The single most up-my-alley story of the last year has been nominated for a Nebula Award: Eric James Stone's "That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made," published in the September 2010 issue of Analog. It's the story of Harry Malan, a Mormon not-really-missionary living on a science station orbiting the sun. He's not a scientist-- he's a banker, sent to make stock trades based on solar gas-mining operations, which he can do with an eight-minute lead over his Earthbound competitors-- so he's understandably not too knowledgeable about the natives. Yes, the sun has natives: enormous plasma beings called "swales" or "solcetaceans." A handful of these enormous sun-whales have converted to Mormonism, and Malan-- who is, almost by default, the leader of the sun station's Mormon congregation-- is thrown into both a moral dilemma and a diplomatic debacle when one of his swale congregants complains of having been forced into sexual contact by a larger, older swale. The swales have very different ideas about sex and consent than humans do, but Malan can't help but view the situation through the lens of human laws and customs: a member of his flock has been raped, and he sets out to right the perceived wrong. The plot soon thickens when Malan finds himself embroiled in a power struggle with Leviathan, the oldest known swale, who claims to be the originator of its entire species, and possibly the oldest living thing in the entire galaxy-- certainly something akin to a god. And this god is angry about being questioned by lesser beings.
Stone's story is chock full of scriptural allusions to the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Book of Mormon-- some stated plainly, others less so. Most intriguing for me is the Job-like confrontation at the story's end between the finite Malan and the all-but-infinite Leviathan. The idea that limited, contingent, mortal beings can have some influence and importance in the infinite, eternal eyes of the deity is, arguably, the core of all human religion. Stone's story presents this concept in the context of a speculative ethical puzzle, and is quite entertaining to boot. Its Nebula nomination is well earned.
Through the end of March, you can read "That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made" for free on Stone's website.