Saturday, September 11, 2010

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made by Eric James Stone

Analog Sept 2010My story recommendation for the week is "That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made" by Eric James Stone, from the September 2010 issue of Analog. "That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made" takes a strong SFnal premise and uses it as the framework for an interesting moral dilemma.

Eric James Stone has become a regular in Analog in the past five years, and has appeared in many other publications, such as Apex, InterGalactic Medicine Show, and Jim Baen's Universe. As an aside, he is the only author I am aware of to appear in two different volumes of the annual Writers of the Future anthology. I presume he was a "published finalist" one year, before becoming a full-fledged winner the next year. (The intricacies of the WOTF contest are fascinating to me at the moment, as I am currently a finalist myself.)

Analog (once known as Astounding) is the old gray lady of science fiction magazines. I confess that for years it's been my least favorite of the major magazines, but a couple more tales like "That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made" could change that in a hurry.

The setting of "That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made" is the interior of the sun, which is inhabited by "swales" or "solcetaceans," huge plasma creatures who can harness solar energy to create interstellar portals. Harry Malan is sent to Sol Central Station for business——as the site of the portals, the sun naturally becomes a center of commerce——but as a Mormon it also falls to him to serve as president of the local LDS branch, most of whose members are converted swales. (This neatly explains why Harry is on the station and in contact with the swales even though he knows little about them, prompting others to lecture him without it being too obvious an infodump.) Harry's presence is an irritant to attractive scientist Juanita Merced, who disapproves of the Mormons' interference with the solcetaceans.

Harry is contacted by a swale member, Neuter Kimball (literally a neuter, one of the swales' three genders), who fears it has sinned by being forced into sex by another swale. Harry learns that the swales have no laws or taboos against rape, since sex is always physically pleasurable for them and cannot lead to unwanted pregnancy. He determines to persuade Leviathan, the largest and most influential of the swales, to prohibit forced sexual activity. Dr. Merced believes this a fool's mission, but is excited at the opportunity for close inspection of the 38-kilometer Leviathan.

At first I found it difficult to credit that a human religion could have much appeal to aliens of such awesome size and power, but Stone reveals why some of the relatively weak among them are drawn to Mormonism, when Harry relates his initial conversation with Leviathan to Neuter Kimball:
"She told me she is the first and greatest of all swales. Isn't that true?" I asked, suddenly worried that I'd been taken in by a swale con artist.

"She told you?" Neuter Kimball said. "We are not supposed to talk of it to humans, but if she has revealed herself as a god to you, then that is her choice."

"A god? Leviathan is not a god. She's just . . ." I stopped. What was I going to say: an ancient immortal being who created an entire race of intelligent beings? If that didn't fit the definition of a god, it was pretty close. "Neuter Kimball, if you believe Leviathan to be a god, why did you join the Church?"

"Because I do not want her as my god."
Harry's efforts to persuade the swales to adopt an aspect of human morality leads him and Dr. Merced on a fascinating and entertaining journey. Typical of Analog, the characterization does not have great depth, but Stone gives the two main characters enough personality for some amusing banter, and he handles the devout Mormon businessman and the atheist scientist with equal respect. This story should work for readers of any religious background.

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