Archive for the ‘atheist friendly fiction’ Category

Today’s recommendation is La Religieuse! Or, The Nun.

Written in the end of 18th century, La Religieuse is based on a real story of a French woman who was forced into joining a convent by her parents, and fought for her freedom in 1758. The whole concept of a fake-memoir novel started as a practical joke that was meant to lure Marquis de Croismare (whom the fictional nun asks for assistance) back to Paris.

The heroine, Suzanne Simonin, is an illegitimate child of a French woman who is tricked into joining a convent, so that she would pay for her mother’s sin (of having an affair, which resulted in an illegitimate child). While at first content, she quickly starts to demand that she be allowed to be released from her vows.

The portrayal of the convent life is part terrifying, part satirical, although a modern reader must be warned that Diderot considered the accusations of homosexuality to be the height of satire. It is nevertheless, an interesting and hilarious(1) read.

My girlfriends and I, we all read it back in high school. There was giggling involved!

Especially recommended if you can giggle at gothic novels!

You can buy it like a normal greedy book collector person or read it here.


(1)If sometimes not for the right reasons *cackles*.


Today, we’ll be gushing over Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum!

Personally, I believe we don’t really have to gush that much, because Foucault’s Pendulum is something every sceptic should read, and love, and then read again, and are there seriously people who haven’t yet?

No, I didn’t think so.

Anyway, FTW!contents include: historical geekery, conspiracy theories, people making up conspiracy theories for moniez having the theories backfire in their general direction, metatextuality, pro-scepticism, rationalism, good writing, and even an interesting plot, and much much moar.

There are also  Eco’s articles, my personal favourites being: the one about fascism (which I like to re-read from time to time) here, and the one about culture, diversity, and stuff here.

Today’s rec is The Epic of Gilgamesh!

(There really should be a Wiki version in Akkadian. It’d edit that)

Anyway, because for me, the  joys I associate with reading Gilgamesh consisted mostly of:

1) trudging to and fro in the library with any and all of the twenty volumes of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary in my hands, on my back, in my pockets(1), and carefully balanced on my head,  and with Borger’s Assyrisch-Babylonische Zeichenliste dangling precariously in the steely yet loving embrace of my upper and lower jaw(2),

(Um. Please disregard the disturbing mental image)

2)finding stuff to fit into the lacunae in the original tablet,

3)crowing triumphantly for no reason at all,

4)consuming copious amounts of coffee,

it would be, I think, a good idea to just let a sane person speak his mind: here, PZ Myers on the awesomeness that is the Epic of Gilgamesh.

This is one of my favourite  Pharyngula post ever, by the way.

(1) Haha, NO.

(2) thank Darwin for pdf files! EVOLUTION! SYMBIOSIS!

Today’s recommendation is anything by Stanisław Lem!

(But mostly Cyberiad and Star Diaries and Mortal Engines)

Guys, let’s face it. My review-writing skills are nonexistent. I suck. It’s so evident to me that stuff I like is absolutely cool that I find it next to impossible to list the reasons why it is so with any semblance of coherence. Also, I get excited and hyper and just keep browsing my favourite quotes.

And there are lots of them.

It takes hours.

So, this time, let’s just link to other people’s reviews, which are way better than anything I would write anyway.

(Also, I have 9 minutes now before Friday is over)

The Cyberiad

Star Diaries

Mortal Engines

(You will understand why I’m reccing this as an atheist-friendly stuff when you read Lem’s account of creation *snorts*. My memories are very fond even after all those years)


Wikipedia’s delightful summary:

A typical example is the fairy tale O królewiczu Ferrycym i królewnie Krystali) (“Prince Ferrix and the Princess Crystal”). A princely (robotic) knight falls in love with a beautiful (robotic) princess. Unfortunately, the princess is somewhat eccentric, and is captivated by stories of an alien non-robotic, “paleface” civilization (the humans). She declares that she will only marry a “paleface”. Therefore, the knight decides to masquerade as a paleface. He covers himself with mud, starting to resemble one, and then comes to woo her. Meanwhile, a real “paleface” captive arrives, given as a gift to the king. It immediately becomes obvious to the princess who is the “muddier” one, but the “paleface” turns out to be too squishy and overall disgusting. Not wanting to back down at the last minute, however, the princess declares a joust between the two suitors to select the worthier one. When the “paleface” charges at the robot, he splatters himself on the latter’s metal chest, revealing the metallic body to all. The princess, beholding the beauty of the exposed robot (compared with the ugliness of the “paleface”), changes her mind. The knight and the princess live happily ever after.



