Weeping May Tarry by Raymond F. Jones and Lester del Rey
Pinnacle Books, 1978
Price I paid: 75¢
The landing was unlike any they had ever made. But then they had never before seen a planet so strange as this one—with its wild seas, scarred plains, and rubbled cities. It looked as if it had been totally devastated by some type of nuclear destruction.
And they were most curious—these aliens with their green-scaled faces and stubby tails—to explore this peculiar place where man had once existed…until their ship exploded and they were stranded with no means of survival and no hope of rescue.
Unless their high priest—Ama of the Keelong—prayed to the higher power they had rebelled against. For this was a spiritual mission…and the Alcoran had lost their way…
Well, the back of the book just told you a bunch of lies, so I guess it’s up to me to spill the truth all over the place. I think that might be thematically appropriate for this book, at least from a certain point of view. You see, I think a lot of how much anybody would ever enjoy this book and the message it brings will depend highly on their point of view, and that’s damned interesting. I was looking up some other reviews (mostly on Amazon and Goodreads) and it was apparent that none of those reviewers felt the way I did about the ending of this book. It occurred to me that quite a few people, especially ones closer to the time this book was written, would probably take the ending of this book for granted, and while that’s still pretty interesting, it’s also a little scary. But of course I’ve gotten far ahead of myself, so let’s backtrack.
The cover’s good! Look at Rex Scalyman there with his cross! What’s going to happen? I bet it’s going to be interesting!
I had to look this up, but it turns out that the title of this book is straight out of the Bible, namely Psalm 30, verse 5. Notably the line doesn’t read “tarry” in the KJV, the version I grew up with, so I likely wouldn’t have noticed it even if I were more familiar with that particular psalm. KJV reads “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning,” whereas the English Standard Version and the American Standard Version and a few others have that word “tarry” in the verse, so I guess we know what our authors didn’t use to name this book.
Or should I say “author?” I did a little research and the authors of Encyclopedia of Science Fiction claim that this book was written almost entirely by Raymond F. Jones as an extrapolation of a story by del Rey, namely “For I Am a Jealous People” (1954). I know that’s hardly conclusive evidence but I just wanted to mention it, since, in my opinion, this book seems to be heavily colored by the fact that Raymond F. Jones is a lifelong member of the Church of Latter Day Saints. I can’t find any reference to del Rey’s religious beliefs, so that’s no help. Sorry.
Something notable is that the original del Rey story is about a human religious person who, after a series of Job-like incidents caused by some alien invaders, decides to switch to the aliens’ religion. (Or so I’ve gathered. I need to find it and read it.) This book is the opposite of that.
This book had a lot of themes that I look forward to in a book, and they were all jumbled up in a way that should have made me love this book more.
- Religion. I’ve talked about this numerous times but I’ll repeat: I love science fiction books that talk about religion. This book did a lot, and then left me cold.
- No humans. I don’t know what it is but I adore it when a book doesn’t have any humans in it. To be fair, though, the main characters in this book were humans with green scales and stumpy tails, so it almost doesn’t count. I know I’ve argued a lot that a point of science fiction is to explore what makes us human, and I stand by that. Sometimes seeing an alien race as a contrast to ourselves is a great way to explore humanity. This book didn’t do that very well. Their alien-ness was pretty much a matter of skin color and word choice.
- Outsiders-looking-in. I love it when a book has a character explore what is commonplace to us but from an alien point-of-view. While this can lead to some annoying tropes—what can’t?—on the whole I’m fond of this theme. Weeping May Tarry avoided that theme for the most part, although it had some decent, if heavy-handed, scenes with it. Apparently all the evidence points toward humans being warlike and savage. Who’d’ve thunk it?
Our heroes are some aliens called Alcorans. They come from galaxies away to explore our general area. See, a couple generations ago there was a great galactic war in the Milky Way. It was so huge that stars went nova and sent radiation all the way to the Alcorans’ galaxy, causing some troubles. Now, recovered, they have sent a mission to investigate. Not a bad premise!
The main thing about the Alcorans is their religion. They worship something called The Keelong, which is never quite defined or described but that’s okay because this is religion we’re talking about. One of the protagonists of this book, if you can call him that, is Toreg. He is an Ama of the Keelong, which I guess is supposed to be a priest, although Toreg seems influential in the religion so maybe he’s a bishop or something. Anyway, he’s our viewpoint character for most of the adventure.
Opposite him we get Commander Cromar, the leader of the expedition. He’s also our viewpoint character for a lot of the book, but not as much as Toreg and eventually it’s all about Toreg.
Cromar’s mission first starts to go badly when he gets Toreg on his ship. See, every Alcoran ship has to have an Ama on it for religious purposes and one gets appointed at the beginning of every mission. The problem is that Toreg has a reputation for extreme strictness and Cromar knows for a fact how bad this will be for crew morale. He’s right. Things start going badly almost immediately.
Couple this with the fact that Cromar has a lot of doubts about the validity of The Keelong as a religion. He’s slipping down the slippy-slide of apostasy.
The first half of the book is mostly contests of power between the ship’s secular and religious authorities. Oddly, there are also some touching scenes where Cromar and Toreg almost come to an understanding of one another. They knew each other all the way back in school, and it’s one of those stories where Toreg was an outcast and Cromar was the popular kid and they had little to do with one another. Several times they approach a truce but then something happens to take it all away.
