Monday, May 11, 2015

Reviews: Silence

“What he could not understand was the stillness of the courtyard…the whirling wings of the flies.  A man had died.  Yet the outside world went on as if nothing had happened.  Could anything be more crazy.  Was this martyrdom?  Why are you silent?  Here this one-eyed man has died - and for you…Why does this stillness continue?  This noon day stillness.  The sound of the flies, this crazy thing, this cruel business.  And you avert your face as though indifferent.  This - this I cannot bear.”  Silence, Shusaku Endo     

When I received the email from Jack “The Martian” Hastings, I was waist deep in one of the best books I’ve read in a couple of years.  As you’ve probably seen from other recent posts here, his email suggested we read this year’s Hugo nominees and do posts about them before the winner is announced in late August.  I did this once before a couple years ago in preparation for the 2013 Westercon, and found the results quite enjoyable.   (My personal pick for best that year, Robinson’s 2312, didn’t win, but I also enjoyed, to a lesser degree, the one that did, Scalzi’s Redshirts, and the other three, and was actually surprised at how much I did enjoy them, given my lack of sci-fi interest or reading in many years.)  So I agreed, not realizing the vile twist the Hugo Awards, or that is, the fans of the Hugo Awards, have taken.  I believe The Martian (who came by this nickname many years ago for reasons that I no longer recall, though I think it had something to do with his wearing “antennae” when our band performed, well, that and his love for sci-fi), will be addressing this sad twist of events, so at least for now, I won’t.  In any case, the book I was reading and shortly thereafter finished was Silence by Shusako Endo, a Japanese novel first published in 1969.  Though it is not sci-fi, I’m going to talk a little about it, and will jump into the Hugo nominees in subsequent posts.    

Silence is the story of European Catholic missionaries, and one in particular, the Portuguese Sebastian Rodrigues.  He and two other priests set out for Japan in 1638 to find out what actually happened to another missionary who preceded them by many years.  At first, i.e., 60 years earlier, the missionaries were embraced, there were many converts, and the Japanese ruling class treated the fathers as honored guests in their country.  But for various reasons things turned very bad by 1614 and all priests and converts were rounded up and forced to renounce Christianity or die, usually by burning.  Torture, murder and mayhem were the order of the day.  Word has reached Europe that the priest who had been leading the mission, has renounced his religion and is collaborating with his former persecutors.

The Catholic Church (full disclosure I was raised Catholic and very much a “true believer” in my youth) and of course other religions strike me as somewhat Borg-like in their earlier days.  The Pope and his advisers are the hive mind, sending their drones out to assimilate other people into the collective.  How much “autonomy” does each drone posses?  The hive mind hope little to none; it is never a good thing to question the dogma.  But what happens when an individual drone is forced, or wishes, to act in a different, contradictory, “rogue” manner?  In the last few weeks, ever since I began researching this Hugo project, the question seems to be “in the air”, and I was a bit shocked to realize that Silence, at least to my mind, is of a part with this.  As Rodrigues gets caught up in what has happened to his predecessors, he is faced with the grueling matter of his own apostasy: he would NEVER have imagined that he could renounce the hive mind, turn against it, but torture, mind games, and all manner of provocation set him on a path that horribly, severely, tests his faith.       

So there are two points I’d like to make in this, my inaugural 2015 Hugo nominees post: first, that there’s something in the cultural air with regards to the idea of an entity made up of many organisms that are BOTH at the same time “independent” AND the organism itself (much more on this to come), and second, that my first recommendation in this series is the non-sci-fi Silence: a very well written, incredibly provocative story of what happens when your very core, the essence of what you are and what you believe, is ruthlessly questioned and demonized.  I highly recommend it.

- William Fuller

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