Wednesday, April 02, 2008

About ten years ago I read a book called Archangel by Sharon Shinn. It has become my all-time favorite beach read. I'm almost embarrassed to admit how much I love that book, because it is mainly a straight-up romance, and I'm usually pretty snooty about romance novels. Of course since it was successful, it is the first book of a series, which now includes at least four other books-- I've sort of lost count, beause none of the rest of them are as good as the first so I haven't paid as much attention to them. (Stay with me here, eventually this will be relevant to the topic at hand.)

Archangel is vaguely science fiction-y, although once the story gets started, that doesn't really enter into it. It takes place on a planet called Samaria, which is governed by a race of angels-- real-life angels that fly around with feathered wings. The head guy, the archangel, is forced to marry a slave girl, and like all Cinderella stories, it turns out happily after a series of obstacles have been overcome.

But the reason I'm bringing it up, other than to recommend it if you need a beach read, is because of an interesting subplot that runs throughout the series. What you find out, only very gradually, is that the inhabitants of Samaria are refugees from Earth, but other than a single person per generation, no one on the planet knows this. The angels are actually genetically altered humans, and they have abilities that appear magical because they are aided by a spaceship that is still up there orbiting the planet. The angels and the ordinary people of Samaria all believe that it is God who causes medicines to fall down out of the sky, or brings rain in times of drought, etc, but the reader starts to figure out that all of this is happening because of the spaceship.

Not much is made of this in the first book. But as the series progresses, the implications are spelled out more thoroughly. The spaceship begins to break down, and someone has to figure out how to repair it. And eventually, in the second book, the archangel (who is female this time) actually visits the spaceship.

So what do you do when the God you have believed in is proven unequivocally to be false? There she is on the spaceship, seeing the mechanisms that alter the weather and provide the medicines and so on. It is clear that these functions are being handled in ways that have nothing to do with a Supreme Being. But she has a whole lifetime of spiritual experiences that go beyond these pseudo-miracles that say that there is something true about what she has believed all these years, even though the framework has been proven false. So you might even say: she's learning that her religion isn't true, but her spirituality still has validity. She's trying to understand what that means.

Me, too.


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