Isaac Asimov meets Charles Dickens with a dash of Jonathan Swift...
In a world that is a science experiment gone horrifyingly wrong, scientist Audrey Novak awakes from a centuries-long sleep to discover that her work has been used to create an appalling world. Aided by commoners, bots, and another refugee from 20th century America, Audrey takes on the power elites on Earth and on the Moon in a novel that is equal parts adventure, science gone haywire, and rollicking humor. ?
A sampling of acclaim for John L. Sheppard
"Sheppard's characters pretend not to be funny, to not be emotional, to not need each other, when of course, they are and they do. There's a clarity to the chaos, the restraint, the vulnerability Sheppard creates, something so human and essential you can't help but turn the page." --Entropy magazine
"...an easy affection for his characters and a sense of natural, unforced humor." --Booklist
"...You have a good time seeing someone have a bad time. It's fun..." --Padgett Powell
"...raw feeling and taut smart prose."--Sam Lipsyte
"The author grips you from the beginning, I couldn't have put it down if I wanted." --Amazon reviewer
The Church, the Guilt by John L. Sheppard If I listed the basic one-word descriptions of myself — i.e. male, American, veteran — near the top of the list would be “Catholic.” My Catholic upbringing, if you can forgive the pun, has been a mixed blessing. I suppose you could say that I’m a Catholic writer, even though I haven’t been to mass in a quarter century.
My latest book, Explosive Decompression, is a science fiction book that deals with many religious issues, including eternal life (via technology), meeting your creator (in this case, a scientist who created artificial intelligence), and what our definition of sen‐ tient life might be. Would sentient life include A.I.’s? … mice with enough human genes that they appear human? … humans whose genes have been manipulated and soured enough that those people are the definition of evil through no choice of their own?
So despite my absence from church, I still think a lot about issues that have something to do with faith. Or at least our place in the universe. Science fiction seems like the obvious place to explore such things. That’s not to say that this is a serious book. I think there’s a pretty good laugh-to-page ratio in there. Anyway, as a child, I was made to go to confession.
The confes‐ sional was a scary place, and the voice through the grate was frightening even if it was Father Hubert, whose breath was scent‐ ed with whiskey and Pall Malls. He had the voice of Captain Kan‐ garoo.
I often imagined raining ping-pong balls upon him while kneeling in that dark box. The sisters who taught us at CCD — leading up to our first con‐ fession and subsequently our first communion… the Body of Christ Himself plopped on our tongues (Jesus tastes like dry li‐ brary paste… who knew?) — informed us that as long as we didn’t sin in thought or action, we would remain clean enough to sneak into heaven post-confessional should we die suddenly. Getting hit by a bus was a popular imagined death for the sisters. Naturally, my hand shot up. “So if we think about sinning—?”
“That’s right, Mr. Sheppard. Straight to hell.” Confession for kiddies is relatively new. It was only in 1910 when the Pope (Pius at the time) infallibly required children to step into the confessional all by their little selves. And the confessional box (now mostly gone) was created in the sixteenth century to prevent priests from pawing at young women. Claw at the screen all you want, Father! You’ll not touch her! I think I was seven at my first confession. I remember there being a lot of instruction required before we were allowed to kneel down before God Almighty’s representative on Earth and talk about how we filched cookies, or talked back to our parents. Afterward, I re‐ member comparing notes with other children on the punishments meted out — Stations of the Cross, Hail Mary’s required, etc. — like we were prisoners out on the yard discussing our court cases.
At my Catholic high school, I received low marks in “Moral Guidance,” which was a half-hour class in Catholic religious indoctrination. My line of questioning in that class implied that nearly everything that Catholics believe about life and life after death is half-baked nonsense, or worse. The sisters clacked their tongues at my apostasy. Somewhere in there, I graduated from high school. I walked in front of the altar, received a diploma and a communion wafer from a monsignor who’d been imported for the occasion, knelt in the kneeler while sucking the body of Christ off the roof of my mouth, and eventually relaxed back into my pew. I finished ahead of about half my classmates. I didn’t take my Catholic education seriously. How could I? Yet it all stuck no matter how much I tried to suck it off the roof of my mouth.
It’s all stuck to my fiction, too. Even when I don’t mention the church, it’s in there. Mostly what I have held onto from my Catholicism is my over‐ whelming guilt. I never feel like my slate is clean. Never. I once asked a woman, a friend of a friend, on a date. We were both in our 30’s and unmarried. She was beautiful and smart, so it seemed like the sensible thing to do. She asked, “Are you Catholic?” I said yes. “I don’t date Catholic men. They’re lousy in the sack.”
I was momentarily offended, even though I am lousy in the sack. “It’s all the guilt,” she said. “It’s like God Himself is in the room with us, judging you.” I shrugged. She was right.
Because He is.