The Way of Cross and Dragon • 1979 • Religious SF novelette by George R.R. Martin


Look at Little Red Reviewer’s blog for #VintageSciFiMonth.

Synopsis: Damien Har Veris is an inquisitor of the One True Interstellar Catholic Church of Earth and the Thousand Worlds. He’s called to his superior, an alien archbishop, to examine the roots of yet another heresy:

The sect follows a religious text called “The Way of Cross and Dragon,” which changes the role of Judas Iscariot, stamps him as holy and puts him in front of the sect. Judas, as is told, was a king of dragons, carried a crippled Jesus on his back for years, and was damned to room around as the Wandering Jew.

As crazy as it sounds, the sect found a lot of followers on one planet, where Damien is headed now to interrogate the head of the sect there. What he finds there – an Order of Liars – disturbs the keystone of his beliefs.

Review: George R.R. Martin (GRRM) is best known for his Game of Thrones series. Reducing him to this series only would be sad, because he’s written in a whole store of other genres. He was a well-known, prolific author of SF in the 70s and won a couple of awards then, and I’d like to point you to his Sandkings. The novelette at hand sounds like a Fantasy story, but is in fact a religious SF work, winning both Hugo and Locus, and the 3rd place at the Nebula award of 1980.

He was raised as a Catholic and always wondered how his religion would develop with intertellar colonization. A church which has problems to integrate strange aliens like females and queer folks into their rows even nowadays, you don’t need to look far into the future to find interesting narration topics.

It is a clear extrapolation of today’s Catholic Church, refering to the Vatican, the Pope, the Holy Inquisition and several other traditions, just slightly adapted in order to accept aliens in this far future setting.

The story starts as a surreal take, with an ugly alien as an archbishop, and a ridiculous heresy around Judas. The heretical treaty is written adventurously, funny, and utterly unbelievable with the dragons. While there are apocryphs like the one from Maria Magdalena, which are excluded from the Bible and questioning the role of females in the church, this one by Judas can only be taken as a comical tale. Damien obviously thought – as the reader does – “are you fucking kidding me?”.

But then we learn that this is only the start of several layers of the truth. At the bottom of this uncanny chalice is Damien himself. One only can admire the masterful craft of GRRM when he constantly shows the reader literary figures referencing to the main protagonist: Humans need both truth and beauty to achieve a happy life.

Those references are not only to be interpreted at a personal level, but also question the institution of the church, the needs of a culture, and ultimately cross the fourth wall to ask the reader about their own happiness.

While the story has not much of a plot or character, the concept alone is worth the awards, and can count as one of GRRM’s most original stories.

Recommended not only for fans of GRRM, but also for readers who want to see a master storyteller at work. You’ll be fine if you like SF, and don’t need action-driven plots.

Meta: isfdb. Available online at Lightspeed magazine. It won the Hugo and Locus Awards, and was placed 3rd at the Nebula.

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8 Responses to The Way of Cross and Dragon • 1979 • Religious SF novelette by George R.R. Martin

  1. piotrek says:

    So, you continue with “Catholics in Space” 😉

    That does seem to be something potentially quite interesting, I think I’ll start saving the links you include in your reviews 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is the first time I’ve heard of this story by GRRM: my only encounter with his short works was with the two-volume anthology Dreamsongs, and this one sounds intriguing. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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