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Book Reviews: Federations, part 2 + Punish The Sinners

Federations edited by John Joseph Riley, part 2

The Ship Who Returned
By Anne McCaffrey. A sentient ship protects a colony of nuns from Reaver like pirates. This was dull and full of grotesque rape jokes.

My She
A creepy little tale about interstellar communications and the tools bred to make it possible.

The Shoulders of Giants
By Robert J. Sawyer. The colonists on Pioneer Spirit wake from cold sleep after a 1200 year voyage to Soror ready to build their new home. But Soror is already inhabited. This is a good tale of unexpected discovery and wonder.

The Culture Archivist
This is an obvious parody of the Federation from ‘Star Trek’. A deserter hides out on a world documenting its culture because the fleet are coming imminently to assimilate the world into the homonogised U.P and destroy its culture. This was very good.

The Other Side Of Jordan
A man journeys out into the vastness of space to find himself. Okay.

Like They Always Been Free
A ridiculous tale written in vernacular making the opacity worse. Terrible.

Eskhara
The Confederation is on a small planet and the locals aren’t welcoming. It is a tragedy waiting to happen. Good.

Best Line:
“The only reason locals talk to you is because they’re afraid of what we’ll do if they don’t cooperate.”

The One With The Interstellar Group Consciousness
An utterly dumb love story.

Golubash, or Wine-Blood-War-Elegy
An elegant tale of wine, corporate disputes, rebellion and revenge. Excellent.

~
Punish The Sinners by John Saul
This 1978 novel from the author of ‘Hellfire’ and ‘Comes The Blind Fury’ is his best work. Saul has the reputation of a 4th rate Stephen King knock off but this was a before its time tale of Catholic guilt, abuse and manipulation. Peter Balsam comes to the small sour town of Neilsville. The venerable Monsignor Peter Vernon runs the town and is the moral arbiter. Accordingly the town is small-minded and anyone who isn’t complaint or crosses the Monsignor is subject to exclusion or hateful rumours. Everyone treats the Monsignor with deference. Four mean girls - Judy, Penny, Karen and Janet - derive joy from bullying Marilyn. Peter Balsam is in Neilsville to teach psychology.

Neilsville acts like Vatican II was never envisaged and everything is a mortal sin. While dated in places (a cassette tape provides a vital clue, Balsam has to order a phone installed and the teenagers hang out in a discotheque and smoke grass) this was very good. Vernon spews misogyny, the bullying of Marilyn is treated as a mere indiscretion, there is religious devotion, exploitation of religion, judgemental nuns, narrow minded incompetent parents, restless growing pains, useless medical staff, bizarre penances, non-existent medical confidentiality and Vernon’s study group acts like a tribunal. It is clear that Vernon’s attitude has shaped the town and its disproportionately odd reactions.

Balsam romances Margo. Vernon rants and is obviously the bespoke bad guy. Only Balsam notices there is something deeply wrong in Neilsville. But when he tries to do something to help he is expropriated for it. Then the suicides begin and even more tense and horrendous events involving 13th century Italians, orgies and mind control take place. This is a dark bleak tale of dehumanising impropriety ravaging the town. It is carried out by the cultural guard so the townsfolk just passively acquiesce to their intellectual weight. Balsam bemoans what is going on and is affronted by the barmy naked misanthropy surrounding him, but his fight back is only ineffectual feeble wittering.

The insufferable baddie is voracious in his in-bred arrogance and glowering malevolence. The fractious and aggressive townsfolk cower before him. This tale is a ridiculously gothic tale of increasingly heightened madness. Distraught teenagers - already not given to subtlety - act in infuriating ways and engage in sexual jealously and disconcerting self-destruction. Victims are propelled toward death by ingenious persistent tormentors who when not doing that, bellow sanctimoniously and make insinuations to tarnish the innocent Balsam as they themselves are held in voracious reverence. One by one by one the innocent suffer, the guiltily unjustly get away with it and Balsam is abandoned and turned on by everyone. Their personal animosity blinds the fools to the truth. The ending is a real downer and this was very good.

Best Lines:
“It covered the town like the stink of death.”

“She says he’s weird,”
“Then he’ll fit in here just fine,”

“She doesn’t think they ought to be teaching psychology.”

“Mother says what Judy did was even worse than getting pregnant.”

“To help me bring the heretics back to the fold. To punish the sinners.”

“Three faded roses, and everyone there to make sure she was dead.”
“Who’d even care if she was dead?”

“He was a prize bastard, wasn’t he?”

“They were doing the most disgusting things to you.”

“So Marilyn sat in her corner, half hoping to be left alone and unnoticed, half hoping someone - anyone - would come over to talk to her. No one did.”

“When that girl killed herself she committed a sin beyond redemption she has no rights within the church whatsoever.”

“In some places, it’s gotten so bad that entire wards of teen-age girls have had to be put under physical restriction to stop them from cutting themselves.”

“Everything was her fault. Everything that went wrong was her fault.”
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