Tuesday, September 4, 2018

What Man Knoweth, by Russell Nichols

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[Strange Horizons]
★★★☆☆ Mixed

(Christian Fantasy) A news reporter sets out to free a Christian mind reader from jail by proving he’s a fraud. (7,843 words; Time: 26m)

"," by (edited by Jane Crowley and Kate Dollarhyde), appeared in issue 08/20/18, published on .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Review: 2018.474 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: The plot is rather complex, with several twists, so let’s break it down:

First, John Raven feels guilty for having had his father, Shawn Raven, committed to a mental hospital for imagining that he could read people’s minds. He tries to blame this on Bishop Jermaine Hayes, head of the House of Renewed Minds, who introduced his father to this whole “Evengelepath” business, and he plots to expose the bishop and get his “vengeance,” but he secretly blames himself. He doesn’t really want vengeance—he wants absolution.

The bishop’s church has several problems, which John learns over time. His wife, Cecilia Hayes, the “First Lady” of the church, has been taking money from the offerings and spending it on herself—including on drinking too much. To keep her out of trouble, the bishop had her and his eight-year-old son, Jermaine Hayes, Jr., stay with Deacon Lydell Harris—unaware of the fact that Deacon Harris was a child molester who abused the boy while his mother was asleep. The boy confided in family friend, Willie McCain, who stabbed Deacon Harris to death in the church, then fled to Deacon Harris’s house, where he shot himself in the head, leaving a note to Jermaine, Jr. apologizing for failing to save him.

So Alabama charges the bishop as accessory to murder because, if he’s a telepath, he should have known what McCain was planning and reported it. Rather than admit to being a fraud, he elects to go to prison, depriving John of his vengeance.

John briefly thinks the murder was about Cecilia having an affair with Lydell, but at a tense moment when the bishop’s son runs to him, all of it clicks, and John experiences a moment of telepathy, which confirms all of the above.

Realizing he wants atonement, not vengeance, he speaks up to take the blame for failing to report the planned murder. He wraps up with a reference to Romans 12:19, in which God says that vengeance is for him alone; that people are not to seek revenge.

Overall, the characters are strong, and the dialogue is natural.

And I loved the fact that a group was called “Families Against Open Minds.”

Con: Unfortunately, it has some problems that strain suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. First, the whole idea of making someone an accessory merely because they might have been able to read someone’s mind is very hard to buy. They’d have to prove you actually did read the person’s mind, at a minimum. And why on earth would convicted accessories be sentenced to mental institutions not prisons? Finally, it’s hard to see how John’s confession at the end changes anything for the bishop. It just proves John is guilty too; it doesn’t prove the bishop was innocent.

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2 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. The idea of making the "evangelepaths" register and accept responsibility for crimes really seems to be about keeping them from falsely claiming to be telepathic in the first place (at least in Alabama).

    My impression is that the Bishop is not a fraud. How else would he now know what happened to his son? He's allowing himself to be convicted because he feels guilty about not "reading" the situation with his son earlier.

    But, it definitely stretches belief that the law allows another telepath to step forward and take full responsibility thereby clearing the preacher. The criminal's mind can apparently only be read by one and only one person??

    (Above you say, "...he should have known what Harris was planning and reported it." You mean McCain (the one who killed Harris), right?)