Monday, May 14, 2012

Book Review: 'The Day the Sun Stood Still' edited by Lester del Rey

1 / 5 Stars

‘The Day the Sun Stood Still’ was first published in May 1972 in hardcover. This Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback edition (221 pp.) was published in October 1975; the cover artwork is signed [Andy ?] ‘Lackow’. While Lester del Rey is not listed on the cover as the editor, he did contribute the Forward.

‘The Day’ is a shared-theme anthology devoted to the topic of how the modern world might react to the stopping of the Sun described in some Bible passages, most notably Joshua, chapter 10.

Perhaps because of restrictions on content (Laurel-Leaf was a publication line devoted to Young Adults), the three novelettes all focus less on apocalyptic horrors, and instead center more on the sociological and psychological ramifications of a manifestation of the Creator at a time when ‘God Is Dead’ skepticism is well-entrenched. The stories are more or less set in the year 2000.

Poul Anderson’s ‘A Chapter of Revelation’ starts with the planet trembling on the edge of WWIII, as the US and China face off in the Yellow Sea over the fate of Korea. A middle-aged auto repair shop owner from Oakland, named Louis Habib, goes on television, and urges the world to pray at the same time, on the same day, for Peace.

Miraculously, the Sun stands still for an entire 24 hours as a result of this Moment of Prayer.

The narrative then takes a cynical turn, as religious groups and politicians try to co-opt the bewildered Habib into serving their causes.

Robert Silverberg’s ‘Thomas the Proclaimer’ also features a reluctant Prophet, in this case, a former drifter and con man who finds himself mediating the stopping of the Sun. In the aftermath, global society comes undone, and Thomas struggles with how to exploit his miracle. This tale also has a cynical tenor, as Silverberg takes the attitude that miracles are easy, it’s following up on them that proves a prophet’s hardest task.

The final tale, Gordon R. Dickson’s ‘Things Which Are Caesar’s’ is the weakest entry in the anthology. Over-long and unfocused, the story commences on the eve of the stoppage of the Sun, as Americans from all walks of life descend on a remote campground to await the miracle. 

Most of the ensuing narrative is preoccupied with having the characters engaged in post-miracle philosophical debates about The Meaning of It All. A taciturn onlooker named Ranald, who may be Immortal and a witness to Joshua’s feat, serves as a kind of neutral counterpoint to the mutterings of the modern people gripped by their existential angst. 

The story ends on a rather contrived note, as if author Dickson felt he had to impart some kind of Deep Message to justify his meandering storyline. 

In summary, ‘The Day’ is an unremarkable anthology, with its contributors adopting rather unimaginative approaches to what might have been a provocative topic (in more inspired hands). 

'The Day' is probably most interesting as an indicator of how much more sophisticated a vocabulary junior high and high school students were expected to possess back in the early 70s. 

Silverberg's story includes words like 'schadenfreude' , as well as a list of terms related to religious artifacts, that had me using an online dictionary. Nowadays, I suspect few members of various state Board of Regents English ('Language Arts') faculty would be able to grasp such terms.....

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