Atheist Tales
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For centuries, adherents of the world’s religions have had plenty of fiction to enjoy. Pick up any holy book, and you’ll find an entertaining collection of silly fantasies—yet millions of people believe them and base their entire lives around them. It would be funny if the world weren’t run, and constantly imperiled, by these religions— as it has been since man first made up stories to explain the unexplainable.

Now here is Atheist Tales, an anthology of speculative-fiction stories with themes to appeal to the doubter and disbeliever. After all, if the religious folks can have their collections of fables, why can’t we have one of our own?

Unlike those fairy tales, the stories herein weren’t written by primitive cultures, and they aren’t intended to run your life. They aren’t numbered by chapter and verse, and you don’t have to memorize certain passages and ignore the contradictions and absurdities. They don’t impart directives from imaginary deities, nor do they instruct on how to punish sinners. And they don’t pretend to be true. This is fiction, not lies. But they do entertain, and they do try to get you to think about things in different ways.

Worshiping the authors of these stories is optional, but we don’t recommend it.

Read Excerpts from the Stories (PDF, 312 KB)
Including the introduction, dedication, and the opening pages of each story. Bear in mind that, usually, the story hasn't gotten rolling in just those couple of pages; there's a lot of storytelling packed into each of these!

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The Stories

Atheist Tales is packed with 14 stories by 13 authors in 288 pages, including a story by Dan Barker, a former evangelical preacher who became an atheist and who is now the co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. Dan's piece is excerpted from his bestselling book Godless.

Atheist Tales is dedicated to the memory of contributor Bill R. Moore and his wife, Jade, who were killed in an automobile accident in October 2010. Bill was a wonderful guy and a strong advocate for what he called "the noble cause of atheism." I've written about him and his outlook in the book's dedication.

This anthology is hopefully the first of many like it, and with the talent under the hood on this one, you'll see why. I worked to find a mix of types of stories here, so there's something for everyone. Whether you're a disbeliever or a doubter, you'll find something to enjoy. And if you're a believer, perhaps these stories will at least make you think about things a little differently.

"A New Beginning"
by Bill R. Moore

In this brief science-fiction tale, Bill Moore postulates what might have happened if an advanced race of beings, perhaps of pure thought or energy—dare we say “souls”?—arrived on Earth and implanted their consciousnesses into lower life forms. What if such a race could exist for eons like this, always conscious, constantly directing their evolution, little by little? With Bill’s untimely passing in October 2010, perhaps this imaginative story might make us hope that, somehow, our consciousnesses will last for eternity—or at least wish that they could.

"It’s All About Soul"
by Jane Gallagher

What if atheists are wrong? What if there really is an afterlife—or afterlives? With all those competing religions, maybe we have to wonder. And if there is something that comes later, who’s to say which of the world’s many religions has it right? Jane Gallagher offers a story that begins as a near-future social-SF tale set in a theocratic Hell on Earth, but segues into a mythic fantasy that just might give us something to think about. But no matter how outlandish his religious beliefs are, a believer won’t likely see any potential for Jane’s absurd fantasy. After all, only his particular mythology is correct. Right?

"All Hail Splork"
by John Lance

In John Lance’s entertaining and intriguing tale of the beginning of the end of the world, what starts out as Ragnarok becomes a religious free-for-all. Earthlings are faced with the coming apocalypse—at the hands of whatever faith ends up dominant—wondering whether they’d backed the wrong theological horses. But there are other players involved, using the religions of the world to their own ends. It’s a game with the strategy of chess, the bluffing of poker, and a bit of the silliness of Twister. Such is the nature of “true believers.”

by James Hickey

Is there something beyond death? That’s the question that has probably occupied the minds of humanity since we first understood death and first began inventing supernatural answers to things we couldn’t comprehend. Of all the theological debates, this one probably strikes a chord in most of us. While those who think beyond the mythology generally believe that our lives are one-shot deals, I suspect many of us would prefer there were something beyond our mortal existences. In this story, James Hickey explores the repercussions following the death of one man who returned to life—and had a unique point of view to relate.

"Rise Up, Rise Up!"
by Sarah Trachtenberg

The Rapture is supposed to be a major event, since it would be the prologue to the Biblical Armageddon. Although supported by religious folks using various justifications, its concept seems to be a recent addition to Christian mythology. That doesn’t make the idea any less entertaining. But before Sarah Trachtenberg even begins to touch on that subject, she crafts a deeply thought-provoking story that postulates what could happen to society if science discovered how to “turn off” that part of the brain that enables people to build their lives around fairy tales. With the feel of the Left Behind books from an atheist’s point of view, Sarah brilliantly intertwines these two ideas into one story that will keep you thinking long after you’ve read it.

"Fried Eggs"
by Gary J. Beharry

Which religion is right? For the most part, the unanimous response from the adherents of any religion is “Mine!”; from the atheists’ camp, our answer would be “None!” But what if they’re all right? What if there’s some grain of truth in each of them? What if humans have made them real simply by believing? Gary J. Beharry’s tale of many theological figures is certainly one to provoke discussion—never mind the amusing idea of God and Satan vacationing in an apartment together. Lest that lead you to believe that the story is a comedy, rest assured it’s a thinker, and a pointed commentary on the human condition.

