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McAllister: Blue fire

(3 posts)
  • Started 10 years ago by geoffhart1962
  • Latest reply from geoffhart1962

  1. geoffhart1962

    This story is a relative rarity, as it's one of the few SF/F stories I can recall that treats religion (and particularly a conservative religion) with anything like respect, without failing to acknowledge that the Catholic church has always been about temporal power as much as it has been about religion. It's also rare in dealing with vampires with both sympathy ("love the sinner, hate the sin") and insight rather than treating them as the sexual fantasy toys or violent action figures they've mostly become, yet without diminishing their horrific aspects. In so doing, McAllister brings something newish to the genre of the vampire tale. Lastly, he deals with some thorny theological issues in an interestingly SFnal matter. That's a heady mixture indeed.

    The irony that both Catholics receiving communion and vamires drinking mortal blood have something in common is handled well, and with sensitivity. (My friend Brent Buckner, in his story "Flesh and blood" (OnSpec, Fall 1991) handled this notion brilliantly and poignantly.) There are many other small wisdoms in the story, including the unreliability of memory and the importance of the fire the dying Pope lights in the heart of the young archivist recording his story. In particular, the story helps us to remember that whatever we may think of a larger organization such as the Church, any such organization is made up of (and lives or dies based on the efforts of) individuals; it is not a monolithic entity that can be easily categorized in terms of its net karmic impact.

    Fans (fen!) have some serious issues about the (ir)reality of religion and the divine. That's an argument for another place. Here, the important point is that we're considering a story, not reality; in that context, the handling of these issues must be true to the story, and consistent within the story. "Blue Fire" works very well in that context. At its heart, this is not a story about Catholicism (with which I have many issues), but rather about one man's desire to do what is right. Implicit in this struggle is the author's criticism of those who wonder whether the words or the principles that underlie them are more important; the principles are, and that point is clearly demonstrated without preaching.

    Equally subtle is the unstated implication that by saving the Youngest Drinker, Pope Boniface may have precipitated the subsequent war between the vampires and the Church. Whether that is a good thing, or an example of bad things happening as a result of cleaving too hard to the orthodox doctrine, is a question left to the reader to answer. Clearly, unrepentant vampires trying to destroy an institution (the Church) that is itself hardly free of sin is not inherently a good or bad thing; neither is it inherently "good" to destroy that many damned souls when we have prima facie evidence (within the story universe) that becoming vampires was not their fault and that they could have been saved if, like the Youngest Drinker, they could have been persuaded to want salvation.

    That the Oldest Drinker "should have died in another man's place, on a cross" according to the Youngest Drinker, raises an interesting and vexing theological question that, to my knowledge, has not been answered and that isn't really relevant in this story): If Jesus had not died on the cross, would modern Christianity exist in any recognizable form? It seems unlikely, since resurrection lies at the heart of Christian belief. Given that Jesus died a practicing Jew (celebrating Passover at "the last supper"), it seems more likely to me that Christianity would have survived as a vigorous kind of reform Judaism. So clearly the crucifixion must have been part of God's plan, not the evil that it is often portrayed as being.

    Deep currents here that will disturb you if you dwell on them a bit.

    Posted 10 years ago #
  2. JohnWThiel

    Shitfahr, that's a pretty decadent church that story portrays.

    Posted 10 years ago #
  3. geoffhart1962

    I'm not an expert on the early Catholic church, but the story fits well with what I have read and what I've been told by a friend who is expert in the subject (many years ago now). "Decadent" isn't really the right word here, since it implies "decay"; at this point in history, the Church is still trying to decide what it will be and invent an identity for itself, and it's growing and flourishing rather than decaying.

    "Political" certainly would be correct. "Corrupt" too. McAllister hints at this repeatedly. But the larger point and the one that's most relevant to this story is that there really were (and still are) some good people who really believed and who acted on those beliefs.

    Sadly, the majority in any large organization don't seem to meet those criteria, and that's as true of the Church as it is of any other group. The ones who rise to the top tend to be the best schemers or politicians, not the ones who truly honor the core beliefs.

    Posted 10 years ago #

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