I picked up Wrestling With Gods (Tesseracts Eighteen) because I’m a sucker for speculative fiction that intersects with religion. On the other hand, I rarely read anthologies, preferring novel length fiction. Nevertheless, I can say that I was happily surprised on several fronts. First, the writing is undeniable excellent throughout. Liana Kerzner and Jerome Stueart clearly had a treasure trove of stories to choose from; I can honestly say there is nothing here that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. It makes me wonder if there aren’t a lot of really great stories that didn’t make the cut; I wonder where they are and hope they eventually find homes.
The second thing that struck me from the first story to the last is the overall “feel” of the stories. I’ve been reading this genre for a very long time and this feels like “old-time” science fiction to me. What I mean by this, is that these stories have the sense-of-wonder that many of the classic stories inspired in me as a young reader. Kerzner and Stueart curated a collection of stories here that undeniably belong together. They talk about the selection process in the book, and I must say that the end result worked for me.
The problem that can crop up with a theme concerning religion, is that a bias either pro or con will become transparent very quickly. And that’s the final thing I love about this anthology, there is nothing like a bias to be found here. This anthology has an incredible range of story approaches, from primitive societies to far future and high tech. And clearly there is no “tip-toeing” about trying to not offend anyone. These stories are flat-out and no-holds-barred, but told with compassion for the story being told. If someone finds anything offensive here, then I think that particular someone is inclined to find offense where there is none. These stories are heart-felt attempts to look at belief from many different angles.
I’ll be keeping an eye out for Kerzner and Stueart. I don’t know if they’re planning to work together again, but I hope so.