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Letters from the Flesh
Marcos Donnelly
Robert J. Sawyer Books, Red Deer Press, 191 pages

Letters from the Flesh
Marcos Donnelly
Marcos Donnelly was born in Rochester, New York in 1962. In addition to the novel Prophets for the End of Time (1998), his short fiction includes "As A Still Small Voice" (1990), "Tracking the Random Variable" (1991), "Spare Time for Willy Todd" (1992), "The Resurrection of Alonso Quijana" (1992), "Bloodletting" (1994) and "El Hijo de Hernez" (1995).

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Review: Letters from the Flesh
Review: Letters from the Flesh

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Chris Przybyszewski

Beware oh readers. There do be devils in some of these books we read. One of my favorite types of books is the subversive kind, those books that take commonly held beliefs and stick an wedge into those beliefs. The reader's only reactions are to throw the book on the bonfire or to think about the book's content.

Marcos Donnelly has given more fuel for the oppressor's fire in his Letters from the Flesh, a collection of two sets of letters, which the author says came "unsolicited" via his e-mail account.

The first set of letters is from Dr. Lillian Uberland, a developmental biologist at the fictional RSI University. Uberland is confident, young, and brash (to the point of arrogance). She writes her letters to cousin Michael Atkins, a biology teacher at Podunk High School.

Uberland attempts to give advice to her cousin, when he finds students of a fundamentalist Christian bent and who reject his teachings of Darwin's The Origin of Species. In his quest to open a dialogue on the merits of both evolution and creationism, Atkins invites a creationism expert to his school to talk to the students. In response, Uberland invites herself to be the opposing party.

In her mind, Uberland is only doing what is best for her cousin. Donnelly has a firm grasp of the mind of the academy, which sees the world in terms of bipolar opposites, of dark and of light. Through her e-mails, which enunciate Uberland's voice with a singular clarity, Donnelly shows the belief in science, and the faith one must have in order to believe in the simplest of scientific "laws," which are mutable to the next big discovery.

The second set of letters features a being without a corporeal body, and who inhabits a human form after a clash with an enemy species. That corporeal body in which this being inhabits? None other than Saul of Tarsus, also known as Saint Paul, Christian convert and Dogmarian Major of the Christian Bible and Church. To be clear, Donnelly posits that Saul's conversion to Christianity was not the light of God, but was rather an alien force coming for a bit of a visit (see the term subversive above).

Paul dictates and writes his own experiences in his epistles (not found in the Bible, I think) about being a human, about being a Jew converted to Christianity, and about the world in which he lives. Paul is an observer, a scientist, an objective camera on his world. He notes the peculiarities of his fellow converts and Greek friends as they try to piece together their own world. Paul also notes the necessary juxtaposition of science and of religion to which his convert friends so eagerly subscribe.

Good stuff.

An important point to be made here is that Donnelly refrains from judging either the scientific or the religious. While his character of Uberland certainly has her opinion and while Paul develops his own, Donnelly gives the reader a first-class bird's eye view by alternating the chapters between his two letter writers. The reader is left to make his or her own decisions about such things.

Donnelly is clear about one thing, however: his belief that an interrelation between the scientific and the religious is possible. He posits that human belief is a powerful force that can shape our collective reality. To ignore the power of belief is to ignore a fundamental force in our universe.

Some readers will be turned off and turned away by the idea that the founder of the Christian law is an alien in disguise. Some readers will have the same reaction to the creationism outlined in the text. However, many readers, the ones who count, will most likely dip themselves in the ideas of Letters from the Flesh, letting the words wash over their heads like baptismal waters.

Beware oh readers. There do be devils in some of these books we read. However, these devils are in some ways like their forefather, Lucifer, who was a rebel himself. These devils challenge the written word, and that's not such a bad thing at all.

Copyright © 2004 Chris Przybyszewski

Chris learned to read from books of fantasy and science fiction, in that order. And any time he can find a graphic novel that inspires, that's good too.

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