This book consists of independent stories, which nonetheless exhibit a certain thematic and chronological continuity. More
The Ancient Magus of Dreams leads us into the hazy, distant past of mankind, when the guardian of knowledge, the theory maker, and the thinker attempted to unravel the world’s secrets using telepathic abilities. Al-Mahmatall, one of the thinkers, was given the task of creating dreams, and while he is traveling about in the spirit of a child, he suddenly makes an astonishing discovery...
Certainty deals with the book of Ezekiel, the favorite of UFO fanatics, and provides a new point of view of the biblical events. Next to an insignificant disciple, who against his will is witness to the remarkable visions of the prophet and records them for posterity, the prophet himself becomes an almost secondary figure.
I’ll tell it to you myself, Lysias takes place in the world of Greek antiquity. The protagonist of the story, which is recorded in a series of letters, is Nikias, the tragic hero of the Peloponnesian War. The Athenians besiege Syracuse, and from the letters of the general Nikias we learn of his fate. We learn as well of the intrigue-ridden polticial life of ancient Athens. We meet Alcibiades and Socrates, but it all foreshadows the decline of Greek antiquity, the epoch of irresponsible political adventurism and senseless warfare.
Johannan evokes the time of early Christianity and attempts to reconstruct the origins of the book of Revelation. Johannan, banished to the island of Patmos, reflects on himself, his beliefs, and his fate. At the same time, he demands an accounting from heaven itself for the promised paradise and the Kingdom of Love of which the master spoke. While Johannan—like the Greek Nikias—submits to his fate, accepting the suffering that is apportioned to him, he nonetheless is already a rebel who, in contrast to Nikias, is prepared to doubt the righteousness of the divine order. Here the fantastic is but a means through which the unreal becomes more real and believable and approaches human experience.
Brother Marius’s Devil could be a classic Faust tale were it not for the unique viewpoint of the narrator. Brother Marius the novice prepares to make a journey with his superior, but something intervenes. Indeed, it is the devil who interferes, or rather the one who summoned him. However, who remains at the end and who summoned whom is revealed only in the course of the story. Here one feels capable of opposing his predetermined fate and taking another path. However, the devil has his own ideas.
The Island of the Strawdogs brings us into the present. A world-weary scientist moves to a lonely island, where he makes an incredible discovery. The two protagonists who come to the island on the invitation of the scientist are compelled to listen to the professor’s long explanations of human history in order that he finally, as if as a reward, initiate his guests into the secret of his discoveries. This closing novella tells us that history, which began with Al-Mahmatall’s mind-reading, or even much earlier, has reached its end with the invention of the computer. Civilization is ossified, too addicted to the material, incapable of growing beyond itself. Man must begin again, as after the Flood. But mankind will not be alone, for as the devil in Brother Marius says, “I will be there, for I must be there when the last person on Earth vanishes…and then we shall meet again.”