Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A quality Canadian ezine

Challenging Destiny is a really well done Canadian science-fiction ezine, available through the good folks at Fictionwise, and the current issue (number 24) contains the story "Like Water in the Desert" by one of my best friends, Hayden Trenholm.

Visit the zine's website here, and pick up the latest issue online over here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


At August 14, 2007 6:32 PM , Blogger Catholig said...


I don't think that you'll take this as hate mail or anything - I certainly don't mean it as such, and would prefer to have something of a conversation if you're willing, but I would like to tell you how I feel about some of your work.

I read the Neanderthal Parallax series a few years ago - and I can't remember most of the details off hand, however I do find some of the content of the books objectionable in retrospect. In particular I'm talking about the sex scenes between Mary & Ponte, Mary's Rape, Ponte's re-action to this, and lastly the fact (if my memory serves me correctly) Mary who was supposed to be a Catholic used Birth Control (presumably as birth control and not as a medical purpose). I think you also made the character "lie" while confessing here sins.

I am especially concerned with the latter two issues, because they seem to be subtle attack on the Church. Showing catholics not listening to the Magisterium, and disrespecting the sacraments.

That is all that I wanted to say - if you choose to respond, ask questions, whatever I'd be glad to talk. You can even post comments on my blog.

Thank you for your time.

At August 14, 2007 7:50 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Thank you for your comments, which I know are well-intended. However, you really can't expect me to spend much time on your vague half-remembered notions of what my books might have said. :)

For instance, you are misremembering the scene in which Mary goes to confession, which happens in Chapter 27 of the second novel in the series, HUMANS.

Mary categorically DOES NOT LIE to the Priest, as you'll see if you re-read the scene (which is reproduced below -- and, I caution those who haven't read the book, that it contains spoilers).

As to your second major point, that it was wrong for me to portray Mary as a Catholic who practices birth control, many -- probably most -- Catholics in Canada use artificial birth control.

You can do your own research to corroborate this, but a quick Googling turns up the fact that as far back as 1970, 2/3 of American Catholic women were using contraceptives, and 28% of them are on the Pill:

The Pill Timeline

So, what you seem to be saying is that if I choose to portray a Catholic, I should portray an idealized role model and not a real human being. Sorry, that's not my job description. :)

Thanks for the comments, though. Here's the scene with Mary's Confession:


Mary entered the wooden booth, knelt on the padded railing in front of her, and crossed herself. The small window between her chamber and the priest's opened, and she could see Father Caldicott's strong profile silhouetted behind the crisscrossing wooden slats.

"Forgive me, Father," said Mary, "for I have sinned."

Caldicott had a slight Irish accent, even though he'd been in Canada for forty years. "How long has it been since your last confession, my child?"

"Since January. Eight months."

The priest's tone was neutral, nonjudgmental. "Tell me about your sin."

Mary opened her mouth, but no words came out. After a time, the priest prodded her. "Child?"

Mary took a deep breath, and let it slowly out. Then: "I ... was raped."

Caldicott was quiet for a few moments, perhaps considering his own line of thought. "You say `rape.' Were you attacked?"

"Yes, Father."

"And you gave no consent?"

"No, Father."

"Then, my child, you have not sinned."

Mary felt her chest tightening. "I know, Father. The rape was not my sin."

"Ah," said Caldicott, sounding as though he understood. "Did you -- were you impregnated? Have you had an abortion, child?"

"No. No, I did not get pregnant."

Caldicott waited for Mary to go on, but, when she didn't, he tried again. "Was it because you were practicing artificial birth control? Perhaps, under the circumstances ..."

Mary was indeed on the Pill, but she'd made her peace with that years ago. Still, she didn't want to actually lie to the priest, and so she chose her next words with great care. "That is not the sin I speak of," she said softly. She took another breath, gathered her strength. "My sin was that I did not report the rape."

Mary could hear the wood creaking as Caldicott shifted on his bench. "God knows about it," he said. "And God will punish the person who did this to you."

Mary closed her eyes. "The person has raped again. At least, I suspect it's the same person."

"Oh," said Caldicott.

_Oh,_ thought Mary? _Oh?_ If that's the best he can do ...

But Caldicott continued. "Are you sorry you didn't report it?"

The question was probably inevitable; contrition was part of the quest for absolution. But Mary nonetheless found her voice cracking as she replied. "Yes."

"Why didn't you report it, child?"

Mary thought about that. She could say that she'd simply been too busy -- which was almost true. The rape had occurred the night before she'd been whisked off to Sudbury. But she'd made her decision before she'd received the phone call from Reuben Montego looking for a Neanderthal-DNA expert. "I was afraid," she said. "I'm ... separated from my husband. I was afraid of what they'd do to me, what they'd say about me, about my morals, if this matter ever came to court."

"But now someone else has been hurt by your ... by your _inaction_," said Caldicott.

The priest's comment brought to mind a lecture she'd heard on AI a few months ago. The speaker, from the MIT Robotics Lab, had talked about Asimov's Laws of Robotics, the first of which was something like, "A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm." It had occurred to Mary then that the world might be a better place if people lived by the same injunction.

And yet --

And yet, so many of the principles she used to guide her were exhortations _to_ inaction. Most of the Ten Commandments were things you were _not_ to do.

