James Morrow,
Bible Stories for Adults
(Harcourt Brace & Co., 1996)

To put it bluntly, James Morrow is a subversive and delights in the fact. Bible Stories for Adults, a collection of his all-too-infrequent short fiction, only serves to reinforce that fact. It's highly unlikely this book will find its way into many church libraries, the title notwithstanding.

I'm quite surprised I haven't seen it included on banned books lists (although I'm sure it is, somewhere), since it's certain to bruise many theological egos. Fortunately, it is also furiously clever and insanely funny, factors which raise it above the tedious morass of satirical books for satire's sake.

Of course, being Catholic myself, I've already got one foot in hell as far as some extreme denominations are concerned, so I guess it's no wonder I should like this book. Apart from Morrow's unfortunate tendency to go for the gross-out factor every so often (a habit that weakened his otherwise superb Towing Jehovah), he masters the pacing and mood to deliver the most effective punch to whatever point he's making.

The story "Spelling God With The Wrong Blocks" is an inspired skewering of the whole creationism/evolution debate. It seems that the robotic population of Procyon-5 have taken a copy of The Origin of the Species a little too much to heart -- er, microchip -- and believe they evolved through descent with modification, as outlined in First Testament of the Prophet Darwin. It's the human scientists' awkward job to argue for creation -- a truly hilarious predicament, where the robots quote Darwin to refute all evidence of their non-evolutionary origin.

The story "Bible Stories for Adults No. 17: The Deluge" is a somewhat less humorous take on the Great Flood, although it is no less biting in its commentary. Noah and his family have gathered up all the animals in the ark, but unrepentant sinner Sheila survives by clinging to a broken canoe, where she's eventually rescued by the virtuous men of the ark. Sheila immediately sows dissension and discord, and as things deteriorate, Sheila steals the ark's dinghy and escapes in a way that leaves the distinct impression that today's race of humanity is descended from her wicked self, and not the pious crew of the ark. It is poignant and thought provoking, and deservedly won the Nebula Award for Best Short Story.

"Bible Stories for Adults No. 31: The Covenant," offers the interesting supposition on what the world might have become had Moses not gone back for a second set of the 10 Commandments after smashing the first set of stone tablets. Centuries later, a Series-700 mobile computer designated YHWH is charged with the task of reassembling the Commandments from the remaining dust of the preserved tablets. No easy feat, yet well within the capabilities of the world's most advanced machine. But then the Series' Artificial Talmudic Algorithmic Neurosystem -- SATAN -- arrives on the scene, and challenges the wisdom of giving humanity the commandments. One by one, SATAN shows YHWH how devious minds would add subclauses and asterisks to each of the commandments to justify any action. "You will not kill," becomes "You will not kill offensively -- you will not commit murder. After which, of course, you've sanctioned a hundred varieties of mayhem."

Distressing and funny at the same time, Morrow lends weight to questions that just aren't asked. Not to everyone's taste to be sure, Bible Stories for Adults packs in a lot of spicy ideas to stimulate the mind. Taken all at once, the cumulative impact is probably less than effective, but interspersing these stories among other reading matter should be enough to keep them fresh and enjoyable. Morrow takes no prisoners, and worships no sacred cows, which will undoubtedly rub some readers the wrong way. Too bad more writers don't follow suit.

[ by Jayme Lynn Blaksche ]
Rambles: 30 May 1999

Buy it from Amazon.com.