunch break
13:30 SFF AGM
14:00 BSFA Guest – Nick Harkaway
15:00 SFF Closing Panel – tba
16:00 BSFA speaker Closes

Posted in BSFA. 4 Comments »

Hugo Nominee: “Article of Faith”

We weren’t keen on the last Mike Resnick story we discussed. Will this one be any better?
Lois Tilton:

Reverend Morris gets a new janitorial robot for his church, but this one is too logical; it takes the premise of religion to conclusions that the reverend is not prepared to accept.

“I wish to become a member of your church.”
“But you’re a robot!” I blurted.
“If God is the God of all things, then is He not also the God of robots?” said Jackson.

But faith is not a matter of logic, as Reverend Morris should have known.

This is a tragic tale that some readers might consider a bit sentimental, yet it asks some very apt and pointed questions about religion. I find the unanimous reaction of the congregation to the presence of a robot to be a bit extreme–or rather, a matter for which the setting has not prepared me. We see nothing of the place of robots in the society outside the church; most of the story is a dialogue between Morris and his robot.

Abigail Nussbaum:

We begin our odyssey with perennial Hugo nominee Mike Resnick. The narrator of “Article of Faith” is a priest who at the beginning of the story takes ownership of a new cleaning robot for his church, and, on a rather poorly explained lark, starts giving it religious instruction. When the robot asks to participate in church services the priest, and later his congregation, react with horror and confusion. The premise of “Article of Faith” begs comparison with a whole raft of Asimov robot shorts of a roughly similar ilk, and Resnick’s construction of the robot character–anthropomorphic, human-named, soft-spoken, deferential but insistent on puzzling out the logical inconsistencies in the narrator’s theology–is also heavily reminiscent of Asimov’s robots. Which means that on top of failing in the traditional Resnick ways–plodding prose, obvious and predictable plot, shameless and blatant manipulation–“Article of Faith” fails by falling so very short of Asimov’s standards.

Asimov was no great stylist, and his characters were paper-thin, but his robot stories had a lightness to them, an effervescent wit and gentle humor that are completely absent from Resnick’s clomping, heavy-handed immitation of him. Add to this a simplistic and borderline reactionary treatment of religion–when arranging the wedding of a pregnant parishioner, the narrator muses that “it’s not my job to judge them, only to help and comfort them,” which sounds plenty judgmental to me; when the robot questions why services are held on Sundays instead of Tuesdays, the narrator’s “first inclination was to say Force of habit, but that would negate everything I had done in my life,” which, oh God, I don’t even know where to start; then, of course, there’s the blatantly telegraphed ‘forgive them for they know not what they do’ (no, really, he uses the actual quote) ending. There’s been a discussion of Resnick’s nominated novelette “Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders” at Torque Control, during which there’s been some attempt to pin down just what it is that makes him such a bad writer. A lot of good suggestions have been made, but to my mind his greatest failing is and has always been the one encapsulated by “Article of Faith”–his ability to take a subject that underpins some of science fiction’s seminal works, write his own spin on it which is neither innovative nor unusual nor particularly good, and send it out into the world without a hint of embarrassment or self-awareness.

Matt Hilliard:

It wouldn’t be a Hugo ballot without a horrendous short story, and here it is. For the life of me I can’t imagine how this could have been considered award-worthy. I think there need to be more SF stories that seriously examine religion rather than merely dismiss it, but this…this gives the religious SF story a bad name.

Rich Horton:

This story has a quite familiar plot. It’s told by a minister who has a robot that cleans his church. The robot shows some curiousity about religion, and the minister tries out his sermons on the robot. Naturally, the robot decides he has a soul, and wants to discuss religion — and he sees flaws in his pastor’s arguments, too. This really is a very 50s sort of idea, and the problem is, it’s not explored in an very original way. And indeed, I found the resolution inadequately set up, and quite unsatisfying. For all that we have seen plenty of “robot gets religion” stories before (including such famous works as the SF Hall of Fame story “The Quest for Saint Aquin” by Anthony Boucher, and also Robert Silverberg’s “Good News from the Vatican”) there’s no reason that the theme couldn’t still be used for a good story. And as far as it goes Resnick’s treatment isn’t awful, just unfinished, and too routine. So while I can see the story being published and all, I am rather puzzled by the Hugo nomination.