Today’s rec is Andrea Barrett‘s Ship Fever!

I only read this book, because Simon Singh recommends on his website, and I’m a mindless sheep fangirl sheep.

And if it hadn’t been for Simon Singh, I probably would have never even heard of the book, because USian authors aren’t exactly my area of expertise, and Barrett, despite being a really great author, seems to be virtually unknown outside of  the US. Which is a terrible shame.

Ship Fever is a collection of short stories about science, its history, about people who do science, and for me, about how really totally  absolutely awesome the world is.

The short stories are nothing like you expect fiction about science to be: there are no info-dumps,  and very little in the way of explanatory prefaces. I also found Barrett’s writing style very engaging and fun to read; there’s very little exposition, as if the reader were expected to know everything from the start, which makes you pay more attention to the text, and it might just be me, but somehow, when it seems that you’re expected to understand everything from the beginning, you feel that you are more inside the text than you normally would.

My favourite story was the Ship Fever, which is about a quarantine station for Irish immigrants who are fleeing from the potato famine, or at least, this provides the background for many people to do many things, try to do many things, and to die.

It’s like The Plague without all the stuff I didn’t like about The Plague. Also, there are more women.

I also lenjoyed The Rare Bird (about the theory that swallows hibernate under water during the winter, and women in science),  and Birds with No Feet (about how it is when you don’t get to be the person who always discovers everything first).

Here’s Barrett  reading an excerpt from Ship Fever, and here’s an interview with her.

Let’s start with some classic stuff:

Anatole France, Penguin Island!

Penguin Island was written in 1908 and is, basically, a highly stylised and awesome satire of French and Western European history. It starts innocently enough, and continues in the vein of lovingly mocking what you love most, up until the satire of the Dreyfus affair, where you can tell that France was genuinely outraged and angry*.

The story itself really kicks off after the blind St Mael, an apt parody of many actual heroes and heroines of hagiographies, mistakes penguins (or auks) for people, and baptises them, which causes heavenly shenanigans, God being terribly embarrassed, and the world’s best dead theologians arguing for and against the validity of the baptism. Because, penguins.


But St. Gal replied:

“What relation do you claim to establish between the baptism of a bird and the marriage of a eunuch? There is none at all. Marriage is, if I may say so, a conditional, a contingent sacrament. The priest blesses an event beforehand; it is evident that if the act is not consummated the benediction remains without effect. That is obvious. I have known on earth, in the town of Antrim, a rich man named Sadoc, who, living in concubinage with a woman, caused her to be the mother of nine children. In his old age, yielding to my reproofs, he consented to marry her, and I blessed their union. Unfortunately Sadoc’s great age prevented him from consummating the marriage. A short time afterwards he lost all his property, and Germaine (that was the name of the woman), not feeling herself able to endure poverty, asked for the annulment of a marriage which was no reality. The Pope granted her request, for it was just. So much for marriage. But baptism is conferred without restrictions or reserves of any kind. There is no doubt about it, what the penguins have received is a sacrament.”

Called to give his opinion, Pope St. Damascus expressed himself in these terms:

“In order to know if a baptism is valid and will produce its result, that is to say, sanctification, it is necessary to consider who gives it and not who receives it. In truth, the sanctifying virtue of this sacrament results from the exterior act by which it is conferred, without the baptized person cooperating in his own sanctification by any personal act; if it were otherwise it would not be administered to the newly born. And there is no need, in order to baptize, to fulfil any special condition; it is not necessary to be in a state of grace; it is sufficient to have the intention of doing what the Church does, to pronounce the consecrated words and to observe the prescribed forms. Now we cannot doubt that the venerable Mael has observed these conditions. Therefore the penguins are baptized.”

