Diabolical Plots #82, December 2021

Diabolical Plots #82, December 2021

“There’s an Art To It” by Brian Hugenbruch

“There Are Angels and They Are Utilitarians” by Jamie Wahls

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

Two stories that raise philosophical issues appear in this issue.

The narrator of “There’s an Art To It” by Brian Hugenbruch travels throughout an empire on the orders of its ruler, burning all written material except for tax records. When he reaches the most distant part of the realm, he finds a vast library that seems to consist only of the writings he must not destroy. There is, however, more than meets the eye.

The idea that a society’s literature could be hidden inside mundane records is an intriguing one, even if the author does not suggest how this might be possible. The story is an interesting variation on Ray Bradbury’s famous dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, but one wishes that there was some explanation for the emperor’s decision to destroy all works of imagination.

The title of “There Are Angels and They Are Utilitarians” by Jamie Wahls announces the story’s theme. The narrator is an angel, carrying out the duty of altering history in subtle ways so as to produce the greatest amount of happiness in the future. This often requires human suffering in the past. The angel saves a young girl’s life, thereby committing the sin of avoiding this task, and causing more suffering in the future. The narrator continues to save the girl’s life several times as she grows into a woman, choosing love for her over duty to humanity as a whole. An encounter with a rebel angel leads to a moral dilemma.

This story blends theological fantasy with scientific speculation, and even a touch of mathematics. It cannot provide a final answer to the ethical issues that it raises, but this is hardly a flaw. Appropriately, it ends with a question directed at the reader.

The character of the rebel angel, who can be thought of as a Satan who is not evil, but only intends good in a way different from that of God, is fascinating. This thoughtful tale provides much for the reader to ponder.

Victoria Silverwolf has been seeing a lot of beautiful sunsets lately.