In Mann’s (The Generous Dead, 2015) sci-fi novella set in a dystopian future in which atheism has replaced religion as a state-sponsored institution, a young widow threatens to unravel the authority of those beliefs.
After the death of her husband, Alynda undergoes treatment overseen by the Church of the Rational Atheist, where widows and widowers are housed together and counseled on how to move on with their lives. The church also requires its followers to confess thoughts or fantasies that don’t conform to reason. Alynda, who’s hesitant to couple up with a fellow widower as expected and who’s struggling with her own grief, comes under scrutiny by the church; the mysterious Dr. Amador, in particular, is searching for more information about her late husband and his Christian beliefs. Unable to satisfy the doctor’s demands for information, Alynda finds herself institutionalized in a city-sized sanitarium called the Purgatorium. There, she becomes aware of a group that believes aliens live among the human population. She attends the group’s meeting out of pure curiosity, but she soon realizes that their beliefs may be connected to the mysteries surrounding her husband’s death. Overall, the novella presents an intriguing premise. However, it doesn’t fully realize its fictional world. There’s very little description of settings, which deprives the story of not only imagery but also necessary context for the plot. Alynda is a sympathetic, engaging protagonist whose grief provides the author with a unique way of subtly probing the story’s core religious themes. Many of the plot’s elements would be more captivating if they were further fleshed out, but the novella’s lack of elaboration and abbreviated length detract from the tale.
An underdeveloped sci-fi take on religion.