Excerpt from “The Chaplain’s Assistant”

Today’s excerpt is from my short story “The Chaplain’s Assistant.” This story first appeared in the September 2011 issue of Analog magazine, and is currently available in my collection of award-nominated and award-winning science fiction: Lights in the Deep. “The Chaplain’s Assistant” also forms the backbone (in concert with its sequel, the Hugo award nominated novella “The Chaplain’s Legacy”) for my forthcoming novel, The Chaplain’s War, from Baen Books.

• • •

I was putting fresh oil into clay lamps at the altar when the mantis glided into my foyer. The creature stopped for a moment, his antennae dancing in the air, sensing the few parishioners who sat on my roughly-hewn stone pews. I hadn’t seen a mantis in a long time—the aliens didn’t bother with humans much, now that we were shut safely behind their Wall. Like all the rest of his kind, this mantis’s lower thorax was submerged into the biomechanical “saddle” of his floating mobility disc. Only, this one’s disc didn’t appear to have any apertures for weapons—a true rarity on Purgatory.

Every human head in the building turned towards the visitor, each set of human eyes smoldering with a familiar, tired hate.

“I would speak to the Holy Man,” said the mantis through the speaker box on its disc. Its fearsome, segmented beak had not moved. The disc and all the machines within it were controlled directly by the alien’s brain.

When nobody got up to leave, the mantis began floating up my chapel’s central aisle, the mantis’s disc making a gentle humming sound. “Alone,” said the visitor, his vocoded voice approximating a commanding human tone.

Heads and eyes turned to me. I looked at the mantis, considered my options, then bowed to my flock, who reluctantly began to leave—each worshipper collecting handfuls of beads, crosses, stars, serviceman’s bibles, and various other religious items. They exited without saying a word. What else could they do? The mantes ruled Purgatory as surely as Lucifer ruled Hell.

I waited at the altar.

“You are the religious officer?” said the mantis.

“The Chaplain is dead. I am—was—his assistant.”

“We must speak, you and I.”

Again, I noted the mantis’s lack of armament.

“What can I do for you?” I said.

“I wish to understand this entity you call God.”

I stared at the alien, not quite sure if I should take him seriously.

“To understand God,” I said slowly, “is a skill that requires ongoing mastery.”

“Which is why the other humans come here, to this structure. To learn from you.”

I blushed slightly. In the year since I’d built the chapel—some two years after our failed invasion and subsequent capture—I’d not given so much as a single sermon. Preaching wasn’t my thing. I built the chapel because the Chaplain told me to before he died, and because it seemed obvious that many humans on Purgatory—men and women who had landed here, fought, been stranded and eventually imprisoned—needed it. With the fleets from Sol departed, and our homes many thousands of light-years away, there wasn’t much left for some of us to turn to—except Him.

“I don’t teach,” I said, measuring my words against the quiet fear in my heart, “but I do provide a space for those who come to listen.”
“You are being deliberately cryptic,” the mantis accused.

“I mean no offense,” I continued, hating the servile tinge in my own voice as I spoke to the beast, “it’s just that I was never trained as an instructor of worship. Like I said when you asked, I am only the assistant.”

“Then what do the humans here listen to, precisely?”

“The spirit,” I said.

The mantis’s beak yawned wide, its serrated tractor teeth vibrating with visible annoyance. I stared into that mouth of death—remembering how many troops had been slaughtered in jaws like those—and felt myself go cold. The Chaplain had often called the mantes soulless. At the time—before the landing—I’d thought he was speaking metaphorically. But looking at the monster in front of me I remembered the Chaplain’s declaration, and found it apt.

“Spirit,” said the mantis. “Twice before has my kind encountered this perplexing concept.”

“Oh?” I said.

“Two other sapients, one of them avian and the other amphibian.”

Other aliens . . . besides the mantes? “And what could they tell you about God?”

“Gods,” my visitor corrected me. “We destroyed both species before we could collect much data on their beliefs.”

“Destroyed,” I said, hoping the alien’s ears couldn’t detect the shaking dread in my voice.

“Yes. Hundreds of your years ago, during the Great Nest’s Third Expansion into the galaxy. We thought ourselves alone, then. We had no experience with alternative intelligence. The homeworld of the avians and the homeworld of the amphibians were pleasing to the Patriarchal Quorum, so those worlds were annexed, cleansed of competitive life forms, and have since become major population centers for my people.”

