Sin of Origin (Isaac Asimov Presents) by John Barnes (1989) – Okay, I got this book in a box of used science fiction books, and I didn’t have high hopes in spite of the “Isaac Asimov Presents” banner or the six-armed ape riding a flying dinosaur on the cover. I think it’s an interesting concept, but the delivery is a little wonky.
Basically, it’s a great novella, a related short story, and a barely related short, short story. The novella is about a monk on a distant planet who helps protect incoming human visitors using a time-gate to reach the outpost. He’s fighting a race of six-armed, cat-like apes who ride reptilian Griffins and the giant snakes they carry in their pouches.
When a lovely and sexy female scientist arrives to investigate the intelligence of these strange beings, the hero takes her into the desert to meet their adversaries first hand and perhaps convert them to Christianity. What they find – when they’re immediately captured – is a strange symbiosis between the three races. Three creatures are bonded at birth as one individual. Loss of one of the triplet results in the remainder being imprisoned as unclean or cast out.
When the monks preach to the aliens, they tell them through the grace of God they can form new triplets and not be pariahs. Caught up in the war that ensues between the natural triplets and the newly formed triplets, the monk and the scientist journey to the High Kings for their blessing, converting the heathen masses to Christianity on the way. The High Kings agree that new triplets can be recognized but only if they are “married” by the clergy.
The monk, not quite as chaste as he was at the beginning, brings the news back to the monastery, but the head monk goes insane and ties the monk, the woman, and their three new friends against the wall and prepares to kill them. The aliens, however, have other plans and rescue the heroes and kill the senior monk with the help of a human Templar captain. The hero arranges for the world to become part of the Christian Coalition (as opposed to the Islam and Heathen factions) and the pope places them all under his protection. It’s an exciting tale of heroic sacrifice and aliens understanding one another and their cultures.
The second short story is several years in the future. The female scientist is teaching classes of triplets at the newly formed university and sleeping with the Templar captain. The monk is leading a political faction that wants to outlaw triplets entirely. When the scientist is shot at, the natural triplets band together to put the unnatural triplets in their place before they get the vote. The most interesting part of this story – to me – was her theory that worlds with intelligent life forms had been seeded with DNA from worlds where nuclear war had taken place.
Finally, the griffin friend who had helped them from the beginning has a short piece where he journeys to the Christian Coalition as a bishop and foils a plot by the Heathens (called Soviets) to start a nuclear war and spread their DNA.
So, I guess this story is actually more about the world than about the characters. Each section has its own protagonist and its own conflict. The fact that they come from the same place ties them together, but I had the feeling that the novella was written originally and the other two stories added as padding.
When I finished the book in a restaurant, a man across the room came over and asked me why I was making such a face at the end. I handed him the book and told him to read it for himself. I guess I’d have enjoyed it more if I’d stopped at the novella.