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Just A Human

Sacraments for the Unfit

By Sarah Tolmie 

20 Feb, 2024

KW Science Fiction and Fantasy


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Sarah Tolmie’s 2023 Sacraments for the Unfit is a diverse assortment of short pieces inspired by the Covid-19 pandemic. More specifically, by that short, very transient period in which society was taking it seriously.

I should probably warn traditional SF fans that Sarah Tolmie is a professor of English at the University of Waterloo [1]. Thus, she is capable of and sometimes does make references to works outside conventional science fiction and fantasy. You may not be familiar with all the references. Accept them as Ten Thousand moments.

Despite being ushered into existence by the recent (and ongoing) unpleasantness, the pieces in this short collection lean more whimsical than morbid or anxious. Minds left to ponder in solitary, without the distraction of colleagues or students, can wander into some very odd realms. Fortunately for readers, Tolmie documented her cognitive journeys.

There aren’t any weak pieces in here, although I wonder if some pieces meet the full technical definition of story. If I had to pick a favourite, it would be the final entry, My Grandfather and the Archive of Insanity,” which documents a particular form of derangement that will be familiar to those who know persons with an interest in genealogy and a reluctance to accept that their ancestors were nameless sheep farmers. Cue the obligatory reference to Big Ancestor.” Grandfather only narrow edges out my second favourite piece, The Hand of M. R. James.

Canadians should consider Tolmie’s work for the upcoming Aurora Awards. Highlighting the works of Canadian authors in particular, the Auroras are one of many SFF awards that actually count all the votes. 

Sacraments for the Unfit is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Chapters-Indigo), and here (Words Worth Books).

I did not find Sacraments for the Unfit at Apple Books.

Story by story:

Apparatchik” • (2023) • short story

Philosophical goatherd herds goats in philosophical fashion. The goats are unimpressed, but we all know that goats are a notoriously difficult audience.

The Death Shortage” • (2023) • short story

Mortality’s sudden, inexplicable disappearance prompts many questions, not least of which is how do we monetize this?”

Younger readers may want to get their elders to explain what NFTs were.

The Forms” • (2023) • short story 

A neurodivergent person’s close study of Platonic forms is another wedge between them and the world around them.

Zoom” • (2023) • short story

A photon’s existential crisis.

In reality, relativity shields photons from this issue, as from a photon’s perspective their duration is zero.

Honey Business” • (2023) • short story

In which isolation inspires the protagonist to develop a close, personal relationship with honey.

Is there a CanLit category of stories about people developing unusual close personal relationships with non-human entities and phenomena? Or is that really a universal thing?

The God That Got Away” • (2023) • short story

God is not dead. Humans are simply terribly inattentive.

The Hand of M. R. James • (2023) • novelette

Despite the considerable handicap of being dead as well as suffering a significant constraint on how he can express himself, the late M. R. James enjoys a vibrant exchange with a living academic.

The Pickled Boys” • (2023) • short story

An all too detailed Christmas pageant ends badly.

My Grandfather and the Archive of Insanity” • (2023) • short story

An enthusiast embraces genealogy, little inhibited by such minor issues as reason or facts.

The Wittgenstein Finds • (2023) • short story

What, if any, afterlife activities does philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein enjoy?

1: There’s an interesting (at least to me) digression about invasive species in North America. Honey bees aren’t from around here. The question of whether humans should be considered invasive arises. My answer is that while there is a case that they are invasive across much of Eurasia and the New World, humans should be considered a native species in Ontario and certain other regions. I’d be happy to explain my reasoning on my blog.