I took in this information as best as I could, unsure if any human ears had ever heard anything like it. I thought of the Military Intelligence guys—all dead—who would have given their years’ pay to gain the kind of information I had just gained, standing here in the drafty, ramshackle confines of my makeshift church.

I experienced a sudden leap of intuition.

“You’re not a soldier,” I said.

The mantis’s beak snapped shut.

“Certainly not.”

“What are you then, a scientist?”

The mantis seemed to contemplate this word—however it had translated for the alien’s mind—and he waved a spiked forelimb in my direction.

“The best human term is professor. I research and I teach.”

“I see,” I said, suddenly fascinated to be meeting the first mantis I’d ever seen who was not, explicitly, trained to kill. “So you’re here to research human religion.”

“Not just human religion,” said the mantis, hovering closer. “I want to know about this . . . this spirit that you speak of. Is it God?”

“I guess so, but also kind of not. The spirit is . . . what you feel inside you when you know God is paying attention.”

It was a clumsy explanation, one the Chaplain would have—no doubt—chastised me for. I’d never been much good at putting these kinds of concepts into words that helped me understand, much less helped other people understand too. And trying to explain God and the spirit to this insect felt a lot like explaining the beauty of orchestral music to a lawnmower.

The professor’s two serrated forelimbs stroked the front of his disc thoughtfully.

“What do the mantes believe?” I asked.

The professor’s forelimbs froze. “Nothing,” he said.

“Nothing?”

“We detect neither a spirit nor a God,” said the professor, who made a second jaw-gaped show of annoyance. “The avians and the amphibians, they each built palaces to their Gods. Whole continents and oceans mobilized in warfare, to determine which God was superior. Before we came and wiped them all out, down to the last chick and tadpole. Now, their flying Gods and their swimming Gods are recorded in the Quorum Archive, and I am left to wander here—to this desert of a planet—to quiz you, who are not even trained to give me the answers I seek.”

The professor’s body language showed that his annoyance verged on anger, and I felt myself pressing my calves and the backs of my thighs into the altar, ready for the lightning blow that would sever a carotid or split my stomach open. I’d seen so many die that way, their attackers reveling in the carnage. However technologically advanced the mantes were, they still retained a degree of predatory-hindbrain joy while engaged in combat.
Noticing my alarm, the professor floated backwards half a meter.

“Forgive me,” said the alien. “I came here today seeking answers from what I had hoped would be a somewhat reliable source. It is not your fault that the eldest of the Quorum destroy things before they can learn from them. My time with you is finite, and I am impatient to learn as much as possible before the end.”
“You have to leave . . . ?” I said, half-questioning.

The professor didn’t say anything for several seconds, letting the silence speak for him. My shoulders and back caved, if only a little.
“How many of the rest of us will die?” I asked, swallowing hard.

“All,” said the professor.

“All?” I said, at once sure of the answer, but still needing to ask again anyway.

“Yes, all,” said the professor. “When I got word that the Quorum had ordered this colony cleansed of competitive life forms—prior to the dispatching of the Fourth Expansion towards your other worlds—I knew that I had a very narrow window. I must study this faith that inhabits you humans. Before it is too late.”

“We’re no threat to you now,” I heard myself say with hollow shock, “all of us on Purgatory, we’ve all been disarmed and you’ve made it plain that we can’t hurt you. The Wall sees to that.”

“I will return tomorrow, to study your other visitors in their worship,” said the alien as his disc spun on its vertical axis, and he began to hover towards the exit.

“We’re not a threat—!”

But my shouting was for naught. The professor was gone.

• • •

You can read the rest of this story in the pages of:

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About Brad R. Torgersen

Science Fiction & Fantasy Author - Hugo, Nebula, and Campbell award nominee
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9 Responses to Excerpt from “The Chaplain’s Assistant”

  1. disperser says:

    Interesting . . . it occurs to me that, much like Mal, the survivors might not so much seek solace in the idea of a god as to question if there was, indeed, a god.

    I presume much from such a s small excerpt, but given that the fundamentals alluded to are those of western religions, one would have to start questioning one’s teaching when confronted with not only alien, but superior species. It kind of flies in the face of the universe being created for humans to do with as they will.

    That said, the premise is interesting, and I’ll keep the book in mind (my current reading stack has grown to the point that I’m not adding to it until I get it back down to a more manageable size).

  2. disperser says:

    Just to give you an idea, I’m working on the November 2007 issue of Analog (so I will eventually hit your story). Now that I am retired, I hope to make short work of all the issues, as well as catch up with a number of books I bought and have yet to read.

