Short Story Club: “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made”

In past years, I have griped at length about the awful, maudlin dreck that Mike Resnick keeps putting on the Hugo ballot– see this 2009 post for example. I think Abigail Nussbaum put it very well back in 2009, when she wrote of Resnick’s “Article of Faith” from that year’s short story ballot that “his greatest failing is and has always been the one encapsulated by “Article of Faith”–his ability to take a subject that underpins some of science fiction’s seminal works, write his own spin on it which is neither innovative nor unusual nor particularly good, and send it out into the world without a hint of embarrassment or self-awareness.”

When this year’s Hugo slate was announced, I was briefly relieved that there weren’t any Resnick stories on the ballot. Really, it was the one bright spot in an otherwise pretty “Meh” field. This week in short story club we have Eric James Stone dashing my hopes of a Resnick-less ballot, because “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made” is perfectly equivalent to a Resnick story.

I could rant at some length about all the things that are awful about this story about Mormons proselytizing to aliens who live in the Sun, but life is just too short, you know? So, I will just point you toward Abigail’s comments on this year’s novelettes, and leave it at that:

What’s wrong with “Leviathan” isn’t just that it’s badly written and that all its characters seem to have been created either to spout talking points (the titular Leviathan just happens to say something that echoes the book of Job) or act as straw men (the anthropologist who, against her better judgment, ends up helping the narrator, and along the way lobs softballs at him and acts like a stereotype of a disdainful atheist; interestingly, the one good point she makes–pointing out that the only reason the Mormon swales care that they’re being raped is that their new religion has taught them to view sex as a sin–is completely ignored by both the narrator and the story). Worse than these is the fact that it’s not a story so much as a thought experiment that posits a situation in which none of the negative associations of Christian missionary work are applicable–the swales are aliens so there’s no issue of racism or colonialism; they appear to have no culture or religion of their own for Christianity to destroy; they’re technologically powerful so the role of missionaries in enabling slavery and economic exploitation is negated; the swales’ leader is cruel and inconsiderate of her followers, some of whom want a change, so the missionaries aren’t barging into a situation where they’re not wanted–in order to lead to the conclusion that, under these conditions, it’s totally OK to impose Christian values on aliens.

That’s two out of three stories so far that were just bad, with next week’s being the Peter Watts story that I wrote about last fall. Which leaves James Patrick Kelly’s “Plus or Minusas the last and only hope for a good story to redeem this slate, two weeks from now.

One thought on “Short Story Club: “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made”

  1. I waited too late to comment on this the last time around, but I think your take on “The Things” missed at least one additional consideration. It seemed to me, reading the story, that Peter had no problems riffing off the movie but that he held the original story in such high regard that he felt obliged to write in such a way that did minimal damage to “Who Goes There”. Which by the way is truly classic, great – and yes, pulpy – sf.

    Possibly our opinions may differ on the bad science; I really don’t care one way or the other as long as the story is told well (though consistency is always an issue of course.) I also cut the writers of that era a lot of slack on what they could have been reasonably aware of back in the day. This is the 1930’s, right? No DNA. Even the “basic stuff”, well, the existence of the neutron wasn’t confirmed until 1932!

    For another classic riff on Watts’ update, you might want to check out Galaxies Like Grains of Sand. One story has mutant self-aware cells that can take over and make over a human . . . but only if they know the standard language of the era, Galacta. Bad science? Quite possibly. But also entertaining 🙂

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