Toreg becomes so convinced that the ship is a hive of heresy that he goes over the edge. Somebody vandalizes something with a bit of blasphemy and Toreg gets so up in arms that he condemns a single member of the crew, by lot, to exile on an alien planet, unless the guilty party comes forward. This bit of cruelty leads to the sharp change in plot.
The ship crash lands on another planet. This turns out to be because a member of the crew, a pilot of something, grew to hate Toreg so much that he tried to blow up the ship. Instead, he damaged the engines and exiled the whole crew on this crazy world that has one moon and is the third from its sun. What planet could it be?!?!?!
To be fair, there’s nothing subtle about this and there’s not supposed to be anything subtle about it. Obviously they’ve landed on Earth. Investigation reveals that there’s no sapient life on this planet. In fact, there’s no animal life on the surface at all. There’s fish, though. And plants. It turns out that about a thousand years before this book happened, a massive fireball swept the planet and wiped out the entire population. Further investigation reveals that this is because the inhabitants of this planet did this to themselves.
It’s interesting that the whole Interstellar War plot gets dropped here. It turns out that humanity never even made it out of the Solar System before blowing itself up. I thought that was a pretty good red herring.
While the engineers get to repairing the ship, archaeologists and linguists get to figuring out what happened on this planet. Cromar strips Toreg of all religious authority, seeing as how his dickish ways are what got them all in this shape in the first place. The Ama is now just a regular schmo, one who in walking around aimlessly discovers a standing building in great condition.
We, the readers, know that this building is a church from moment one. We’re meant to. It’s fun to get some of that dramatic irony going while our Alcoran viewpoint characters debate over what kind of place it is. It’s decided that it’s some kind of war college, or perhaps a ministry of propaganda. Toreg finds some other things there: a book (obviously a text of war secrets) and a weird-looking couple of bits of wood with a dude nailed to it. First guess is that this statue of a dude was supposed to get the people into a fury as it represented something the enemy did to one of their people. Not a bad bit of imagining there.
Sure enough, things get figured out, and we learn that this is all about religion. Problems start to happen for Toreg when it turns out that the Alcorans are totes into this new religion. The gospel really speaks to them, and this Jesus guy seems kind of all right.
It’s about here that I started to think that this book was not going to end in a way that I like. And I think I’m right in that a lot of people would take this ending for granted.
At first Toreg is totally against this new religion. He even tries to burn this crucifix hoping to get rid of it. That doesn’t work, so he later decides to take it to a cliff and throw it off and destroy it. The problem is that this weird planet they’ve landed on has a cold period and this weird stuff called snow. While trying to destroy the crucifix, Toreg gets caught in a cave with Jesus and they start a-talking. And Toreg starts a-reading. And then he learns to pray.
So of course it turns out that Toreg’s old religion is only smoke and mirrors while the real way, truth, and light is Jesus, the Nazarene.
To be fair, nothing outright miraculous happens to prove that the Power of Christ compels anybody. Yes, the ship gets fixed and everybody gets to go home. Yes, Toreg survives long enough to bring the cross back to the ship. And yes, this statue of Jesus seems to have some kind of hypnotic power over the Alcorans. Toreg’s prayers are answered but I think it’s supposed to be a bit more on the ambiguous side.
One thing that lends credence to the “Alcorans are humans with green skin” statement: At one point Toreg is convinced that the agonized Jesus represented by the crucifix is also sporting a small smile. Even assuming that an alien species would have the same concept of agony that we do, how in His name did Toreg know what a smile was? Nuts to that.
Toreg dies at the end.
Maybe I’m reading stuff into it but the entire last fifth of the book or so just felt like a religious tract. Not a bad one, to be sure. This ain’t no Jack Chick stuff.
Actually it focused very little on any theology or anything and entirely on the concept of life after death and the resurrection. Nothing about, say, loving thine enemies or any of the good stuff. But also not any of the toxic stuff like, oh, most of the Old Testament. Actually, nothing about the OT was ever mentioned in this book. Was it swept under the rug? Did the Alcorans discover any of that? Are they on the way back to Alcor learning about how they should avoid certain animals and send out their virgin daughters to angry, horny crowds? We’ll never know.
This is especially noteworthy considering that the title of the book is from an Old Testament verse.
I guess what bugs me about this book is that our protagonists went from a shallowly-developed religion to a shallowly-explored one. That bugs me a lot.
The book had a lot of other things going for it, though. Character development was pretty solid. Text was easy enough to follow and sink into. I give it a lot of credit for that.
But as a story about religion in space? Nope, not gonna give it any credit there. Not happy. A story about aliens that come to Earth after we’re gone and try to learn about us? You know, the part of the potential story that really excited me? Nope, that gets no credit either.
On the whole, I’m gonna say this book had so much potential and very little of it was adequately explored while, at the same time, we all learn that Christianity is the best religion, even for random aliens. This makes me more sad than mad.
3 thoughts on “Weeping May Tarry”
OK, this sounds very bad. Thanks for the warning. I like Jones and really like del Rey, so there is a danger that I might have trodden on this mine.
– Reading your reviews I think you will be a useful mine-detector and, perhaps gold-detector as well. I appreciate that. Thanks.
Oh, and “For I Am a Jealous People” is essential reading. It is far madder than your research suggests. Read it before somebody describes it in further detail – which will mess up the experience.
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Yeah, “Jealous People” is very different from the way it is described in this review. Suggest “Evensong” (also by Del Rey) as a companion piece.
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I have read this book- and tore it in half afterwards. I didn’t like it.
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