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  4. Mudz says:

    @ disperser

    I agree the premise is interesting, and so is the argument you bring up, but I can’t sympathise with what I -think- is your conclusion, if you’re arguing that they’d lose faith and become atheists. (If you just meant they would have to re-examine and modify certain beliefs they held, then of course.)

    That’s the sort of thing that appeals to a Joss Whedon level of atheism (I assume you’re referring to ‘Firefly’), but it’s fairly ludicrous in any realistic story, because religion is historically been the source of comfort in these kinds of situations exactly as described. Oppression has the effect of strengthening religious unity, not destroying it.

    And I imagine that anyone who succumbed to despair, would be the sort to lie around in the street and die off. So… natural selection of the faithful?

    Christians ran into precisely these kinds of questions when discovering new continents and lands, and arguing about the possibility of people in the antipodes. There was an explorer, can’t remember which one, who was even writing in his journal about the theological ramifications of the ‘alien peoples’ he was encountering who never heard the word of Christ, and it sounded much the same.

    I don’t get the sense that the edifice of Christianity was in any sense damaged by it.

    I personally would be astonished to discover any atheist or even non-angelic/demonic superior species (I assume you were discounting angels and demons as superior alien races) in the universe, but Catholics and most Christians are typically much more open about it than I am, and have pondered the question and wrote sci-fi about it for ages.

    If we took Whedon seriously, we’d have to believe that Mal thought Christian (presumably Catholic) doctrine was really that God saves people if they’re pretty. And if your buddies ever ditch you in a war, it’s God’s fault.
    I highly doubt any Christian of conviction (let alone role-models) would behave the way Whedon’s Christians do.

    I still love ‘Firefly’ though.

  5. disperser says:

    @Mudz

    Mentioning Mal was an illustrative example of a type of person who believes so hard that disillusionment makes them re-evaluate everything. In the same show, Book is hinted at having come face to face with similar things, only he turned toward fate.

    Switching to the real world, I’m not sure the examples you give of Christians explorers is applicable to the fiction above. Christians explorers were encountering different “races’, but not true aliens. Their “aliens” still had two eyes, ears, were bipedal, had two distinct sexes, and other than color and culture were essentially the same as themselves. The impetus for calling them “aliens” came from convenience – not having to recognize them as god’s creatures allowed for the plundering of resources, near genocides, and all manner of un-christian acts.

    That argument is also suspicious because it’s not as if Europeans had not previously encountered other “races” (Africa, India, China, etc). Apparently they had little issue with all of them since they opened up trade routes.

    Where religion played a role was to inculcate them with the idea that they were superior to these other races, that their culture was superior, that their beliefs were superior (hence the missionaries and forceful conversion-or-die tactics, hence slavery, hence many awful things).

    Turn that around, and have something truly alien appear – intelligent bugs (or other non-human sentient creature), and I don’t know how a christian (or muslim, or any other religion using books that tells them the world was created for them, and that they are special) can continue to value the teaching as anything other than abstract fables with a sometime decent message.

    Now, having questioned all my life, I admit that I cannot envision what the faithful believer might do. Cognizant dissonance is a real phenomenon, and rationalization is easily observed, so I don’t doubt some believers would find ways to square their fate with contrary evidence (we’ve had what, a few thousand years of it?).

    And atheism is not the only response . . . many eastern religions and philosophies offer viable alternatives to the western believer.

    All I’m saying is that it takes a special kind of fanaticism to square this level of contradictory evidence. Then again, from my point of view, even the casual believer appears severely impaired when it comes to evaluating the tenets they supposedly live by.

    As for drawing strength from religion in times of oppression, I don’t think it’s a universal response. Some say “screw this” and take matters into their own hands, realizing they can only rely on themselves.

    You see this most often in survivors who went through something awful, and often with soldiers – the bond that is formed goes beyond loyalty to a country, ideal, or religion . . . it is a bond between the people themselves based on shared experiences.

    Anyway, I don’t mean to denigrate the book. Fiction requires the acceptance of the underlying premise, so if I can accept elves, vampires, sentient robots, FTL travel, I can certainly accept this premise. My comment reflected the first thing that popped into my head.

  6. Mudz says:

    Book was also a pretty terrible Christian. A Christian who spends the whole show mocking his own faith for laughs, and thinks the Bible isn’t supposed to make sense but instead just represents a nebulous concept of an arbitrary object of devotion, kind of makes the character redundant. I never saw any sincere devotion or Christianity beyond some cute references to carpentry.

