Are the poor in spirit still blessed when they’ve been hijacked by space pirates? Do mourners still receive divine favor if they lament the devastation wrought by their own tears? And what if the people subjected to persecution for righteousness’ sake face the eradication of their nation? Can they possibly treat their tormentors with love?
Christ’s parables are often cited as justification or even inspiration for Christian fiction, but how often does one encounter a systematically fantastical treatment of one of our Lord’s sermons? Beatitudes & Woes, a Christian speculative fiction anthology edited by Travis Perry, is a bold experiment. This collection takes as its framework the blessings and curses pronounced by Jesus in Matthew 5:3–11 (and Luke 6:24–26). Then this work explores each beatitude and woe, respectively, through a short story in a separate subgenre—from classic fantasy and sci-fi to superhero, dystopian, and even horror.
The result, much like Christian fiction itself, is a mixed bag. While some of these tales enthrall the reader from the very first word, others fall prey to sentimentality, pontification, or clichéd narrative templates. Fortunately, the showstopper entries by themselves are enough to justify the price of admission. Some of the best include:
- “The Meek Shall Inherit” by J. L. Ender is an uproarious romp through superhero stereotypes seasoned with savviness and off-the-beaten-path powers. Thomas—aka Switch Master, aka Flipper—is a wannabe hero stuck on the mercenary circuit. He can cause objects to instantly trade places, but can he exchange his flippancy for courage? Genuine belly laughs soften the reader for a gut-punch as Ender deftly swaps hilarity for pathos.
- “Blessed Are the Merciful” by Lelia Rose Foreman is a tale from the Talifar universe, which plunges the reader into an immersive milieu of alien husbandry. When young Sunrise’s family suffers a devastating loss, he yearns to call down vengeance on the guilty. His father’s wisdom urges restraint—but to what end? Foreman’s spare lyricism evokes wistfully pastoral vistas and surprisingly strong emotions.
- “Wondermind and the Almost King” by Gen Gavel is an intricate and luminous fable worthy of Arabian Nights. Greedy Cadmus has conquered the land of Siwa, but it withers under his hand. Young Khaled has died and seen the eternal Wonder, but now must live again in longing. Can his unseasonal insight save the king from djinn who would enslave him?
- “Something in the Water” by Randy Streu is a sci-fi horror of disturbingly clinical detachment. When an expedition to the rings of Saturn discovers microscopic life in space, celebratory wine flows freely. But station personnel soon regret not sticking with the bottle. The ensuing carnage, narrated in retrospect by the mission’s biologist, uncorks the consequences of hubris.
- “As the Prophecy Foretold” by C. W. Briar is a slow-burning dark fairytale that pits the heir of a legendary dragon-slayer against the slain beast’s offspring. Robert may be a lowly pig farmer, but when the wizard Harabor arrives with a quest just for him, Robert’s humble dreams grow grand. But nothing is as it seems, and the dead hand of the past may yet reach out to aid or strangle the ignorant adventurer.
Ultimately Beatitudes & Woes succeeds not only as thought-provoking entertainment but as a proof-of-concept. Christian speculative fiction is capable of walking the line between scriptural sobriety and fantastical imagination. More like this, please.
Best for: Older teens and adults seeking intentionally thematic Christian speculative fiction.
Discern: Widely varied content between individual stories, that is, some are squeaky clean, while others portray violence or touch on sexually suggestive imagery.