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Only Begotten Daughter

  • World Fantasy Award Winner
  • Nebula Award Finalist
  • John Campbell Award Finalist


Call it a miracle. Call it an accident at the sperm bank. But Murray Katz, the celibate keeper of an abandoned lighthouse near Atlantic City, has been blessed with a daughter conceived from the union of his own seed and a holy ovum. Like her half-brother Jesus, Julie Katz can walk on water, heal the blind, and raise the dead.

But being the Messiah isn’t easy. Poor Julie, bewildered about her role in the divine scheme of things, is tempted by the Devil and challenged by firebombing neo-Christian zealots–and that’s just the beginning of her fantastic odyssey through Hell, a seceded New Jersey, and her own confused soul.


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It’s been gratifying to read the reviews of Only Begotten Daughterand to discover that, whatever else may be transpiring in this novel, I’ve evidently managed to avoid facile religion-bashing. What straw man could be more desiccated than Christian fundamentalism or Roman Catholic authoritarianism?

But beyond facile religion-bashing lies complex religion-bashing–speculative theology, it’s sometimes called–and therein lies the territory in which I’m attempting to maneuver. I join Kurt Vonnegut in lamenting the peculiar assumption among the literati that the big questions–Why existence? Wherefore people? Is there a God? What happens after death?–are pretty much settled, and canny novelists will therefore please confine themselves to interpersonal relationships and their various ethnic heritages. I am not against interpersonal relationships. I have several. I don’t mind ethnic heritages. I have one. But in fact the big questions aren’t settled (except for death, but the answer here is depressing, and I won’t go into it further), and if speculative-fiction writers are the only people who worry about such matters, then so be it. The future of eschatology could be in worse hands.

Reprinted from SFWA Bulletin


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“A summary … can barely suggest the dense, hyperkinetic plotting of James Morrow’s novel, its welter of acute detail (which occasionally welters just a bit too blinking much), or the vigor of its cartoonishly sharp-edged characters. Only Begotten Daughter is a rich, intelligent tour de force. It contains any number of brilliantly funny vignettes, like this one: A female sinner, in Hell, approaches Jesus with the question, ‘Does the wafer literally turn into your flesh and bones?’ And Jesus, who hasn’t looked up from his work in 2,000 years, who hasn’t heard of His church because He’s been too busy soothing the damned, responds: ‘Does the what do what?'”

–Jack Butler
New York Times Book Review


“Imagine, if you will, Joseph Heller at his satirical best writing The Satanic Verses. Sort of a Catechism-22. What you would have would be close to James Morrow’s Only Begotten Daughter, a delightfully devilish novel that tiptoes along the fringes of science fiction while treading heavily on imperious practitioners of Western theology … As in any parable, the final interpretation of Only Begotten Daughtershould be left to the reader. However, Morrow points us along many paths toward satiric enlightenment. Be assured, there is something here to offend everyone.”

–David E. Jones
Chicago Tribune


“It’s probably an insurmountable challenge for a reviewer to try to capture in a few hundred words the captivating delirium of this runaway carrousel of a book. Only Begotten Daughter is full of jarring, radical images … Morrow seems to have written a manicSatanic Verses for the Judeo-Christian world. Yet, at the same time, Morrow’s novel is suffused with a peculiar innocence, an earnest inquiry into the nature of godhead, and an enduring if battered optimism about the importance of love … Juxtaposing lyrical interludes that could be outtakes from Disney’s The Little Mermaidwith hellish spectacles worthy of de Sade, Only Begotten Daughterdefies ready categorization … But it is clearly no mere exercise in idol-toppling and totem-skewering. If the narrative makes us flinch, it’s only because it is itself so unflinching in its dissection of human foibles and cruelty. Ultimately, Morrow has given us a frank and fascinating novel that provokes rather than offends–a remarkable work of fiction with the power to disturb our complacency and challenge us to consider anew the thorny questions of life and faith.”

–Michael P. Kube-McDowell
South Bend Tribune


“A cheerfully secular rendition of the Second Coming … Morrow’s ambitious and wide-ranging satire plays straight with Scripture, reserving as its targets the intolerances and vanities of fallible humanity … Morrow’s divine comedy embraces a Technicolor tour of Hell itself, which proves to be filled with the just and unjust alike (‘Of course it’s unfair. Who do you think’s running the universe, Eleanor Roosevelt?’) … Only Begotten Daughter is an intelligent, humane, and unusually funny novel.”

–Gregory Feeley
New York Newsday


“James Morrow has been gradually establishing a position as the most provocative satiric voice in science fiction, willing to take on the Big Themes without pulling punches, and not afraid to step outside the genre’s usual borders … Morrow unerringly targets nerve endings that most readers won’t know they have until he zaps them, throwing out wild bits of social commentary and incidental barbs with impeccable timing.”

–Peter J. Heck
Washington Post


“Several notable novels of this gloriously multi-faceted type have been published within living memory; examples include Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, Bernard Malamud’s God’s Grace, and Jeremy Leven’s Satan. James Morrow’s Only Begotten Daughter is the latest, the most vivid, and perhaps the best of the lot. It has enormous chutzpah and schmaltz by the bucketful, and despite the relentlessness of its darker side it still contrives, against all odds, to carry its due quota of pure mechaieh … Only Begotten Daughter is a righteously wrathful book which will, like all righteously wrathful books, enrage many of its readers … I can only say that I was proud to share each and every atom of fervor which is in it.”

–Brian Stableford
New York Review of Science Fiction


“Like many who see the world clearly, Morrow is driven frantic by the insanities committed in the names of the gods. He was written a work of satiric imagination as compassionate and horrifying as the book’s publisher bills it … It has fangs, and it bites. It is also very warm, very human, very humane.”

–Thomas Easton


“We may be witnessing the birth of a classic, folks. So stick around …Only Begotten Daughter is, indeed, shocking, not in its heretical set-up, but in its insistence that religion, to be worthy of human belief, should be amenable to reason, and that God should measure up to human standards. Here we are back in Mark Twain territory, with God as the malign thug, but with a difference. Twain insisted that mankind was inferior to the ‘high animals,’i.e. the beasts, because of his moral sense. Morrow says that moral sense is our salvation, and that God and the godly shouldn’t be allowed to commit all manner of atrocities the rest of us couldn’t ever get away with.”

–Darrell Schweitzer
Aboriginal Science Fiction