    I’m not giving you a hard time about it, but I just felt it has to be said why I tend to watch Whedon shows with a heavy dose of eyebrow-raising when he wants to talk about Christianity and faith, (and this whole “oh I scraped my knee, THEREISNOGOD” cliche). It always tends to be weak sentimental and mystical stuff that doesn’t mean anything other than ‘there is no rational basis for my religious beliefs. I’m totally just guessing.’

    I think Whedon ripped “Book” off the “Preacher Man” from a japanime called Trigun. But Preacher Man was actually into his own faith, and uttered prayers and gave his POV with complete sincerity even when humourous. And he was highly protagonistic, which made him an appealing character from the start (his character morality then took a nose-dive at some point, but he still managed to be interesting).
    Book is kind of laughable as a Christian, let alone a priest. He represents a kind of concentrated liberal straw-Christian, who Whedon thinks is only interesting to the extent he makes fun of his beliefs, or is forced to abandon them either for guidance or comfort.

    I bring up angels and demons, because Christians have always believed in utterly alien and superior beings. And that in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, we *have* been visited by aliens before, and wrote about it.

    And we all grew up with sci-fi. Whether we believe in aliens or not, the concept itself is as natural as missionary work, not particularly threatening to our conceptions. Even I, who smugly asserts there are no other populated worlds in this cosmos (I mean, what’s the point?), would happily change my tune if we find some, and just join ranks with the Christians who did expect it.

    It doesn’t actually contradict native Christian beliefs. There is no scripture that says “There Are No Alien Races.” It may contradict preconceptions some Christians (like myself) have, but the response to that would be to form new conceptions, none of which would require leaving Christianity.

    Even the dudes in the Middle Ages apparently amused themselves by carving all kinds of hideous monsters and alien creatures, and have some of the creepiest ‘beyond the veil’ stories and beliefs, so it’s not like the emotions involved are new either. I haven’t read ‘Eifelheim’ yet, but I understand it’s the basic premise that to the medieval mind, one might be easily rationalised in terms of the other. Which is quite an interesting premise.

    That argument is also suspicious because it’s not as if Europeans had not previously encountered other “races” (Africa, India, China, etc). Apparently they had little issue with all of them since they opened up trade routes.

    Well, yes, that’s kind of the point. It’s not a new thing. *We* may not think of them as aliens *now*, but they were certainly strange and foreign at one point, and had entirely antethetical belief systems, and even had superior levels of civilisation at several points.

    Discovering distant lands with peoples never before contacted, and therefore unable to have recieved the word of Christ as generations lived and died, are immensely relevant. Because the theology is exactly the same problem that theologians would discuss in a First Contact situation. It was never an existential world-shattering crisis of faith. Christians are quite willing to suspend preconceptions when adjusting to new occurrences, especially when we’ve had centuries to think it out in advance.

    It’s a common mistake to assume certain unbreakable conceptions onto Christians, as if there’s never been a Reformation, protestantism, or religious controversy.

    Being able to say to themselves that they ‘weren’t God’s creatures’ means that they were perfectly able to justify to themselves non-creatures-of-God. So if this is what you believe to be typical, then the expectation is that upon meeting alien atheists, Christians would assume they are, what, intellectual animals? The response is therefore *not* a loss of faith, but a lack of empathy.

    Of course, I’m just assuming your argument for convenience. I’ve never studied colonialism in general to any degree that’d be interesting.

    How they *look* doesn’t really matter. We share space on the planet with an immense variety of life, and the indigenous peoples discovered were themselves were in fact much different looking than the white discoverers in their mind. When the white man came to my country, half of my ancestors thought they were ghosts.

    If we discover aliens, and they’re reeeally ugly, I doubt that’ll be considered important. I’m sure the first thing that would happen is the Pope will go “don’t judge them yet, you cads! They could be our angelic brotherly good-friends in disguise!” We wouldn’t want to be called racist or anything.

    Look, let me put it this way. An example that’ll clear up how this can work, on the emotional level.

    If Christianity goes out into space, and discovers a superior or any, alien race that claims to be atheist, here’s a bunch of obvious interpretations a religious man could make, ranging from valid caricature to what I consider reasonable.

    A) The aliens are demons, and lying in order to test our conviction. (Appeals to you, no?)
    B) They’re some kind of soulless robo-race that a careless angel or God left behind (and running), which falls outside of theological jurisdiction.
    C) They’re an alien race subject to their own personal destiny with God.
    D) They’re an alien race that failed their personal destiny, and have been abandoned.
    E) The aliens are ignorant, and need to be converted.
    F) Who cares? KILL THEM ALL. FORMICS MUST DIE.

