Sunday, October 26, 2008

Review - "Behold the Man" and "Aye, and Gomorrah"

It has occurred to me that I have not posted the cover to the Nebula Award Story collections that I've been collecting. The first several years of the collections have identical covers except the number after the title and the color of the background on those state of the art 1965 computer graphics. These stories are actually from Nebula Award Stories Three but my copy of that has a roughed up cover.

The third winner in 1967 was Fritz Leiber's "Gonna Roll the Bones" which also won the Hugo.

"Behold the Man"
by Michael Moorcock
1967 Nebula Winner for Best Novella

The "shaggy god" story is one of the more common themes in science fiction; an SF explanation is provided for some biblical event. The version that everyone complains about is the story where everyone dies except a man and a woman who are coincidentally named "Adam" and "Eve". These stories tend to not be very good mainly because they're usually platforms for the author's own belief and who wants to read a sermon?

I said that because I went into "Behold the Man" with really low expectations. 1967 was the year of Dangerous Visions, after all, and the height of the new wave. I fully expected Moorcock's story of a time traveler finding the real Jesus Christ to be little more than a rant which impressed people forty years ago for being "daring". I was completely wrong; this was a brilliant story.

A man who has replaced religious belief in his life with an unwavering faith in Jungian psychology is in love with a woman with no faith. When the opportunity arises he chooses to travel back in time to first century Palestine and seek out Jesus. He wants to confirm his belief that Jesus was a great man who fell into the archetype role but when he arrives he finds something very different.

Part of what makes this story work for me is that Moorcock is upfront with the character's beliefs. He's dealing with the history of Christianity rather than with the supernatural aspects. It doesn't come across as either trying to build up Christianity or tear it down (unless you count a lack of belief in it in general to be an attack on the religion). In addition all of the characters are very interesting. You might be able to get the plot twist immediately but it's still a clever story.

"Aye, and Gomorrah"
by Samuel R. Delany
1967 Nebula Winner for Best Short Story

The last story in the Dangerous Visions anthology was also one of the best in it. Those who travel regularly into space are rendered sexless due to the radiation. When they return to earth on occasion they find that there are those who are sexually attracted to them despite that change. Some of the space travellers take advantage of this and sell their body for extra cash. One of these travellers has a brief encounter with a woman as they try to work out their own feelings on this.

Delany does a wonderful job presenting the sexual ambiguity of the situation. Both of the main characters are fascinating and the complications of a new outsider sexuality are well presented (feel free to read a metaphor for homosexuality in it). There isn't a lot to this story but what is there is philisophically interesting. It's well worth checking out.