Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Saturday, August 31, 2002

Some Good Religious Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers

Everybody knows about Tolkien and Lewis and Sayers, and though some don't like him, everybody knows Father Greeley.

(I think his work's great, despite his tragic choice of the wrong political party and baseball team. Naturally I don't agree with all or even most of his suggestions for improving the Church; but chronic brainstorming ought to be picked through for useful bits, not just picked on. His theology is not only good but beautifully expressed, and he's good at preaching the basics. I don't understand why he gets so much guff for really mild behavior -- especially when his opponents should realize by now that he enjoys a fight.)

I'm sorry to say, though, that most people don't know Anthony Boucher. He was a great writer of both mysteries and science fiction; he was the founding editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction; and he reviewed mysteries to such great effect that the traveling national mystery convention, Bouchercon, is named after him. (In his copious spare time, he reviewed opera for Opera News and was a gourmet cook.) He was also a devout Catholic, and his writing reflected that.

Long before today's crowd of religious detectives (though obviously not before Father Brown), Boucher set Sister Ursula of the fictional Sisters of Martha of Bethany to solve murders in Los Angeles. (From Rocket to the Morgue: "Our founder, Blessed Mother La Roche, was willing to admit that Mary had chosen the better part only because after all Our Lord said so; but she thought there was much to be said for Martha, who did all the housework while her sister was devotedly spiritual. So ours is an order that does the dirty work...And I'm afraid Mrs. Foulkes' vision of being a nun was composed solely of song and incense and beautiful white garments...Though she didn't quite come out and say it, what she wanted to know is if there were any religious orders in which one could be ecstatically holy by doing nothing whatsoever.") Other series detectives he used included police detectives, a professor of Sanskrit, a college student, and a brilliant detective thrown off the force after being framed who became an alcoholic after his wife died but was still consulted by his former colleagues.

The Los Angeles he wrote about is largely gone, but when I visited San Francisco, the Berkeley of The Case of the Seven of Calvary was alive and well in its setting, International House. (It's a small dorm where both international students and selected Americans live and eat together, with the object of promoting understanding, or at least not isolating international students.) I suffered from an eerie deja vu, because his descriptions were so vivid that the place was just as he'd made me imagine it, save a few renovations. Long may it live.

(Sixties Berkeley was in evidence off-campus, but on campus it was Goth Berkeley -- dark colors everywhere. Someone on the street was actually moved to comment that my outfit used primary colors!)

Boucher's mysteries seem to be out of print at present, but you can buy The Compleat Boucher, a wonderful collection of his science fiction and fantasy, from NESFA Press, the "publishing pseudopod" of the New England Science Fiction Association. (Acid-free paper, lovely binding, and reasonable prices. Mmm-mmm-mmm!)

Three good articles about Anthony Boucher, one by Dave Langford, one by his friend and colleague in mystery/sf/fantasy, William F. Nolan, and one on Bouchercon 2003's site by Fiske Miles. Here's Boucher's bibliography.

NESFA Press will also set you up with Ingathering, the complete collection of Zenna Henderson's stories of the People. If you've never run across them before, I envy you. Imagine stories written by a teacher, which are some of the best portrayals of kids in all literature. The People and their children embody the problems of being an immigrant of a different ethnic background and religion, and of being maybe a little bit more gifted than your neighbor. But that wasn't enough for Zenna Henderson. She also embued these stories with an indefinable sweetness and spirituality which is perhaps unmatched by anyone else in modern literature. She is not one of the most known writers, but she is one of the most loved.

Zenna and Her People is a decent introduction page with good links. Under "Movies", however, ignore their attribution of the Witch Mountain movies to Zenna. Everybody knows those were adapted from the novel by Alexander Key, a famous sf children's author in his own right. (Here's a novel I've never seen in any of his bibliographies. It's a historical. Note the inevitable pulpy blurb.) Key's fansite, "Through the Forgotten Door", seems to be down at present. Darn it.

Friday, August 30, 2002

We are all aliens in this world. This is a pretty nice place and all, but we're not permanent residents of it. Someday we'll go home, to the world we've never been but have heard a lot about.

We are strangers in this time. The world changes around us in ways we don't quite comprehend. The only way to find perspective is to look to the past, the future, the legends of magic that could almost be our technology -- and to God, who exists both inside and outside time and space.

All of which is to say that there are advantages to being both Catholic and fannish, because both prepare you for the ever-changing world. Maybe even -- a little -- for Eternity. It's also a challenge. I'll be talking about it a little on this site.

Thank you for reading!