Friday, September 07, 2007

Friday Review - Dark Benediction by Walter M Miller Jr

Readers of Christian-themed sf will no doubt know Walter M. Miller Jr as the author of A Canticle for Leibowitz, but since it has been short story week here, I'll take a quick look at this collection of his shorter works.

This collection includes a dozen or so stories, including the novellas Blood Bank, The Darfstellar, and Dark Benediction (wasn't he in The A-Team?). Many of the stories reflect Miller's interest in religion, and particularly the Catholic faith he followed, with priests, prayer and religious imagery appearing in several stories.

Many of the stories have little in the way of characterisation or plot, but do what short sf does best - present an idea, then leave the reader to worry about its possible implications. Miller's ideas often deal with moral or ethical problems - which has the advantage of not dating the work as tends to happen with technocentric sf (is that a word?).

Interestingly, some of Miller's technology has - sort of - come about. The idea of actors being replaced by robots as in The Darfstellar seemed, at first, a bit outdated in these days of movies on demand and reality TV. But the men in white coats have recently reanimated Bob Monkhouse, and before that there was Gene Kelly's VW ad.

Among the other ideas presented for your consideration are a distant future world regressed to a pre-industrial state, and then presented with a supercomputer and its robot gurdian (Big Joe and the Nth Generation); the social implications of alien abduction (You Triflin' Skunk) and telepathy (Anybody Else Like Me?); and various treaments of what it means to be human in Dark Benediction, the eerily current Conditionally Human, and the more technocentric, but quite disturbing, I, Dreamer.

I could go on - I've barely scratched the surface. Not all the stories hit the spot for me, but there is plenty of variety, plenty of good, intelligent stories and thought-provoking ideas, and a Christian worldview underlying most of it. If I had to pick a favourite story, today it would probably be Blood Bank, a somewhat dark vision of mankinds evolutionary future, but there's probably a story to suit every mood...

Dark Benediction is published in the UK as part of the SF Masterworks series. In the US you'll have to settle for The Best of Walter M Miller Jr, which was published around 1980 but seems to include the same stories.


Elliot said...

Care to submit this review to the Christian Fandom website?

UKSteve said...

I might just do that, since there doesn't appear to be a review of Miller's short work there so far.