"Dear Theologian"
by Dan Barker

This story is an excerpt from Dan Barker’s excellent book Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists. Dan is a former evangelical preacher who became an atheist and currently is co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation with his wife, Annie Laurie Gaylor. Godless begins as something of an autobiography and becomes a grand argument against religion, but in between is Chapter Nine. It’s entitled “Dear Theologian,” and appears as a letter from God in which he asks some deep philosophical and logical questions of his believer. Godless is an absolute must-read for any atheist—and should be for any theist—but “Dear Theologian” struck me immediately as one of the finest summations of what’s wrong with those who believe. Dan has graciously allowed me to reprint it here.

"A New Broom"
by Dan Thompson

What would an anthology of speculative, atheist-centric fiction, designed to have genres to appeal to everyone, be without an adventure story? Dan Thompson’s is set in a dystopian future where the forces of religion are crusading to convert or destroy nonbelievers. It’s a fun adventure tale set in a grim world where it’s science combating religion, reason against insanity, and freedom fighters versus oppressors. And the battles for the survival of the heroes’ ideals against the evils of religion are fought on the high seas, with Dan’s extensive knowledge of old-style sailing ships. Bring on the naval warfare! The future of the entire world is at stake...

"The Word Is ‘Freedom’"
by Corwin Merrill

There’s nothing like a story set in a dystopian future in which the world has become a ruthless theocracy, where religion is in charge of our lives and destinies, and we must adhere to what the religionists demand, with serious penalties if we don’t. And such a theocratic dystopia is all the more fascinating when those who don’t believe as the majority does dare to oppose the religious fanatics who run the show and suffer the consequences. If this sounds a lot like real life, remember that the difference between our real world and the terrifying society Corwin Merrill presents here is that we still have a choice, and the religious zealots can no longer torture or execute us for blasphemy. But it hasn’t been too long since they were actually able to do that, and if common sense and reason don’t continue gaining ground, what Merrill postulates in this story might well come to pass.

"The Screwletter Tapes"
by Earl Lee

If one thing can be said about Earl Lee, it’s that he’s a funny guy. I challenge anyone not to chuckle throughout this story, which is a parody of The Screwtape Letters. C.S. Lewis, author of the original, claimed to have been a young atheist—reportedly angry at God for not existing—before rediscovering Christianity. That sounds a lot more like a young Christian being rebellious to me, but since C.S. can’t debate the point, we’ll move on. Earl seems to be the opposite of C.S.; he appears downright jovial that God doesn’t exist, and happy that the True Believers give him so much material to work with. There’s plenty of absurdity to be found in theology, and Earl probably could have sustained this parody to a novel’s length, but we’ll settle for a shorter form here.

"From Above"
by Marianna Manns

This first volume of Atheist Tales wasn’t trying to highlight American-only writers, but it did mostly end up that way. The exception is Marianna Manns, a young Canadian woman who has presented us with a fascinating religious dystopia that could feasibly be in our future. But unlike many dystopian tales such as this, Marianna has given us a story that transcends the church taking over; rather, she gives us a very different, and very original, reason why. Can religion be faulted for becoming the overlords of the world and humanity when its reasons go far beyond simply the tenets of its faith?

"Unlikely Messengers"
by David M. Fitzpatrick

David Fitzpatrick is a delightful surprise. Just when you think he is going to zig, he zags. And when you think he will zag, he zigs, and then he zigs again.  This story is a delicious send-up on wankerish books like The Bible Code and the many “End of Days” fantasy books. Not a story for the faint of heart, the plot is a breath of fresh air pumped into us with a gas mask at one end and a tire pump at the other. I'm sure you'll enjoy that filling sensation as he mocks the irrational thinking of The Religious. —Earl Lee

"Calling God’s Bluff"
by Vincent L. Scarsella

Thirty-nine members of the Heaven’s Gate cult believed that a spaceship following the comet Hale-Bopp would take their souls away. In a series of mass suicides in the 1990s, about 74 people from the Order of the Solar Temple died. And, of course, Jim Jones led 909 people, including 274 children, to their deaths at Jonestown in 1978. These events show the startling level of belief humans can have in the ridiculous, and their blind faith in the people they follow, but they don’t compare to the countless millions who have died over the centuries in the name of religion. Vincent L. Scarsella takes this frightening motif a big step further in this powerful tale, and asks us to envision a world where the horrors of religion come to a terrifying pinnacle involving the entire human race. This is speculative fiction, so Vince has license to demand that we suspend disbelief, but in today’s world, no imagined religious horror should be dismissed out of hand. All too often, the bad things come to pass.

"Cone Zero, Sphere Zero"
by David M. Fitzpatrick

"Cone Zero, Sphere Zero” first appeared in 2008 in the anthology Cone Zero published by Nemonymous. This story is, for me, a puckish, yet serious, experience in the blindness harshly imposed by a form of religion disguised as physics. In an incredibly believable way, the protagonists—with sudden brave independence—scale beyond restrictive human gang-packing emotions via mathematical formations of environment towards heights (or depths?) that show there is a hierarchy of beliefs. It is a “Science Fiction” of the spirit to provide the brave freedom to ignite the parthenogenesis of truth from “Story.” —D.F. Lewis, Editor, Cone Zero




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