Oceans of the Mind, #12, Summer 2004

Monday, 04 July 2005 12:36 Michael Fay
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"Evangel" by K. D. Wentworth
"A Bad Day All Around" by Mike Moscoe
"Zen and the Art of Computer Programming" by Philip Lees
"In the Aftermath of Something Happening" by Laura Ann Gilman
"Gathering Shards" by Julia West
"Ganymede" by Sarah A. Hoyt
"Engines of Creation" by Isaac Szpindel

Oceans of the Mind has a spiritual theme for its Summer 2004 issue. I was hoping for stories with a wide approach to examining spirituality. I didn’t really find what I wanted.  And I didn’t think some of the stories were particularly spiritual; they just contained religious characters. That doesn’t mean that the issue was bad, just not what I was hoping for, given the theme.

“Evangel” by K.D. Wentworth is the story of a woman scorned for religion. Leigh visits the temple of alien evangelists to get her husband back. Leigh fights the evangelizing methods of the aliens seeking to retain her view of self, only to find her husband is beyond her reach, having accepted the alien truth and peace. As disturbing to Leigh, they seem to equate her to a deity on some level. After several readings, I think “Evangel” is easily the best story in this issue. Leigh’s sense of self is tested with her brush with the aliens. Moreover, she is shaken by both her husband’s absolute surrender to the alien view and the alien assertion that she might have something to do with their spiritual existence. As a side note,  the aliens communicate at least partially through scent, an often overlooked aspect of our human existence.

The second story of the issue is Mike Moscoe’s “A Bad Day All Around.” An Air Force crew in charge of an icbm battery based in Alaska is faced with an unidentifiable object, incoming from nowhere, and with no previously experienced form. They choose to defend with the launch of nuclear missiles. After the failure of the first two missiles, the third launches and the UFO disappears. However, it appears that they nuked the second coming of Christ. Moscoe's’s story has a wickedly funny ending, but the humor isn't evident throughout the story, giving it an uneven tone. I would have enjoyed the story more if it had had more humor throughout, instead of having the twist ending that provides all of the humor.

Phillip Lees’s “Zen and the Art of Computer Programming” is the first story in the issue that doesn't fit the theme. After a random hardware glitch caused by outside factors, a Go program makes an unusual move to win a game, upsetting the end result of delicate diplomatic negotiations. To recover from this upset, Obi McDermott, the leader of the faction that put the negotiations together, promises to provide his offended counterpart with the “advanced” program that accomplished the move. Of course, there was no program, and McDermott is forced to call upon his programming genius wife to develop such a program for him. She succeeds after having a sudden flash of insight.  My first problem with this story is that there really isn’t anything I would call spiritual involved with the plot. Yes, McDermott does some meditation and calls upon his inner peace, but that has nothing to do with the story. Also, there is little tension or conflict in this story. There is no sense of the consequences of failure, no sense of what is at stake. It’s a neat little idea, but as a story, it ultimately fails.

“In the Aftermath of Something Happening” by Laura Ann Gilman is the story of a police officer and her dog—her genetically modified dog. Megan and Dolt go out to the store, and encounter some representatives of God’s finest shock troops, a gang of fundamentalist zealots who hate all genetically modified or mutated beings. One of the gang kills the dog and eventually get sent to prison. Gilman’s story is mostly about attitudes. It’s a timely reflection of some of the more reasoned attitudes versus some of the more religiously reactionary attitudes about genetic manipulation and human intervention in the biological processes of the world.  But it isn’t particularly spiritual. It doesn’t try to examine the spiritual underpinnings behind such attitudes. It doesn’t try to examine the spiritual aftereffect of such events. It simply has religious zealots as characters. Still, it is a readable story.

“Gathering Shards” by Julia West is, perhaps, the most spiritually related story in this issue.  “Gathering Shards” deals with the afterlife. Lasai acts as a guide to the restless spirits of a destroyed people, the Ebchian. He guides them to rest, to peace. He even encounters the spirit of a Chchkek. Through these spiritual encounters, we learn of the death of both peoples. While enjoyable, the story could have been much stronger with a slightly different approach to relating the stories of the dead. However, “Gathering Shards” generally succeeds in its examinations.

The next story of the issue is Sarah A. Hoyt’s “Ganymede.” Set on Ganymede, this is the story of a “bio,” a created person being hunted by a society in rebellion against his existence and that of all other bios. A nun running a private shelter for the downtrodden is forced by conscience to shelter a bio. She was formerly a bio-mechanical engineer who turned to the church after she decided that her work was an offense to God. The philanthropist, Joe,  who funds the shelter was the same person who had the bio, GT, created. “Ganymede” is a story about the consequences of our abilities outstripping our capacity for reason. When faced with capabilities that frighten us, we fall back upon superstitions and fundamentalism, often leading us to destroy that which we have created in the first place.

The final story of this issue is “Engines of Creation” by Isaac Szpindel. Koven has created an automaton of great power, only to discover his patron seeks to turn Koven’s creation to destruction. Koven turns to his more spiritual student, Loewy, for assistance. Loewy, a rabbinical student, is able to utilize The Book of Creation to animate Koven’s golem. The final question posed is what are the consequences of this animation? Have they truly imbued the Golem with life? And if so, a soul?

Overall, Oceans of the Mind’s Summer 2004 issue is fairly well written and many of the stories do fit the theme.