Ian Sales:

I thought this was appalling: dated, dull, and wholly predictable. A new robot joins the staff of a small-town church and ends up wanting to worship. Cue arguments on whether robots have souls. Yawn. And who writes stories featuring these sorts of silly pulp sf robots – because, let’s face it, if the robot is a stand-in for a foreigner, i.e., not-one-of-us, then why not actually use a foreigner and give the story more impact?

Tpi:

A robot working for a priest in a small congregation gets taste of religion. Another well written, pretty typical Mike Resnick story. The allegories a more that a bit heavy-handed, and there are some major problems with logic. A robot which is supposed to be absolutely logical (as stated in the story) doesn’t find anything contradictory or illogical in the bible? And falls for religion?

Joe Blaylock:

“Article of Faith” isn’t the most deeply moving Resnick story I’ve ever read or heard. That would probably have to be “Down Memory Lane”, a 2006 Hugo nominee. Still, this story struck a nerve. I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about the Bodhisattva’s Vow to aid all sentient beings. It sounds good, but it begs the question: What is a sentient being? Despite its trivialization as a trope of popular television series, films, and Hugo Award-winning short fiction, this moral conundrum has real consequences.

For example, it’s generally considered poor form to eat ones’ neighbors. So how do you decide what you can ethically eat? One could take the Genesis 9: 2-4 approach, and say, “Anything slower than me is food. Except for a few restrictions.” If one really wants to save all sentient beings, though, this might seem awfully selfish. Do you save them by eating them? I guess that depends on what you grok their purpose to be.

Of course, deciding who and what counts as having a soul (in popular parlance) doesn’t begin nor end with deciding what to eat. It informs every facet of how we choose to relate to the rest of the world. While Resnick’s written stronger stories, I think that he indirectly (accidentally?) captured this in “Article of Faith”. The fate of the robot, the minister, and even of the town, all seem intertwined with what the people choose to accept. To me, the story felt almost like an environmental piece.

But perhaps I’m reading into it over much.

Scott D. Danielson:

Mike Resnick has a way of revealing truths about ourselves that are often uncomfortable. That they are truths and that he can present them so well in fiction is why I like his writing so much. The Kirinyaga series of stories, “The 49 Antarean Dynasties”, and “Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge” are three of my favorite Resnick stories. From the latest issue of Baen’s Universe, Resnick offers another story that left me shaking my head at the truth of it.

Janice Clark:

Can a robot have a soul? Is it capable of worship? Should it be allowed to worship with people? In “Article of Faith” by Mike Resnick, Reverend Edward Morris is faced with those questions when Jackson, his church cleaning and maintenance robot, begins studying religion.

It all starts innocently enough. Rev. Morris’s old maintenance robot has just been replaced by a new one, whose programming apparently makes him the ideal servant: courteous, attentive, and anxious to please. Bit by bit, Rev. Morris answers Jackson’s questions regarding religious practices, and eventually invites the robot to critique his sermons, pointing out obvious errors or logical inconsistencies. To facilitate this process, he has Jackson read the Bible. Shocked when Jackson expresses a desire to join the church, Rev. Morris tries unsuccessfully to convince Jackson that robots are soulless machines, different from humans. The pastor, a thoughtful and compassionate man, gradually comes to respect Jackson’s well-reasoned arguments:

“You can be switched off,” I pointed out. “Ask any roboticist.”
“So can you,” replied Jackson. “Ask any doctor. Or any marksman.”

There’s the meat of the story: who gets to decide who or what is acceptable to God? Unfortunately for Jackson, Rev. Morris’s parishioners are far less tolerant than their spiritual leader.

Aliette de Bodard:

In “An Article of Faith” by Mike Resnick, Reverend Edward Morris is faced with a problem: Jackson, the robot in charge of keeping the church clean, has decided that it believes in God and wants to be a member of his congregation.

Though this is well written and reads smoothly, the questions of faith and prejudice it addresses are not new (addressed, for instance, by Jack McDevitt in “Gus” or Isaac Asimov in “The Bicentennial Man”). In fact, they felt quite dated and didn’t offer a fresh enough take on the subject to be memorable.

John DeNardo:

“Article of Faith” concerns a subservient robot that works in a church and begins to question the pastor about religion. I’ve heard lots of griping about this story but I’m not exactly sure why. The worst that could be said about is that the “robot wants to be human” theme has been done numerous times before — even by Resnick himself in his wonderful story “The Big Guy” – but even that assessment depends on one’s personal reading history. As it is, Resnick’s dependable easygoing style delivers a story that doesn’t disappoint.

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