This short book describes eight appearances of the medieval “Saint” Christina the Astonishing (the unofficial patron saint of people affected by mental illness) in the near and distant future. The “real” Saint Christina is said to have risen from the dead during the course of her funeral – and when I say “risen”, I mean literally soaring up to the roof of the church where the ceremony was being held. According to Wikipedia, she flew up there because she couldn’t bear the awful smell of the sinners in the congregation (although at least they had the good grace to turn up to her funeral). She then explained to the malodorous assembly of medieval peasants that she’d been to hell, purgatory and heaven and proceeded to devote the rest of her life to good works.
But this book isn’t much concerned with the original legend
of Saint Christina – instead, it uses her as the common denominator for 8 short,
speculative fictions about the future, including a virtual role-playing game,
the development of a “quantumputer”, a possible explanation of “reincarnation”
(from a child’s perspective) and technology that allows you to see up to 6
minutes into the future.
I understand that the pieces were contributed by different
authors (we’re not told who they were), which sounds like a recipe for a rather
chaotic, mixed bag of material.
However, there are a surprising number of connections between the
stories, which makes me think that at least some of the contributors must have
read the other pieces before they wrote theirs (so the whole thing has
something of the feel of a literary chain letter). As always with collections of this type, some
pieces worked better for me than others – but overall, I thought it was well
written, quirky and thought-provoking.
Quantum physics makes an appearance in several of the stories but I
never felt that I was being bashed over the head with “big ideas” – they were
handled with quite a light touch and the pieces are all the more effective for
being so short.
The book is somewhat reminiscent of “Sum” by the writer (and neuroscientist) David Eagleman, which is a collection of similarly short fictions depicting
possible different versions of the afterlife – so as with this book, you have a
series of variations around a central, unifying theme and the “big ideas” are
deftly handled, in a way which conveys their emotional as well as intellectual
At the time of this review, The Future Manifestations of
Saint Christina the Astonishing was available free of charge from Bibliotastic.
UPDATE 1.2017: Sadly, Bibliotastic closed in 2016 - but at the time of this update, you could still download this book free of charge from Feedbooks. Bibliotastic's closure means we will lose the benefit of some reviews from other readers - so I hope one of those readers, going by the name of "Blade Runner," won't mind me quoting from his/her 5 star review, which is a great deal pithier than mine: "Very well done, distilled and concise prose. Very interesting themes explored here. Reminds me of some very well executed string quartets." You can find several more reviews on goodreads, including a reasonably detailed one from Tom Lichtenberg.
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Tags: "the future manifestations of saint christina the astonishing" "short stories"
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