Study and Discussion Questions for Anthony Boucher's "The Quest for St. Aquin"
Boucher's story, set in an unspecified post-holocaust future, establishes a fundamental conflict between the empowered Technarchic Empire and underground religious sects, especially a modified Catholicism whose Pope must travel in disguise, hiding his papal vestments and even concealing his ring in the hollow of the heel of his shoe. The marked contrast between a powerful empire spanning three colonized planets and the impoverished believers who practice their faith in fear of exposure and persecution allows Boucher to address issues of faith vs. reason, of human creation [technology] vs. spiritual creation. After reading the story, consider the following questions:
Why does Boucher name the legendary priest who converted non-believers through logic St. Aquin? What historical figure and fundamental ideas are evoked by the name? Why does he name his protagonist Thomas? What New Testament character is evoked by this name?
What role does the Robass play in the story? How does it represent a traditional part of the canonization process? What are its motives in attempting to lead Thomas astray?
How many Biblical allusions do you see in the story and how do they function?
The story, in a number of passages, begs the question, "Does a robot have a soul?" What is the story's answer to this question? On what do you base your answer?
We have noted on a number of occasions that SF is a derivative genre. That is, more recent science fictions often derive their emphases and even some of their particular content from prior works. Can you name any other works of science fiction that might have relied at least partially on Boucher's story for their inspiration?