Tuesday, July 12, 2011
By Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen
Second-Best Sailor lives on the planet of No Moon. As his name implies, he is a sailor. He is not a human, he is a squid-like creature, the male, free-swimming mate of the coral reef that lives in No Moon's ocean. His ancestors fled to No Moon to escape a deadly and implacable enemy. And now that enemy is once again after the denizens of No Moon and Second-Best Sailor is sent forth to discover a refuge his people can flee to before it is too late. For the enemy is nigh and they will demand complete submission to their will or they will destroy everyone.
This is a story of religion run amok. Similar to the Catholic Inquisition, the leaders of this religion believe that it is better for unbelievers to be tortured, even to death, if it means their souls are saved, although it hides its implacability from its adherents. And it has a huge carrot to offer to potential converts: a Heaven you don't have to die to enter. Converts' bodies are maintained for centuries by machines while their minds roam free in whatever fantasy they can imagine. It is a living bliss but it is based on a religion as cruel and intolerant as a religion can be, as one of their most fervent acolytes is shocked to discover as he rises higher in the church hierarchy.
I liked this story quite a bit, for the most part. I like reading about aliens, and this story abounds with aliens. What I didn't find very entertaining was the acolytes indoctrination into the Church's philosophy, that was pretty dull stuff. But other than that, it was a good read, full of aliens and adventures and lots of weird stuff and ideas, just what I enjoy most in a science fiction story.