Sunday, May 10, 2015

Review: “On A Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli

Review: “On A Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli (Sci Phi Journal #2, Nov 2014) SPRP 

Spoilers. I'm going to discuss the beginning, middle and end of the story, so if you don't want to be spoiled, read it first.

This is a Sad Puppy and Rabid Puppy nomination. I've never read any Lou Antonelli before so I was looking forward to this one. It's a straightforward story and Antonelli is a good writer in the grammar/spelling/paragraph sense of the term.  His writing is quick, terse and easy to follow.

The plot concerns a human base on the planet Ymilas. The chaplain of the human party knows Ymilan beliefs well. One belief – well, not a belief, a known phenomenon – is that there's an electromagnetic imprint of a person that can continue after death and can hang around giving advice to family members. Due to the unusual electromagnetic field of Ymilas, these ghosts can persist for several generations. The chaplain is unlucky enough to be around when the first human dies, and the resulting ghost stops by to haunt him. He asks the Ymilans what to do, and of course they have already developed a remedy. You travel to one of the poles, where there's a structure that will allow the electromagnetic ghost to dissipate in the steep lines of magnetic force there. He puts together a travel party. Some Ymilans, with some of their older ghosts, along with the human and his ghost, travel to the pole (the human riding on a Segway). When they get there, off into infinity the deceased human's ghost goes.  Shortly after the chaplain gets back, another human dies, and he makes plans to travel back to the pole to release the new ghost.

I liked the breezy readability of this tale. I didn't get hung up on grammar or word choice or fail to figure out what some obfuscated point was. On the down side, there's a few problems with plotting and a bit of a problem with the philosophy that knocked it down a bit.

The philosophy behind the ghost makes its fate trivial. Before the plot (such as it is) kicks off, the chaplain already knows that the ghost-things are nothing much to be worried about.
"The Ymilans believe--as do many Terran religions--that each individual has a spark of an eternal extra-dimensional over-arching consciousness that is imbued in each of them at birth and ultimately returns to a higher dimensional plane when the physical form is no longer viable. 
I told him we call it the “soul”. 
They also know--I won’t say believe because the evidence was obvious on Ymilas--that while alive we develop an electromagnetic imprint as a result of the experiences of life that survives after death. I told Dergec an ancient Terran religion had the same belief, and in fact built elaborate pyramids and tombs filled with personal belongings to keep those spirits happy. 
The ancient Egyptians called that type of a spirit the “Ba”. The Ymilans call them Helpful Ancestors, and they are considered part of one’s extended family. 
I explained Earth’s weak magnetic field apparently allows most of our spirits to dissipate, “Although there were many cultures on Earth that believed their ancestors were a part of their everyday lives," I said."
Right there, up front, we learn that these electromagnetic things are not the immortal soul. The soul has already ascended to the higher plane. The ghosts are said to be the equivalent to the "Ba" of the ancient Egyptians, one minor belief of one minor long-gone sect.  This lowers the stakes of the story no end.  

So we're dealing with some sort of cast-off or shell that seems human but isn't. Like, for example, a corpse.  Getting a corpse out of the living's space is ringed with myth and ritual, but a funeral by itself, without additional elements of drama, is not a story. Getting the "Ba" to go away seems an equally important and yet ultimately trivial task. It could be said to be a McGuffin, and the thing with McGuffins is you need a rollicking good story to go around it. Weekend at Bernie's, for example. Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Also in terms of plot, I found the chaplain was not a "man who learned better" as Heinlein would put it. He already knew there were ghosts on the planet. When a human one showed up, he asked what to do about it, got a simple answer, and dealt with it exactly that way. When a similar problem showed up the next time, he said, "I got this." It didn't seem to trouble him much and there were no complications. It's neat, but not a gripping story.  More an anecdote.

This is the second puppy story I've read and the second one to deal with the more trivial aspects of what happens after death. Is this a theme with Christians?

Also Segways. There is a Segway in the story.

1 comment:

Lou Antonelli said...

Good comments, fair criticism. Thanks for reading it.


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