Reviewed by Alex Binkley
Stories with an element of religion in them seem almost a staple of the news these days. Too often they leave the reader or listener shaking their head at what so-called religious people say and do compared to the teachings of their faith.
In the midst of this turmoil, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing has devoted its latest collection of speculative fiction short stories to the role of religion and belief systems.
Tesseracts is a well-established institution in Canadian science fiction and fantasy. The 18th edition is entitled Wrestling With Gods. In other words what the role of religion and belief systems in different societies tells us.
In addition to the stories and poems, editors Jerome Stueart and Liana Kerzner have added a foreword and an afterword in which they explain the thinking that went into the anthology and how they made their selections. Their texts set up and wrap up the stories brilliantly. In retrospect, they would be better read before the fiction.
As Kerzner noted, “Religion is, at its core, a struggle to understand the why of the world.
“We are at a turning point, thousands of years after the advent of monotheism, where people of faith need to take religion back from the fringe elements, which are making it seem hateful and irrelevant. We hope that this book is a small step in reclaiming faith and religion for those of us that want it to be an important part of our lives without taking over our lives.”
For his part, Stueart says the Bible stories that resounded the most with him as a child were displaced as he grew older with sermons that curbed independence “and often insured obedience, guilt and an acceptance of suffering endured for a promised Heaven. … I felt a bait-and-switch had occurred. I had more questions. Like most people, I wanted to know why I was here. What were the stars way out there for? What was purpose in life?” In the end, he wanted the wonder in the stories of his youth back. Hopefully Wrestling With Gods went at least part way toward fulfilling that wish.
Against this backdrop are 25 stories and poems that represent individual author’s attempts to wrestle with their god in a wide variety of approaches to the topic. Every reader will probably have her or his favourites. I will read the anthology again someday before I decide.
I did like Megan Fennell’s Where the Scorched Man Walks, Suzanne McNabb’s The Last Man on Earth and J.M. Frey’s The Moral of the Story. There are many other good authors such as Robert Sawyer and their stories were certainly interesting. Read at different period, I might have selected others for my most liked list. All the stories and poems are worth reading.
Back to Editor Kerzner’s small step, there is a debate about whether science fiction should be ringing the alarm bell on climate change. Certainly there have been stabs at it. The same argument could be made for science fiction to take on the reclaiming of faith as an important part of an individual’s life. A nod to Robert Sawyer for a solid attempt at that topic in Calculating God. Undoubtedly there are others. In that regard Wrestling With Gods may become the light that shows the way.