FICTION ALERT: “Heaven’s Touch” by Jason Sanford

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship,
stories are the thing we need most in the world.” -Philip Pullman

turnpike
A simple roadway, or the very maw of Hell?

Hello, earthlings! Every so often, I take the six-hour trip from Baltimore to New York to visit my awesome parents. As anyone who has traversed I-95 and the Northeast’s main arteries knows, it’s a supremely boring trip, all trees and asphalt and hollering at other cars on the New Jersey Turnpike. At this point, I have it down to a science: coffee in Delaware, coffee in New Jersey, food at Menlo Park Mall, rubberneck to gawk at the New York skyline, get gas on Route 17, and listen to Escape Pod.

Ever since discovering Jei Marcade’s “Sounding The Fall” there last month, I’ve been pretty obsessed with listening to everything in their archives, and I was able to make a significant dent during last week’s trip up North. Nothing makes the sound of rubber on asphalt (and, in New Jersey, the sound of your voice screaming at other drivers) more interesting than turning your car into an audio theater and hearing a tale of a man whose prosthetic arm thinks it is a road, or the story of a soldier whose greatest weapons against the alien invasion are the lies he tells. (That story is spectacular, by the way.) Plus, there’s a lot there if you’re a follower of this blog and all of the thorny questions we love, so my advice to you today would be to get over there and begin experiencing the literary jackpot that is Escape Pod for yourself.

There are a lot of winners on Escape Pod, but this week, Sacred Earthlings is going to recommend you start with “Heaven’s Touch” by Jason Sanford. This story takes place on a comet hurtling towards the sun at a hundred thousand miles an hour, but the issues it brings up can be found right here on Earth today: questions of human destiny, religious martyrdom, faith versus science, the nature of the apocalypse and what it’s like to have faith in another person — and then have that faith betrayed. This is all set up against a Gravity-esque, very visual environmental thriller that pits the main character against time and incredible odds, and if the historical story of the Heaven’s Gate cult chilled you here, so will Sanford.

Water-ordeal
Witch trial by ordeal, courtesy Wikipedia.

What is destiny, after all? The Seekers’ religious tests here remind me a little of the unwinnable witchcraft examinations of old England and the early American colonies — if you drown in the lake, drawn down by stone tied to your ankles, you were innocent; if you live, you had the Devil’s favor and would be executed (but, of course, you wouldn’t live). Is destiny tied to the beliefs you had when you were young? Do our choices make us who we are, or our our lives already circumscribed by the family we’re born into, the place we grow up, and the science of the time? Is destiny in our own hands, and is making our own destiny even consonant with faith at all? If these questions interest you, you will get a lot out of this story.

You can find “Heaven’s Touch” by Jason Sanford here.

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