    I would handily bet that Christians would eventually settle on E, Missionary Work. Aliens would be the new heathen.
    But none of the options would in any sense destabilise Christian faith, although it may alter its temperament for the time being.

    Faith is the element of trust. If Christians are overwhelmed by terror and oppression, and they gather together and pray for deliverance, endurance, or mercy to the only being who had the absolute and undeniable power to get them out of such a terrible situation, the one who led the Jews out of Egypt and made a mighty nation out of one man, and conquered the world with 12.

    “As for drawing strength from religion in times of oppression, I don’t think it’s a universal response. Some say “screw this” and take matters into their own hands, realizing they can only rely on themselves. “

    I’m absolutely certain that’s the case. People have free – even iron – will, not everyone has to react the same way. I’m sure an atheist could reside in the hope that a rescue operation will be mounted, or a super-weapon developed, or that they can mount a resistance, or something along those lines. And I’m sure he would quite naturally form unity with others based on common humanity, which makes perfect sense. It’s pretty much the exact same dynamic at work. Comfort in familiarity in the face of the unfamiliar, perhaps.

    Where Christians are concerned, it may not be a *universal* response, but it is the typical *overall* response. Gives us a chance to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, y’know?

    But there’s no reason for a Christian to become less Christian, when it can be observed that historically it has the opposite effect. In such a situation, hope would be probably more important than skepticism, or rather, they would rationalise the situation as best they could according to their favoured understanding. For Christians, we’d draw strength from examples of Roman persecution, being thrown to lions and burned to death into metal statues, crufixion, that sort of thing. Christians have a broad narrative of long-suffering ‘as the prophets did’ which prepares us to emotionally cope with almost any kind of hazard, whether we are the minority or the majority, weak or strong, rational or mystical. Which is not to say that non-Christians cannot also cope, but that there’s really no kind of situation, aliens or not, that would pose a problem to the essential nature of Christian faith, which really is not that bothered if people or peoples all live on earth, or other planets too.

    Christian faith can survive all manner of modification and remain Christian, as countless denominations will attest.

    So I’d say I’m assuming here, that while everyone wouldn’t necessarily all convert to Christianity in such a situation, there’s really no strong reason that Christians wouldn’t stay Christian under those circumstances. I would expect Christian unity to intensify, and even drawing skeptics to the hope, but there’s plenty of plausible room to work with.

    But the popular notion that Christian reaction to suffering or shock would or should typically be ‘ohno, life is terrible, just like the Bible said it could be. Let’s abandon all our most fundamental and cherished beliefs which give us hope of ultimate justice and salvation.’ People just don’t act like that on any level, unless the beliefs weren’t cherished in the first place. I think that atheists simply like to fantasise about ‘shock events’, where Christians are suddenly face-to-face with a reality that turns their provincial little world upside-down, in the same way some Christians might amuse themselves with the thought of God showing up to a Dawkins seminar.
    But if such a thing can be speculated, alien contact would not be such an event.

    So yeah, it’s entirely valid to speculate any range of options for how an atheist might react, but all I know is that for Christians to respond to yet another case of oppression and fear with -atheism-, or anything but marathon praying, stalwart matyrdom, and such-like, would be atypical, and I frankly would find it unbelievable. It just doesn’t resonate with me on an intellectual or emotional level, and it’s just… trite, if not insulting.

    So, again, don’t take me wrong. I don’t wanna jump all over you or anything, but I’ve kind of developed a bit of a bone with Whedon’s writing. I too, just wanted to say it for the sake of it being on my mind. That’s what the internet was invented for.

    At worst, we can simply disagree for the time being, and read an interesting story.

  7. disperser says:

    Hmm . . . I already mentioned Firefly was an illustrative example, but since I did bring it up . . .

    Book: it’s a character, but in that it is a representation of what I have observed, so saying he’s a “pretty terrible christian” smacks to me of the “not a true scotsman” fallacy. To my observation christians are not a monolithic entity; last I checked they are varied individuals, and claiming one christian is a better than another depends on a lot of factors, and usually a biased perspective.

    Reaction to conflicting evidence: lets agree that generalizing how christians would react in the face of evidence contrary to their teachings is based mostly out of personal experience, and that it is also based on the particular sect.

