Thursday, May 14, 2015

SNARL: On a Spiritual Plain

There has been a big kerfluffle about the Hugo awards in Science Fiction this year, and most of it has been about the political and cultural implications of the works and the award process. At this point we have a set of nominees. I will be voting in August for which author will take home the coveted rocket-shaped Hugo trophy(s). I have read and reviewed the five nominees for Best Novella.  This is the second of several actual reviews by me of the nominated "short-story" works of fiction. All of these reviews may (will) contain spoilers.

This is a review of "On a Spiritual Plain" by Lou Antonelli

Dead people on the planet Ymilas get trapped as ghosts, when they get tired of that they travel to giant Stonehenge at the pole to “move on”.

It is a weak premise executed poorly.

I suppose the pilgrimage is a vehicle to answer questions about death, heaven, souls, and everything. Unfortunately the glaring questions staring the characters in the face are just not what they are interested in.  The pilgrimage to dispose of the ghosts is more of a garbage run than a spiritual journey. 

The semi-transparent ghosts have no souls and so they are really just waste consciousness as far as the author is concerned.  The characters patronize the thinking-feeling garbage, but are more than ok with flushing them into the big glowing green drain.  The author does not go into detail about what would be different between a worthy soul-possessing ghost and these unworthy soul-less ghosts.  The Ymilians apparently find enough worth to keep them around for generations, but the human ghost is disposed of in a few days. 

The Methodist minister who tells the story has a very non-Wesleyan description of what a soul is:

“The Ymilians believe – as do so many Terran religions – that each individual has a spark of eternal extradimensional over-arching consciousness that is imbued in each of them at birth and ultimately returns to a higher dimensional plane when the physical form is no longer viable”

He also has an interesting, and very science-sounding, description of what a ghost is: 

“While alive we develop an electromagnetic imprint as a result of the experiences of life that survives after death. “

Unable to derive a Methodist name for such a construct Antonelli has the minister reach back to the ancient Terran Egyptians, and calls this ghost a “ba”. This ba-ghost can interact, hang out, display emotion, and generally do all those things we identify as products of consciousness. It is not a real consciousness because of…. I guess stuff we are supposed to pick up the story already knowing.

The planet has a strong magnetic field, and this prevents the ghosts of the dead from escaping. Some families apparently have five generations of ghosts living with them. The whole thing is so humdrum that it is obvious that ghost research has progressed to the point that I imagine tables of ba-ghost containment levels for various shapes of magnetic fields.

The ease with which the author provides sciencey-sounding descriptions of the soul and the ghost implies an entire field of after-life research.  The way the author implies disinterest with the long-term ghost persistence on Ymilas suggests that after-life research is not very interesting. This is aggravating.  How can one read a story about after-life issues in a world where most if not all of the questions about after-life have been answered by science without wanting to know what answering those questions did to the world?  These questions are not left unanswered in a provocative way.  It is as if the author did not think of them. 

The Methodist minister takes a “Faraday segway” on a 12 day trip with a bunch of pilgrims on foot from the equator to one of planet Ymilas’s poles. There they find a huge “1,000 Terran feet high” (I guess they still don’t use the metric system in the future) Stonehenge under a glowing green vortex. The ghosts go in, and then they are gone. Then, without a backwards glance, everyone just goes home.  Kinda like taking out the talking emotionally fragile trash.

The idea of being unimportant because of a lack of soul really worries me.  Everyone in the story sort of takes this lack of value for granted.  The ghosts even realize that they are not “real” people, and because they have no soul they just stop (“he knows nothing awaits him”). Is it possible to extend this innate knowledge to develop a classification for souls? Are some souls less developed or mutant, making the people possessing them less worthy? Do souls require maintenance, or are they transformed by religious experience, and do these activities make the possessor of the soul more worthy of continued existence than someone who does not maintain their soul correctly?

I suppose I should give this story at least two stars for being aggravating.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Who you gonna call?