Norman Spinrad:Deus X

I haven't read a lot of Norman Spinrad. That last thing I read by him, I believe, was a novella called "World War Last" in Asimov's a few years back, which was an incredibly heavy-handed satire on the Cold War and the U.S.A.'s role in it. I wasn't that impressed with it, but then I've discovered a low tolerance in myself for heavy-handed satire. In the Author's Notes at the back, it includes as accolades:

Spinrad's novel about Adolf Hitler, The Iron Dream, was banned in Germany for seven years, and Bug Jack Barron, his controversial novel about presidential politics and the power of television, was denounced on the floor of the British Parliament.
So, after that, Deus X was a pleasant surprise. It's not heavy- handed at all. It deals sensitively with the spiritual issue: does an electronic replica of a personality(called a "successor entity")have a soul?

The Catholic Church of the time is very concerned with this question, because its current anti-successor-entity position is losing it worshippers in droves; the ecology is going to hell, and some people would rather live in computer simulation than in the real world. They are desirable of finding out for sure.

Father Pierre De Leone is dying. He is of the near-unshakeable opinion that successor entities do not have souls, and that they are therefore a temptation of Satan. So Pope Mary I considers him the best candidate to discover the truth--by making a successor entity of him, and attempting to convince it that it has a soul.

Marley Philippe is a net jockey called in when Father De Leone's simulacrum disappears mysteriously. It has somehow been spirited away to The Other Side, where the more mysterious entities dwelling on the Net live... And he eventually ends up having to convince Father De Leone that he does have a soul.

Spinrad isn't out to bash religion here. He treats it with sensitivity, not just pointing and laughing. And he deals seriously with the issues he raises. Expecting to have to slog through it, instead I only needed an evening and a morning to get through it. Short, fast-paced, and yet deeply thoughtful. A difficult combination to achieve, but Spinrad pulls it off.

It may yet show up on my Hugo ballot.

%A Spinrad, Norman
%T Deus X
%I Bantam Spectra
%C New York
%D January 1993
%G ISBN 0-553-29677-9
%P 177 pp.
%O Paperback, US$4.99, Can$3.99

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The Den of Ubiquity / Aaron V. Humphrey / alfvaen@gmail.com