Last year Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the publishing arm of Neos Alexandrina released The Shining Cities, which is exactly as the subtitle suggests: an anthology of pagan science fiction. Pagan science fiction stories written by pagans, for pagans. I purchased a copy as soon as it came out, read the first story, then the next, and the next and the next and then set in down because I was reading it too fast and I wanted to savor.
Here we are, months later. I picked it up two days ago, intending to savor. I just . . . couldn’t help myself. The tales and poems collected in this anthology have blown my mind. Many have made me fall in love with story telling all over again. I love stories. I love settings that are familiar and known and restful. And I love settings that are new, exotic, bleak, lush. I love stories. And, I love stories, I’ve found, that are decidedly, honestly, genuinely pagan.
I want to go through and show you every story and why they were awesome. I’m not going to do that, because I want you to explore them for yourself. When I try to pick out my favorites, they are more than half the book. (And I’ll be honest with you: one of the favorites is my own contribution. Is it bad form to talk about this aspect of being an author? That moment when you are far enough removed from the work you’ve written that, when you read it, you can forget that you wrote it, you can only see the story, and you are blown away/touched/whatever strong, fitting reaction fits here. I had that, reading my own story as I read through the collection.)
What does paganism look like on a starship? How do those God-touched interact with those around them who are not likewise touched? What happens when we leave this planet behind and the Old Gods come with us? What happens when our societies crumble, when the earth is pushed to the brink and has no choice but to push back? How do we live, worship, love, grieve, die?
Lies, Truth, and the Color of Faith by Gerri Leen gives us a glance of what it might mean to be connected to Grandmother Spider out in the stars, wherein the direction of the ship may sit upon our shoulders, and heavier still the knowledge of treachery that can be found in love.
Chicken Abductions: A Fowl Tail, Recent Alien Abductions in Lexington, Kentucky by Jordsvin is pretty much exactly what the title says there. It’s short, greatly entertaining while being extremely disturbing at the same time — which is a great combination.
Diotima’s Explanation is one of those tantalizing, teasing bits I was talking about. What happens when we begin to make discoveries that worry our very gods about the things we may do? (I want the whole story, damn it, not just those few words!)
S and R Dance On by Eli Effinger-Weintraub is as touching as it is short — who says you need a lot of words to pluck those heart strings?
1863 Antinous by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus was, in fact, the story I was on when I set the book aside. It sucked me in, you see, and it was too much, and I wanted to slow down. Coming back to it, I’m rather sad that I paused on it — I enjoyed the story a lot, but I did it a disservice by leaving off where I did for as long as I did, because I completely expected a different story than what was written. My own fault — see, readers have responsibilities to the stories, too — and I admit to that. My not expecting this to go where it went does not make the writing any less well done or the story any less intriguing, mind you. This was one of my top 10 favorites in the collection.
The Touch of a God . . . look, you know what? Forget this. There are too many awesome stories in this book. Just, do yourself a favor. If you like science fiction, if you like pagan stories, if you like fantasy, if you like great writing, just go and buy this book. And then, go find more of the contributors’ works, and read more of them. And support our pagan writers, because we need to support them, so we can read the stories they write. Pagan friendly stories written by not-pagans are very well and good. Pagan stories written by our pagan story tellers deserve support as well.
But mostly? This is a fantastic collection, and you should get it now. (Just click on the link on my sidebar there . . . )