Faith is a strange thing. It's at once deeply personal, but in the form of religion, very much institutionalised. It can be a well spring of strength and hope, but is also one of the main reasons for conflict in the world. Every religion, every splinter sect within those religions, holds to its own truths, and every person of faith has their own version of what faith entails. As such, the idea of asking for stories exploring the notion of faith is intriguing and would have to result in 26 different visions. As someone who isn't sure what to believe, let's say an agnostic leaning to the atheist side of things, having a look at people's interpretation of faith is fascinating. And even beyond the usual fact that not every story in an anthology is going to work for every reader, in Dark Faith: Invocations I found that I had about a one in three chance to truly connect with a story. This isn't to say that those were inferior stories; but that they just didn't resonate with me due to the direction they took the faith in their story.
What did become apparent is that there were some obvious themes, despite the fact that these were 26 unique stories, within in this collection. One is that faith equals love; that one of the strongest faiths people have is their faith in their parents (The Divinity Boutique by Brian Hatcher); that having one's beliefs proved or disproved, having the truth revealed is the death of faith (The Revealed Truth by Mike Resnick, Thou Art God by Tim Waggoner); and that the God or gods people put their faith in aren't always benign or infallible (The Cancer Catechism by Jay Lake, Kill the Buddha by Elizabeth Twist, God's Dig by Kelly Eiro). There were also a surprising number of funny stories in the anthology, my favourites of which were Subletting God's Head by Tom Piccirilli and The Revealed Truth by Mike Resnick.
Stories that touched me deeply, perhaps due to their inclusion of an important parent-child bond were Night Train by Alma Alexander, The Sandfather by Richard Wright, Starter Kit by R.J. Sullivan, The Divinity Boutique by Brian J. Hatcher, and Little Lies, Dear Leader by Kyle S. Johnson. I loved the fragility of Alexander's story, the way that faith in oneself is so important and how much that can be bolstered by becoming a parent. It helps you plumb new depths of strength, because there is now this new life depending on you. A little person that believes you can do anything and it's incumbent on you to keep that faith unbroken for as long as you can. I love how in this story that faith is reflected by the lost souls on the train and that the protagonist's unborn child is that which saves her dying lost personal god. In both the Wright and the Johnson story unconditional love and faith is the power that drives both of these relationships. The imagery of the Wright story was beautiful and I kept wondering what would be behind the door. The Johnson story is perhaps not truly speculative fiction, as the idea that in totalitarian countries dissidents are made to disappear for not complying with the institutionalised groupthink is frighteningly real. But the willingness of the father to die for his ideals and the willingness of the mother to lie to keep her child safe touched me deeply.
Three stories that don't truly fit any one category, but that I really liked are A Little Faith by Max Allan Collins and Matthew Clemens, Magdala Amygdala by Lucy A. Snyder, and I Inhale the City, the City Exhales Me by Douglas F. Warrick. A Little Faith was a story about trust poured into a crime/thriller story mould. I'm a sucker for crime stories be they in book format, on TV, or on the big screen, so no surprise that this story piqued my interest. But I really did like it beyond the setting and the style, as it showed how much strength can be derived from the belief that there is always someone at your back, someone who won't give up on you. Snyder's story, which was nominated for a Stoker award last week, is properly horrifying and best not read over lunch or dinner. It was horrid, but also fascinating and the SF-nal ideas behind it well-conceived. My last highlight, the Warrick, was a strange as it was wonderful. I loved the concept of interdependence, that whatever Megumi put out there to influence the world changed it and this changed world in turn influenced how her story progressed. It's also man as the author of his own destiny, in control of his own actions as shown in the American journalist's refusal to act according to her expectations when confronted with the victim-virgin-slut doll-girl she drew for him. I found it quite a visual story, which is fitting for a story about an animator, but the ending leaves the reading guessing and I wasn't quite sure what to make of it.
While I didn't connect as strongly to all of the stories, most of them did make me think, about their concept or about my reaction to it. And I think that is the ultimate goal for this anthology, so job well done. If you aren't easily offended in matters of religion - not that the stories are really offensive, but I can see how they might disturb some - and find philosophical musing about matters of faith interesting, Dark Faith: Invocations is a good, thought-provoking read, containing some really amazing stories by great writers.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.