Henry Gee is probably chortling happily right now

He’s tweaked the noses of those ‘New Atheists’, for sure! One of Gee’s roles is as the editor of the Futures science fiction section in Nature, and he’s proud to have published a story by Shelly Li, which actually is a well-written short dystopian fantasy, titled The End of God. Gee really detests those obnoxious atheists, though, so I think one of the reasons he picked it was that it so perfectly conformed to his idea of militant atheists as fascists.

The story is about a future in which satellites can somehow pick up on activity in the parietal lobe of the brain in individuals — amazing resolution and sensitivity, that — and detect when people are praying. And when they do, naturally, the godless thought police whoosh into action, take the faithhead into the hospital, and zap that lobe of their brain so god won’t talk to them anymore. And then they’re so lonely. Aww.

Taking away faith is a bad thing, don’t you know.

“Faith means believing in something when common sense tells you not to,” I reply, looking around. No one is moved. “And faith gives me a warmth that no amount of common sense ever will. Don’t take this away from —”

Of course, it’s science fiction in multiple ways, not just in the unlikely technology, but in the weird idea of a godless world state enforcing anti-religious mind control with surgery. It’d be a bit more potent if it was something we could do, or if anyone had ever endorsed such a hypothetical procedure as desirable.

I don’t think Henry Gee would have accepted this story if the plot had been inverted, so that it was a member of an atheist minority that was zapped to induce warm, happy feelings of the godhead — so just a hint to SF writers hoping to get published in Nature: Gee wouldn’t compromise on writing quality, so it had better be good stuff, but your odds of acceptance will probably be improved if your Bad Guys are cartoonish Dawkinsites with a penchant for doing evil things to the religious.

Just so I’m not being too vicious, although I would argue that it’s very hard to be too vicious, I’ll mention that I did rather like Gee’s review of the iPad, and he has my sympathies for his back pains, which I’m currently sharing with him to a lesser degree. But please, less unbelievability in Futures in the future, OK?