Reviewed by A.R.K. Watson

MY PRAYERS HAVE BEEN ANSWERED! Someone wrote an alien species with Theology of the Body in mind!

The Joining is a science fiction short story in the vein of the classic golden age stories of Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. Upon receiving data hinting at intelligent life is sent via spaceship to investigate in person. Like many first contact stories, the pacing is a bit slow and cumbersome until that exciting moment when we meet our aliens, who follow the trope of being so talented at languages that they quickly become fluent in our own. But once we get past these oft-seen tropes the story really begins to shine. If need be you could skip to the end of Chapter 2, where they meet the aliens.

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Upon discovering the nature of the alien’s sex the humans are, at first, horrified. I won’t spoil the unique design here except to say that it is very strange and very well thought out. Any biology or animal science nerd will love it. Even so, these heroes are scientists and they work hard to get past their initial repulsion to develop a true friendship with the two ambassadors assigned to them, whom they name, Adam and Eve.

Our main character, Naomi Anderson, works hard to understand the strange social structure of the aliens all the while balancing a lonely on-again-off-again relationship with one of her crewmates. Naomi, like many people today, has been unlucky in love. As her friendship with Adam and Eve deepens, she moves from disgust to jealousy at the serenity her alien friends have in their own strange relationships. Eventually, she opens up to them about her personal struggles.

Adam and Eve are disturbed at the sexual practices of these humans. Divorce, abortion, and contraception are subtly touched upon.

The aliens will surprise you and lead you into greater insight into how our own bodily design determines much of what is considered right and wrong.

In a scene where Naomi finally relates her lonely history, Adam and Eve’s reactions become reserved and strained and “Naomi wonder[s], if the alien was repulsed by her and the idea of a species that would value work over a developing life.”

It is this subtly that makes The Joining a good story through which to draw others into discussions of body ethics, without drawing upon the often emotionally volatile current political contexts. After all, you’ll just be talking about imaginary aliens right?

The ending is surprising, subtle, and thought-provoking. Moved to compassion for Naomi’s suffering, the alien ambassadors use their unique abilities to offer her a seeming solution to her unhappiness and discontent. The choice that Naomi makes is understandable, and in a way, triumphant, but at the same time horrifying. It reminds me of the ending of that classic golden age story, No Women Born by C.L. Moore. Without spoiling the ending, all I can say is that it drives home the message that much of our ethics must be determined by the unique design of our bodies and not upon the whims of our emotions.

Although I do not know Dierking’s worldview or if he/she even is even religious, I think any informed Catholic reader will be excited to see how Dierking designed an alien species whose mode of procreation determines their sexual ethics. Even more impressive is that the aliens’ integrity to those ethics highlights the many physical and emotional ways that humans have distorted themselves by not following the ethics inherent in our own physical design!

I heartily recommend this book to adults of all ages, and especially as a way to discuss sexual ethics with teens, and secular friends. Non-Catholics who value Biblical sexual principles too will find this story a surprising gem.

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Genre: Science Fiction

Themes: Theology of the Body, Sexual Ethics, Aliens, First Contact, Abortion, Contraception, Divorce

Year Published: 2014

Audience: High school and Up