Newspaper publisher and science fiction author, Lou Antonelli, has just released a collection of short stories entitled In the Shadow of the Cross. It touches on religion, especially Christianity, in a variety of touching and creative ways and gathers up stories Antonelli wrote over the years where Christianity plays a role. They range from down home and next door to far flung and in outer space. They remind us that despite the best efforts of a material world, Christianity is a sturdy creed that remains a vital part of many people’s lives.
The author explores two different time streams (among other stand-alone stories). The two main ones explore a world where Christianity had been the only world religion since the trial of Paul and another in which Saul died en route to Damascus, leading to a multitude of small religions.
So, Lou, how many short stories have you published in your writing career?
As of this morning, 124.
But you’ve only had one novel published, right?
Yes, the Dragon-nominated alternate history, Another Girl, Another Planet. I’ve worked mostly in short fiction.
With so many short stories, I suppose it’s easy to whip up a collection occasionally. Your latest collection is what number?
In the Shadow of the Cross is my fifth collection.
What is different about this collection from your others?
Most of my collections have some theme, except “Texas and Other Planets.” “Fantastic Texas” features stories centered in Texas, “The Clock Struck None” is all alternate history, and “Letters from Gardner” are stories from when I was breaking into the field and submitting copiously to Gardner Dozois at Asimov’s Science Fiction.
In the case of In the Shadow of the Cross, all the stories have some reference to Christianity, real or an alternate version. I don’t write Christian science fiction or fantasy per se, but I’ve often included Christian references and themes where appropriate. I think a writer needs to accurately reflect the make-up of his or her society even when writing speculative fiction. Most Americans are Christians of some sort.
What kind of stories are featured in the collection?
Well, over the years I’ve written a lot of alternate history, and so one-third of them—that is four stories—are alternate history, too. A couple explore scenarios where Christianity never developed into a major religion. Two other explore what would happened in electronic media has existed during the period of Christ’s ministry.
Three stories involve how space exploration and alien contact would work with religion as part of the milieu. “On a Spiritual Plain” was a finalist for the Hugo award in 2015.
The other stories include a very Twilight Zone-type tale, a ghost story, and—believe it or not—a zombie Christian Story. All but two are reprints.
Why do you seem drawn to short fiction?
I’ve been a working journalist for 40 years, so I am very comfortable at short lengths. I can pound out an acceptable short story in a few minutes. I just had a story published in a themed anthology that took me an hour and a half from start to acceptance.
Writing mostly short fiction cuts down on your books, but one thing I learned from fellow East Texan Joe Lansdale, who is primarily a horror writer, is that if you have enough published short fiction, you can assemble a collection at the drop of a hat. Joe has twice as many published short stories as I do, and so he can always cobble together a collection.
Why did you decide to pull this one together?
Well, I’ve worked at the same weekly newspaper since the start of 2015, but at the start of this year the previous owner sold out to me, so I am now an owner/operator. Since taking over I’ve been very engrossed in fixing and building up the existing business, so my time for writing has dropped a lot. I decided a collection would help keep my name before my fans. I wanted a “hook” to hang a theme on, and I realized that I had enough published stories where Christianity is part of the plot that I could hang the collection on that. But it is not a collection of Christian science fiction!
What do you mean by that?
These stories have nothing to do with Christian theology or orthodoxy. I got a one star review on Amazon from someone who went into it expecting the stories would stick to the Bible and follow standard Christian tradition. Boy, was he disappointed!
How can people get copies of your collection?
Well, you can get it from Amazon or Superversive Press, but you can also simply contact me at email@example.com and buy a signed copy directly from yours truly.
What do you have planned in the future?
Right now, I’m totally preoccupied with the newspaper. If I listen to my fans, I need to write a sequel to Another Girl, Another Planet, but I don’t know when I will get around to that.
An excerpt from one of the stories entitled “Good News for the Dead”:
Bill was behind the front counter when she came back from lunch that day.
“I’m back, Bill.”
He returned to the back where he continued to pack orders. Jennifer began pulling up spreadsheets for the home stretch. After three hours of hard work, her brain was curdled and it was almost closing time—but she was done. She snorted at the screen and tossed the laser pointer down.
She heard a loud thud in the back. She jumped up and walked quickly into the back room.
Bill was straightening up from picking something off the floor.
It was a custom-made prosthetic foot which had been sent in to be fitted with a new ankle motor. Whoever it belonged to was an athlete—it was a one-piece athletic shoe with cleats.
Jennifer looked at Bill. He was gazing at the shoe, and thinking real hard.
“Rehabs aren’t supposed to think,” she thought.
“Bill, get back to work,” she said.
He looked at her, and his mouth contorted.
“Sports,” he said.
He spoke again. “All Sports.”
“All Sports Emvee Pee.”
Suddenly it hit her. The Dworkin Plaque had struck during the early summer. Right after school got out.
High school always ended with an All Sports Banquet. He was the MVP of his class.
Bill looked at her, and pointed a finger at his chest.
Despite all that she had been taught and told about men and Rehabs, she felt sorry for him.
“Yes, you must have been very proud,” she said evenly, adding mentally to herself, “for the memory to survive death itself.”
“My name is Tom,” he declaimed, stopping suddenly.
He began to groan. He dropped the prosthetic foot and began to sway.
“Oh, crap,” said Jennifer, as she pulled a cord from behind her ear and called 911.
“I’ve got a Rehab going rogue at my shop,” she said.
“There are officers right down your block,” the voice said as she backed up towards the front.
Three officers were coming through the front door by the time she got there. They rushed past her.
She heard a thud as one shot a tazer dart into Bill/Tom and he hit the ground.
She turned to another officer. “How did you get here so fast?”
“We were already on our way here on some other business.”
A pair of hands lighted on her shoulders, one with a cigarette, the other holding a summons card.
Jennifer spun around to see Kate.
“Sorry, dearest, it was too good an opportunity to resist. You should have moved faster. I bought your receivables from your suppliers. You’re bankrupt. Here’s the lien.”
Jennifer slapped the hand and the card fell to the floor.
“Your ass is mine, and this is my business now.”
Jennifer stepped back. “You lousy bitch!” She began to sputter, and as she stepped back, she had trouble catching her breath.
She felt a crushing pain in her chest, and fell to the floor as her heart exploded.
“Very well, then, everything seems to be in order.”
The red-haired girl held out a pad. Kate pressed her thumb down as a signature.
“I’m very satisfied with Neugeburt’s service,” she said. “Tell your superiors I appreciate them taking the time to send you to follow up.”
“Well, with Bill having to be scrubbed, and, uh, Jane here being a new Rehab, we just wanted to be careful and offer the service you deserve,” said Jilian.
“Yes, well, I know their placement is a little unusual—but they were both working her before I took over the business.”
“I have to go now. You can finish up without me.”
Jilian nodded. After the front door shut, she spoke to the Rehabs.
“Come with me to the back room.”
She pulled up Bill/Tom’s right sleeve, deftly slipping a green plastic band onto his wrist.
“Now, keep this hidden. Do you understand?”
He nodded slightly.
She shifted and stood in front of the female.
She slipped a green band onto her wrist
“Keep this hidden. Do you understand?”
Jilian turned to walk out. She stopped and paused in the hallway.
“For I am the life and the resurrection,” she said to them, quoting from a banned text, “he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”
After she left, the pair looked at each other. Then, gently, they held each other’s hands for a moment.
They quickly turned from each other, and went back to taking care of business as usual.