    That said, my assumption is anchored on two facts:

    One is the countless discussions I had with religious people (not just christians). The overwhelming majority of christians who engage me in discussions rely heavily on the bible for “how things are” and for justifying their interpretation of both their religion and their personal view of what god is. It could very well be that when faced with evidence contrary to what they have been taught they will just rationalize it away. Young Earth creationists are a good example, but even middle-of-the road believers find excuses or outright dismiss contradictions, contrary evidence, and even what would otherwise be common sense (although, to a person, they have no trouble seeing and agreeing about the same problems in other religions and religious texts). The point I am making here is that a rational person who truly believes the universe was created for humans, and that we have been given dominion over it, will have to do some serious rationalization ahead of them when if and when evidence to the contrary comes to pass, regardless if it is a benign or hostile. The worst of the scenarios is the other race has similar ideas of divine entitlement. If so, war, destruction, slaughter, etc. all justified by said beliefs.

    But back to the point; I’ll grant you that some (really hard core) will just “believe stronger”. When I ask christians what it would take for them to reconsider their beliefs, they can’t even imagine the possibility of it (meaning ‘nothing’).

    Number two is discussions with many, many ex-believers, and the reaction they had when they come face to face with the realization (sometimes sudden, sometimes gradual) that what they have been taught is not representative of the world around them. There is a very good reason why most religions (christians included) discourage reading or listening to anything contrary to the teachings. Most religions, including many of the 2,000 christian sects, are very insular; they are not interested in discussions, learning, sharing of conflicting ideas.

    I am very comfortable stating that what believers are taught and what theologians study are two entirely different things. The hierarchy of all religions “water down” what is preached, selectively choosing the simple message they pass on to their flock (wouldn’t want to confuse the poor tykes). And here I am not just postulating. I grew up in Italy, and my uncle was a priest all his life. That’s all he ever wanted to be, and was a Monsignor when he passed away a few years ago. That familiarity with what otherwise was an authority figure (and other authority figures as I was present at many dinners with other priests) no doubt was an influence in my very early departure from being a believer (around 8 years of age), although not the primary influence. What it did do was give me a number of different perspectives. One was the way my uncle was viewed by the parishioners. Two was the contrasting fact that he and the other priests were just like other people, with faults, fears, etc.; they did not have any special magic to draw on. Three I saw the stark contrast between the formality of the mass and the everyday running of the church. That formality was designed for one purpose only (that I could see), to lend credibility to the message, to drive home the idea people were dealing with something more than just a guy in a colorful frock. (note, I’m not trying to disrespect my uncle. He was a person of faith who believed in the good of what he was doing, did not buy into the politics of the church, and was a friend and mentor to the people of the three parishes he ended up with.)

    Anyway, I did not mean to digress . . . I don’t have to rely on my experiences to extrapolate what happens to many people when faced with a serious challenge to their beliefs (worth reading, but of course believers dismiss them as ‘lost sheep’ – to this day my mother believes I will someday ‘return’). I, you, and the author can read first hand accounts. Do they all turn atheists? No. New Age beliefs have exploded, I think, in part to fill the void in people who begin to see through the smoke and mirrors. Others take what they like, discard the rest, and form new belief systems.

    And yes, some will anchor even more strongly, even desperately, to the what they (want to) believe.

    But one thing I want to make clear, lest it comes up again . . . Whedon’s is not a hero of mine, his works do not represent or reflect my views, and the only reason I mentioned the characters was as examples of a general behavior, a point of what might be a common reference. I know full well that, just like all fables, like the bible, qur’an, torah, vedas, et. al., the people and events mentioned within are larger than life, but simple, representations meant to convey ideas, not facts.

    And yes, we’ll continue to disagree because we have differing life experiences.

  8. Hey Brad,

    Hope all’s well. This remains one of my favorites by you, and I look forward to seeing the finished story in novel form when it hits the shelves this fall. One of these days I’ll make it to another Worldcon. Meantime, I’ll focus on getting some good writing done.

    Any idea what the next book will be?

    Best,

    Alex

  9. Alex, sorry for the tardy reply. For Fall 2014 I have Racers of the Night debuting at the end of this week, then The Chaplain’s War debuting in October, and then the collaboration with Larry Niven (Red Tide) in November. Meanwhile I am trying to get another new novel done (for Baen’s eyes) which I hope to have ready to send soon. It’s an alien first contact space adventure with megastructures, the kernel of which I ran by Toni late last year, and which she liked; so hopefully when the finished product crosses her desk, she says yes.

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