Second-Best Sailor took pride in his ability to bring his ship through a storm and to strike bargains with the Neanderthal traders from off-planet. His only problems were minor ones, like replanting shipboard lemon trees, but his life changes irrevocably when No Moon’s reefwives detect a large invasion fleet approaching. They decide the best hope for their husbands’ survival is to leave the planet. Second-Best Sailor, along with others, thus hitches a ride across the galaxy with the Neanderthals.
A malign fate follows them. Unknown to either polypoids or hominids, the planet picked for resettlement already shelters a hidden monastery of the same aggressive faith that is invading No Moon.
XIV Samuel, a minor Cosmic Unity functionary there, earns promotion to apprentice healer. In this role, he observes cruel practices which clash with the religion’s claims of universal tolerance and benevolence. Struggling to keep his faith, he follows orders and abandons the captured Second-Best Sailor in an alien desert.
Samuel is granted a visit to heaven, which resembles a horror movie. At the same time, the book’s readers get a wild ride through a universe teeming with a dazzling variety of intelligent life. Returning to the monastery planet, Second-Best Sailor’s apprentice shakes Cosmic Unity’s unity with a theological puzzle, although it takes a space battle and destruction of a planet to set things to rights again.
Among Heaven’s delights are the characters of Second-Best Sailor and Fat Apprentice, two jolly aliens who would be fun to share a drink with in a dockside bar. In contrast, XIV Samuel is not very vividly drawn; his main function seems to be as an avatar of the disillusioned true believer. Overall, however, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen have written an intriguing tale set in a vividly imagined universe.