Short Reviews – Not With a Bang But a Bleep, Gary Jennings

Another story featured in the July June 1977 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Mixing religious satire with science fiction is always an iffy prospect. There were times I wanted to be annoyed with the out and out silliness of Gary Jennings’ story and his refugee from Mad-Magazine protagonist, but I can’t tell you how many times it made me laugh out loud.

The premise is ridiculous: thought moves faster than the speed of light, so NASA decides to test this by strapping a “SoPrim (Southern Primitive) Protestant” minister to a wall in a rocketship. He accidentally prays them straight past Mars and into heaven.

The narrative is the minister compiling his report on the matter, explaining the full situation to whomever ends up debriefing them. The “Bleep” in the title refers not to any sort of computer or robot but the minister’s penchant to censor the speech of those around him in his official report.
He recalls how he was approached for the mission, the near miss with Mars, going off course and straight into a black hole in the middle of the Horsehead Nebula, and their strange encounter with a multiversal heaven created by a quasi-gnostic God, a tour of which is given by THE Dr. Livingston.

The snark and silliness that would otherwise be insurmountably aggravating had it been poorly executed is forgiven in no small part because of just how funny Jennings’ prose is.

“But the ravens brought Elijah bread and flesh. The Book of Kings says so. That one brought you a matzo and a worm!”
“Well, what other sort of bread would a good Tishbite Jew like Elijah consent to eat? And what other kind of flesh would a raven know?”

and

“Won’t I have Chaplain duties besides?”
“I daresay the rest of the crew will be too busy to require much spiritual counciling. And we know from the Viking robots that you won’t have to baptize or bury any Martians.”

are a couple of my favorites, as well as a series of out-of-context Bible verses used as thought-navigation while the crew scrambles and panics around the protagonist too long to really include in excerpt here. You certainly wouldn’t want your telekinetic navigator meditating on thoughts of “All we like sheep have gone astray” and “These are wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever”.

I’m kind of surprised that Mel Brooks never made an adaptation of this, simply rewriting the minister as a rabbi.  The thing would make a great radio play.

Of interest to this year’s Hugo readers, the space ship is the Corrigan.  That name keeps coming up EVERYWHERE.

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4 responses to “Short Reviews – Not With a Bang But a Bleep, Gary Jennings

  1. I’m surprised anything else has read that, or at least reviewed it online. Definitely check out some of Gary Jennings’ later novels such as Aztec or Raptor.

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