“Do you think so?” asked St. Guenole. “And what then do you believe that baptism really is? Baptism is the process of regeneration by which man is born of water and of the spirit, for having entered the water covered with crimes, he goes out of it a neophyte, a new creature, abounding in the fruits of righteousness; baptism is the seed of immortality; baptism is the pledge of the resurrection; baptism is the burying with Christ in His death and participation in His departure from the sepulchre. That is not a gift to bestow upon birds. Reverend Fathers, let us consider. Baptism washes away original sin; now the penguins were not conceived in sin. It removes the penalty of sin; now the penguins have not sinned. It produces grace and the gift of virtues, uniting Christians to Jesus Christ, as the members to the body, and it is obvious to the senses that penguins cannot acquire the virtues of confessors, of virgins, and of widows, or receive grace and be united to—”

St. Damascus did not allow him to finish.

“That proves,” said he warmly, “that the baptism was useless; it does not prove that it was not effective.”

Hee! (Also, LOL, the sanctity of marriage, LOL)

There’s no point in spoiling anything, although there really can’t be much talk of spoiling when it comes to a book that is a parody of real events that already happened anyway, and of which, at least partly, most people are certainly aware.

Let me just give you a sample of his writing:

“I know that better than you do,” replied the Lord. “I see in a single glance both the actual problems which are difficult, and the future problems which will not be less difficult. Thus I can foretell that when the sun will have turned round the earth two hundred and forty times more.

“Sublime language,” exclaimed the angels.

“And worthy of the creator of the world,” answered the pontiffs.

“It is,” resumed the Lord, “a manner of speaking in accordance with my old cosmogony and one which I cannot give up without losing my immutability. . . .


“I think I have proved by this example that, to reach eternal blessedness, it is enough to possess some parts of humanity, always on the condition that they are noble. And what Chiron, the Centaur, could obtain without having been regenerated by baptism, would not the penguins deserve too, if they became half penguins and half men? That is why, Lord, I entreat you to give old Mael’s penguins a human head and breast so that they can praise you worthily. And grant them also an immortal soul—but one of small size.”

Thus Catherine spoke, and the fathers, doctors, confessors, and pontiffs heard her with a murmur of approbation.

(ETA: OK, apparently, I can’t help myself. Just a bit more:

“Lord, do not so. Birds with human heads exist already. St. Catherine has told us nothing new.”

“The imagination groups and compares; it never creates,” replied St. Catherine drily.

“They exist already,” continued St. Antony, who would listen to nothing. “They are called harpies, and they are the most obscene animals in creation. One day as I was having supper in the desert with the Abbot St. Paul, I placed the table outside my cabin under an old sycamore tree. The harpies came and sat in its branches; they deafened us with their shrill cries and cast their excrement over all our food. The clamour of the monsters prevented me from listening to the teaching of the Abbot St. Paul, and we ate birds’ dung with our bread and lettuces. Lord, it is impossible to believe that harpies could give thee worthy praise.

“Truly in my temptations I have seen many hybrid beings, not only women-serpents and women-fishes, but beings still more confusedly formed such as men whose bodies were made out of a pot, a bell, a clock, a cupboard full of food and crockery, or even out of a house with doors and windows through which people engaged in their domestic tasks could be seen. Eternity would not suffice were I to describe all the monsters that assailed me in my solitude, from whales rigged like ships to a shower of red insects which changed the water of my fountain into blood. But none were as disgusting as the harpies whose offal polluted the leaves of my sycamore.”

“Harpies,” observed Lactantius, “are female Monsters with birds’ bodies. They have a woman’s head and breast. Their forwardness, their shamelessness, and their obscenity proceed from their female nature as the poet Virgil demonstrated in his ‘Aeneid.’ They share the curse of Eve.”

This makes me all giggly :D YAY)

Cute, huh? As a further enticement, I’d also like to point out that not just this, but in fact all of Anatole France’s books were added to the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Prohibited Books Index) of the Catholic Church.

You can read the Penguin Island here in English, or here in French. Enjoy!

*I can sympathise. I was too. Also, my posts often get like that =_=.