Close Encounters with the Deity

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Michael Bishop has written numerous novels and short stories, including two Nebula award-winners (one of which, “Dogs’ Life,” is among the stories collected here). CLOSE ENCOUNTERS WITH THE DEITY is marked by the diversity characteristic of Bishop’s work. Each of these stories deals with a different theme, and each story has a distinctive style and setting as well. The title story, for example, is a relatively conventional science fiction tale. In it, a deformed physicist who goes on an endless solo space flight is ultimately swallowed by a black hole; he experiences a sense of wholeness and oneness with the universe.

In contrast, the second story, “Voices,” is told like a Chinese fable. A young Chinese man who has a gift for ventriloquism finds that all human beings are merely ventriloquist’s dummies in the hands of God. “Dogs’ Life” moves in and out of memory, fantasy, and reality as well as through time and space in a fluid manner that leaves the reader unsure of where the story begins and ends. Perhaps the most fascinating story in the volume, “The Gospel According to Gamaliel Crucis; Or, the Astrogator’s Testimony,” appears in the form of numbered verses in the manner of the Bible, and tells of the return of Christ as a giant praying mantis from outer space. Odd as this scenario may sound, the point of the story is surprisingly spiritual.

Though perplexing and often disturbing, Bishop’s stories are stylistically superb and are intended to be taken seriously. This book may confuse and even anger some readers, but it will certainly provoke thought, and its startling imagery lingers in the mind.