Book Talk: 'Ad Limina' by Cy Kellett - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Book Talk: 'Ad Limina' by Cy Kellett

Alexander Wallace joins the Catholics in space.
My life has not been the site of much religion; I was baptized Roman Catholic, as all good Tagalog babies are (my mother is from a CaviteƱo family). My father converted when I was in middle school. Other than that, I have only had so much interaction with the Roman Catholic Church, in any form. Most of my learning about Christianity lately has come from friends on the Sea Lion Press forum and a friend of mine who is Eastern Orthodox. With all that, I started reading Cy Kellett’s novel Ad Limina with curiosity.

Kellett is a devout Catholic who hosts the radio show Catholic Answers Live. At first glance, he is not the likeliest author of a science fiction novel. When reading Ad Limina, my first thought was that it was a latter-day successor to James Blish’s A Case of Conscience; both are Catholic attempts to square an ancient faith with the demands of the future.

Ad Limina draws its title from the commandment of Catholic visits for bishops to the Vatican every five years. Your main character, Mark Gastelum, is the first native-born Catholic Bishop of Mars, responsible for all the faithful on the colonies on that planet. He has delayed his ad limina visit for far too long. He boards a transport ship to Earth to meet with the Pope. However, the ship is hijacked, and Mark has to keep his wits about him as he travels through the solar system.

Mark’s story is a journey, almost a pilgrimage. You could compare him to any number of penitents on the Way of Saint James, or perhaps Dante and Virgil going through Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. The solar system that Mark inhabits is one filled with strife and uncertainty, one that the Catholic Church has to contend with and is divided internally over. As he encounters different people, Mark has to wrestle with what his faith and his church mean when all the assumptions of its birth have changed.

The novel will explain any particular Catholic doctrinal problem that comes up in simple terms. This leads to some truly amazing scenes, my favorite being when Mark’s ship docks on a space station run by transhumanists. In some way, all of the situations Mark finds himself in are about what it means to be human, whether it emphasizes the ‘means’ part or the ‘human’ part.

I would imagine the typical Warped Factor reader is not devoutly religious. As such, this entire review begs the question: is this book reading for a nonreligious person? I’d say yes. Ad Limina does what more science fiction should do: put science in cultural context. Kellett’s future is not abstract and without history; it is one deeply rooted in human history, intellectually and physically, and it takes care to show how at least one sort of person will respond to many things that we may see in our lifetimes.

Ad Limina is a deeply humanist novel, albeit one whose view of humanism is deeply Christian. It is about who we are as a species, and how that will be challenged, and how that may be reasserted. It is a warning and a celebration of where we could be a century from now; it’s Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 with biblical scaffolding. I’m convinced that the devoutly religious and the secular yet perturbed are more often not talking about the same problems; Ad Limina will show you the commonality in so many critiques of our possible future.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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