Damascus

 

“Damascus”

Gary Wolfe, Locus Magazine

After reviewing most of the stories in Dozois’ Years Best SF 24, Wolfe says: “The three remaining stories, though, are terrific in ways that aren’t much like anything else in the book.” He discusses Benjamin Rosenbaum’s “The House Beyond Your Sky”, Ian McDonald’s “The Djinn’s Wife”, and then finishes the review with this:

And Daryl Gregory’s “Damascus”, while not quite as strong as his last year’s “Second Person, Present Tense,” suggests that that story wasn’t a fluke in its insightful exploration of how we inhabit our bodies. In this case, it’s a recent divorcee suffering seizures, whose medical treatments are utterly convincing—more so than the viral religion conspiracy that passes as the story’s big idea. Gregory is one of those new short story writers I mentioned way back at the begininng [of this review] and one of the most promising. His story is one of four here that also show up in the Hartwell/Cramer annual, but all told there are 11 of Dozois’ 28 selections that overlap with other annuals. So would it kill you to buy more than one?
—Locus 559, August 2007.

Nick Gevers, Locus Magazine

Finally, to the December issue of F&SF. Daryl Gregory’s “Damascus” is a major entry here, a chilling depiction of a plague of spongiform encephalitis reaching America from New Guinea and spreading itself, as if consciously, through willing human hosts. In a depressed urban area, a group of infected women lives in communal happiness, the effects of kuru persuading them that they are accompanied by guardian angels and avatars of Christ; when a younger nurse is converted to their faith, she decides that it must become militant, disseminating plague and belief by resolute action. Through this cataclysmic evolution, Gregory traces with impressive insight the origins of religion, its schisms and heresies, its ultimate decadence and degeneration. ‘Damascus’ is a potent addition to SF’s literature about matters spiritual, and surely, for its courage and sympathy, deserves an award or two.
— Locus #550, November 2006.

SF Signal

Despite the slow pacing at the start, this is one of those stories that works its way under your skin. It starts out as a minor suspense story about some cultish behavior from neighbors who get too close to Paula and her daughter. But that soon gives way to some real-world creepiness in the form of biological terrorism. A malformed protein causes people to see their own version of Jesus. (Paula sees him as Curt Cobain.) The cultish neighbors are content converting the women of the world slowly, but Paula cranks it up and turns it into full-scale terrorist activities – all in the name of sharing her salvations. Disturbing and powerful.

Janice Clark, Tangent Online

“Damascus” by Daryl Gregory offers us religion in the guise of a disease, or vice versa. Chillingly realistic, it presents a glimpse of what could happen if even one ambitious, efficient medical professional were convinced that bio-terrorism was the road to salvation.

Paula has been sinking into alcoholism and depression since her divorce. Her neighbors, the women in the yellow house, decide to save her from her life of misery and despair. They befriend her and her daughter, offering food and friendship initially, patiently preparing her for conversion. In time, Paula “sees the light.”

The ladies have moved slowly in the past, selecting their future ‘missionaries’ with care, one at a time. In a twisted parallel to the story of the apostle Paul, Paula becomes a zealot, determined to bring the joys of religious ecstasy to as many people has possible.

You may find parts of this story offensive or shocking, but you definitely won’t find it dull.

Mark Watson, Best SF.Net Reviews

Gregory’s stories have pretty much fallen into two categories for me—those which impressed, and those which did little if anything for me. This story joins “Second Person, First Tense” and “The Continuing Adventures of Rocket Boy” in the former of these categories.

It’s a strong story, starting with a ER visit from a woman who is accompanied by a man whom only she can see. We find out, gradually, just how and why her Christ-like companion has entered her life. Has she truly been the recipient of a revelation whilst on her own road to Damascus? Or is it catching, and is a variant-CJD causing temporal lobe epilepsy and sensations of euphoria and being in the presence of godhood.

Gregory gets the reader into the head of the woman, who rues ever breaking bread with the women over the road, as the macabre details are revealed.

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