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Review: Mosque Among the Stars

Through selfavowedgeek, I became aware of Ahmed A. Khan (ahmedakhan), a science fiction writer and editor who has put together some interesting-sounding anthologies.

The one that particularly piqued my curiosity was Mosque Among the Stars, which he compiled with Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad. The premise—a collection of science fiction stories informed by Islam--intrigued me. He kindly let me have a review copy.

Most of the stories are set in the future; several have been expressly influenced by 9-11 and the war in Iraq (though Tom Ligon tells readers in a postscript that his novella “For a Little Price,” which features a terrorist attack on a starship, was not prompted by 9-11.)

I had two favorites. Jetse de Vries’s “Cultural Clashes in Cádiz” features the genre’s most flamboyant time cops (amusingly named Watt and Krikksen) in pursuit of a time bandit who has managed to persuade no less than the famous Islamic mystic and theologian Ibn al-Arabi to take him on as a disciple. What mischief is this time criminal up to? The language in this one is over the top, sometimes hilariously anachronistic (as when a Moorish juggler reflects on his fifteen minutes of fame), but it’s a time traveling story, so why not have Andy Warhol’s phrase come into the mind of a thirteenth-century performer? My favorite description was of a character “whose curiosity keeps him from keeping any cats at all.” The story is full of heart. It’s exuberant, hilarious, and underneath it all, moving.

Then there was “The Weight of Space and Metal,” by Camille Alexa. This was my favorite of the space-oriented stories, with the drama arising from the tedium of a long, slow journey from Earth to Mars and the stresses of four people trapped with each other for the duration. The psychology of the characters was totally believable and the story was gripping. And where does Islam figure in? One crew member is Muslim. Cultural expectations and behavioral norms play a role.

Another story that lingered in my mind was Donna McMahon’s “Squat,” in which a prison guard is moved to save a boy from being executed for a crime he didn’t commit. The Muslim executioner plays the role of “mysterious other” in this story, though he’s humanized in the end. War stories aren’t my thing, but I was rooting hard for the main character of Lucius Shepard’s “A Walk Through the Garden,” who works himself up to religious conversion in his drive to survive. And then there was Howard Jones’s “A Servant of Iblis,” a Sherlock Holmes-meets –Thousand and One Nights mystery.

ahmedakhan’s own contribution has a slightly didactic flavor and a plot twist you may remember from childhood ghost stories, but some touching personal elements, too, notably when the narrator recalls his childhood home (and the smell of old books) and meeting his wife for the first time.

Other readers might have other favorites. There are a couple with humorous twists and one, “Recompense,” by Pamela Kenza Taylor, features a ghost ship that wreaks vengeance on slavers. I was jarred by some of science fiction’s tricks of the trade in “For a Little Price” (for example, having one character quiz another character on her knowledge in order to introduce key information), but enjoyed some of the humor, as when one character is given “longer hours and more responsibility” and then assured, “but don’t worry, we won’t mess up your tax situation with more pay.” I laughed out loud at that.

I was very happy to spend time with this anthology-–I recommend it.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 8th, 2009 11:44 pm (UTC)
Good review!
I'm still enjoying it. ;)
Apr. 9th, 2009 06:34 am (UTC)
Re: Good review!
Any favorites so far?
Apr. 9th, 2009 04:03 am (UTC)
Thank you very much for the nice review. I am really glad that you enjoyed the anthology.
Apr. 9th, 2009 06:34 am (UTC)
I truly did. I'll probably get myself a book version at some point. Thanks for introducing me to so many interesting writers!
Apr. 9th, 2009 12:04 pm (UTC)
Hey, Ahmed lives right here in London, ON. I'll have to check the anthology out! :D
Apr. 9th, 2009 12:24 pm (UTC)
I'll be interested to know which stories you end up liking most!
Apr. 10th, 2009 12:32 am (UTC)
Hi, Maggie. Congrats on the upcoming "The Princess Heir". I definitely plan to get it when it comes out.
Apr. 10th, 2009 12:19 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much, Ahmed. And congrats on the anthology! Sounds like it's getting some good PR. :D
Apr. 9th, 2009 03:15 pm (UTC)
So glad you enjoyed it!
Apr. 9th, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC)
Those characters were so, so real to me. Chuck with his headphones. And looking so football hero-esque and yet actually being so incredibly jealous. The narrator's lack of understand of what's going on with Jabril. And man, I think you've got space travel pegged--that, and the incredible release when they finally reach their destination... and then the rest of it too. Human nature, gah!
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 10th, 2009 12:34 am (UTC)
Re: "synchronisity"
Thanks for your kind comments about Synchronicity.
Apr. 10th, 2009 02:21 am (UTC)
Re: "synchronisity"
Glad you liked the review, and this is what I love--when it prompts people to go search out stuff. The same thing happened with me: selfavowedgeek posted a review; I was curious, and the rest is history.

The philosophical idea in Islam that I'd like to see played with in a story is the notion that nothing can happen that is not God's will--not even, for example, a stone falling to the ground--in other words, God's will trumps gravity. I guess it's not an idea that's unique to Islam, but I think maybe the focus on it might be? But I don't know enough about comparative religion to say....

The idea does come up a little bit in "Squat"--but tempered, as you might expect, by human effort to change circumstance (which then, too, can also be the will of God).
Apr. 9th, 2009 11:33 pm (UTC)
Is it available as an e-book and in print?
Apr. 10th, 2009 12:35 am (UTC)
Yes, to both. If you are interested in e-book, contact me. For the print version, contact ZC Books (http://www.zcbooks.ca).
Apr. 10th, 2009 01:52 am (UTC)
Based on asakiyume's review, I'm definitely interested in reading the collection, but I'm not sure about my book budget at the moment. I'll bookmark the ZC Books page for now, but I'd also definitely be interested in knowing how much the e-book is retailing at. :)
Apr. 10th, 2009 05:11 am (UTC)
The pdf version is available for $6, payable by paypal.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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