SH Flashback: “Rapture,” by Sally Gwylan

A new entry in my weekly Strange Horizons retrospective:

Rapture,” by Sally Gwylan
A slow-building story of idealist leftist anarchists in Chicago in the 1890s, and of what can happen when preachers and other leaders have too compelling a message. (Published in 2004, in two parts.) (7,800 words.)

A small man whose gestures & intonation burned with fevered zeal, Owings exhorted his audience to Pray! Pray for the Holy Spirit to lead them into the ways of righteousness! As he shouted, the air inside the hall began to sparkle, golden motes drifting down. I doubted my eyes, but others were seeing it too, looking up, gaping.

(See also the full list of Flashback stories.)




The first thing that grabbed me about this story was the epigraph quoting Bakunin, one of the founders of socialist anarchism. It's rare that I encounter an sf story so overtly and directly connected to socialism and/or anarchism, and this one follows through on the promise of that epigraph.

I also love the setting and the characters here, and especially the protagonist, Anna; I love her voice & her ideals & her struggle to uphold those ideals.

I think it's neat that this story starts out looking kinda like historical fiction, like a secret history, but that the ending transforms it into alternate history.

And most of all, I love that ending; it takes my breath away. The temptation of that oh-so-easy solution to humanity's problems; the kind and empathic and revolutionary protagonist being given the ability and means to transform the world into a better world, and yet also a world in which the people are arguably no more free than they were before. And she sees the problem, and she hesitates, and the story ends. And then I remember the ominous heading at the beginning of the story:

Excerpts from the journal of Anna Kenney, leader of the Great Scouring; mother to Josefa Kenney Djemek, called Jos the Apostate

which tantalizingly implies so much about what happens after the end of the story, but nonetheless leaves things unresolved.

Good stuff.

...Sally went on to write the (unrelated-to-this-story) novel A Wind out of Canaan, sf featuring homeless kids during the Great Depression; I quite liked that, too, and am sad that volume 2 of that series has not yet appeared.

Join the Conversation