The Sacerdotal Owl and Three Other Long Tales of Calamity, Pilgrimage, and Atonement
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The Sacerdotal Owl and Three Other Long Tales gathers four of Michael Bishop's unusual longer stories, from different stages of his almost fifty-year career, into a single remarkable volume. The title story, a deft mix of exotic Joseph Conrad and colorful 1930s pulp adventure, drops the reader—along with self-reliant heroine Lace Kurlansky—into a fictional Latin American country in which the ancient Maya have arisen from extinction into active involvement in a tortuous civil war. Next, in the early short novel And Strange at Ecbatan the Trees, Bishop imagines a far-future society on a harsh alien world facing three major calamitous challenges and turning to a fault-ridden genius, Gabriel Elk, to meet and overcome at least two of them. By contrast, "To the Land of Snow" follows the multi-year voyage of a 21st-century starship carrying a cargo of disaffected Buddhists colonists to a planet nearly twenty light years from Earth, all from the perspective of an unorthodox Dalai Lama born aboard the vessel itself. Finally, in the controversial "The Gospel According to Gamaliel Crucis," an evangelist for an otherworldly female redeemer—an evangelist who is also the navigator of an interstellar expeditionary force—sets out in scriptural format his testimony that this huge sentient insect represents the second coming of Christ. So open The Sacerdotal Owl and Three Other Long Tales at any story, in any order, and discover the brave, far-ranging, unpredictable talent of Michael Bishop writing at his best at these longer lengths in four exciting subgenres of the SF and fantasy fields.
“Bishop’s illustrious career spans more than four decades, and this collection gathers four longer stories that showcase his talent for plumbing the depths of the human experience through science fiction. . . . Both startling and intimate, this collection captures Bishop’s understanding of the human need to raise complicated questions and seek answers outside one’s self. Fans will appreciate having these familiar favorites in one place, and newcomers will find it an excellent introduction to the richness of Bishop’s fiction.”
“Michael Bishop is a genuine original. These four stories explore the unexpected ramifications of faith—Mayan, Buddhist, Christian, and technological—in ways that no one else has, or could. Startling, funny, profound, and always marvelously detailed, Bishop’s fiction creates unfamiliar worlds that we somehow recognize as ours, as us. A unique gem.”
—Nancy Kress, author of If Tomorrow Comes
“In The Sacerdotal Owl, Michael Bishop delivers four wondrous, surprising novellas: We encounter a freakish, Lovecraftian Mayan sacrifice; a child on a gen-ship proclaimed to be the Dalai Lama’s latest incarnation; an alien mantid who may well be the Second Coming, if not the actual First (and rendered, no less, in the chapter and verse of a gospel); and a tale 10,000 years in the future on a colonized world, where plays and acting are banned, so that only the dead, reanimated, may perform without penalty. Powerful, whimsical, horrific, and often slyly hilarious, this is Michael Bishop giving a command performance. We are royally entertained.”
—Gregory Frost, author of Lord Tohpet
“Where else but in a Michael Bishop story would Central American guerillas make an uneasy alliance with ancient gods, or a reluctant Dalai Lama come of age on an interstellar transport, or a half-mad visionary reanimate the dead to perform in plays that hint at secret history, or a leftover alien messiah descend from the stars to proselytize humanity? Michael Bishop has the gift for creating realms where the landscape of body and spirit are firmly intertwined, each supporting and enhancing the other, so that the resulting tale resonates with the reader through cascading levels of wonder.”
—Jane Lindskold, author of Asphodel
"Intelligence, invention, surprise, wit, and wisdom. Michael Bishop's work is a master class in all of the above."
—Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club
"This collection is composed of a novel and three novelettes drawn from various points in the author's career. The novel is And Strange at Ecbatan the Trees, in which the survivors of a destroyed Earth find fresh problems on a new world. Their rigidly hierarchical social system is less flexible than it should be. The title story is a quiet but effective sort of horror tale set in the midst of a Central American civil war. "To the Land of Snow" is a fascinating generational starship story in which the would-be colonists are Buddhists. The final story involves a non-human messiah and other religious elements and was considered rather controversial when it was first published. I believe all four stories have been somewhat revised for this edition. They are typical of Bishop's career in that they are so dissimilar. Bishop never fell into a niche and is always unpredictable, but never disappointing."
—Don D'Ammassa, Critical Mass