Mary's sin had been one of omission. Still, Caldicott would probably say that it was a venial sin, not a mortal one, but --

But something _had_ died in Mary the day the crime was committed. And, she was sure, the same had happened to the animal's new victim, whoever it might have been.

"Yes," said Mary, at last, her voice very small. "Someone else has been hurt because I didn't do anything."

She saw Caldicott's silhouette move. "I could prescribe some prayer or Bible reading as penance, but ..." The priest trailed off, clearly inviting Mary to complete the thought.

And Mary nodded, finally giving voice to what she already had known. "But the only real solution is for me to go to the police and tell them everything I know."

"Can you find the strength in you to do that?" asked Caldicott.

"I was going to, Father. But the evidence I had of the rape -- it's gone."

"Still, you may have information that can be of help. But, if you wish another penance ..."

Mary closed her eyes again, and shook her head. "No. No, I will go to the police."

"In that case ..." said Caldicott. "God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins." Mary wiped her eyes, and Caldicott went on: "Through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins ..."

Even though she was facing a most difficult task, Mary did feel a weight lifting from her.

"... in the name of the Father ..."

She'd go today. Right now.

"... and of the Son ..."

But she would not go alone.

"... and of the Holy Spirit."

Mary crossed herself. "Amen," she said.


At August 15, 2007 12:42 AM , Blogger Catholig said...

While the text you provided showed that Mary, not wanting to actually lie to the priest, “chose her next words with care” the truth of the matter is that her confession was invalid, because to obtain remission of her sins she would have had to confess EVERY mortal sin since her last confession. That means that while the form was valid (i.e. the prayer that the priest said) - her sins were never actually forgiven.

As the Baltimore Catechism says -

"It is impossible for any of our mortal sins to be forgiven unless they are all forgiven, because as light and darkness cannot be together in the same place, so sanctifying grace and mortal sin cannot dwell together. If there be grace in the soul, there can be no mortal sin, and if there be mortal sin, there can be no grace, for one mortal sin expels all grace."

So at the very least you made your catholic to be ill catechized - and sadly you made your priest to be...well I'm unsure of the word, extremely misinformed concerning the position of the Church (not that some aren't sadly) for one thing - and slightly illogical for another. I mean it is impossible that Mary's taking contraceptives before the rape could ever be justified by the fact that she was later unexpectedly raped. That is like starting at point B, and working your way back to point A.

The only way that his logic could have made sense would be if he were talking about "emergency contraceptives", which would be taken after the fact, and could not be excused "considering the circumstances..."

(I would however like to mention that birth control pills can legitimately be taken by women for medical reasons, according to Humanae Vitae, however in this case the Church wouldn't see them as contracepting at all. Meaning that there wouldn't be a sin.)

As for you portraying Mary as a Catholic who uses birth control - I have seen figures to that extent, and yes, sadly it happens. The Church doesn't, and shouldn't excuse this in any way - it runs contrary to 2,000 years of tradition after all. :(

Still though I think that the unnecessary (IMHO) rape scene, the Neanderthal's violent reaction, sex scenes later on in the novel, and the fact that Mary had to be using birth control made the novel - not to my tastes. I mean the idea in and of itself is interesting.

Btw - did you hand copy that section solely for this? Or did you copy & paste it? In either case thank you, because it refreshed my memory.

P.s. here are some sources.


At August 15, 2007 12:55 AM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

I appreciate your comments, and I'm sure you mean them sincerely. But I have known many a priest who has tried to find a middle ground between what the Pope says and what the practicalities of his congregation require.

I've read your bio now: "I'm 17 years old, and a practicing Roman Catholic - who enjoys the Tridentine Mass. I am hoping to become an altar server for the Tridentine Mass as well. I used to read a lot of fiction, but I don't do that too much any more because of the objectionable content in most of it. I am however still interested in language, and I am getting more and more interested in prayer even though it is still a struggle some times."

I do hope you will find other works that make you happier; to be honest, I wouldn't change a word of the things you've objected to, even if I could. They are EXACTLY what I intended to say, and I think they are full of honesty, truth, and relevance.

At August 15, 2007 1:23 AM , Blogger Catholig said...

Yes, sadly some priests don't instruct their flocks properly, and sometimes even condone things that the Church in her wisdom forbids.

In any case, I do thank you for taking the time to talk with me. And also for listening to my objections, which I posed even though I knew that 1) it would be impossible for you to change anything 2) you wouldn't want to.

I also thank you for taking the time to visit my blog & even read my bio.

And if ever in the future one of your novels or short stories you want to depict catholics who are faithful to the magisterium you're always welcome to visit my blog & ask any questions. I don't pretend to know all the answers off the top of my head but if you give me a question I can't answer I can always post it on the Catholic Answers Forum (http://forums.catholic.com/index.php?).

At August 15, 2007 12:58 PM , Anonymous Hayden said...

I'm not writing to join in the chat about the Catholic Church. I could but I won't.

I did want to say thanks for highlighting my story in Challenging Destiny. It's my second story with them (the first was in #21) and i wanted to say they do do a fine job.

And, at the risk of sounding like a suck-up, Dave Switzer is a great editor to work with as well.


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