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A comic novel of hope and blasphemy

by Stephen Goldin

Polly - Stephen Goldin
Editions:ePub: $ 4.99Audiobook
Paperback: $ 9.99
ISBN: 978-1456336394
Pages: 150

Herodotus Shapiro has had an unbelievably bad week. His wife left him. The IRS is after him for thousands of dollars. His home/bookstore burned down. On his way to take refuge at his brother's place he got a speeding ticket. And now his car has broken down in the middle of the desert in front of a large mansion. What more can go wrong?

But now his world takes a turn for the weird. The mansion has a snowman on the front lawn--in the desert in July. The house, which is bigger on the inside than on the outside, is owned by Polly, the most preternaturally beautiful young woman he's ever met. Polly is an acrobat, a gourmet chef, a psychologist, an international financial consultant, a physicist and a woman of who-knows how many other incredible talents. She has an unbelievable library, an art collection of all the world's great masterpieces and a print of a previously unknown Marx Brothers film. Her toilet paper is actually silk.

And she seems to have some mysterious plans for him....

Reviews:Spider Robinson wrote:

All hands on Decalogue! A protagonist readers will find it easy to identify and empathize with, a classic journey story told with wit, wisdom and deceptive ease, and the most interesting guest star ever--what's not to like, here? Perhaps writers who attempt a book like Polly! wanna crack or two across the face for their audacity (to parrot conventional wisdom)--but not if they can manage to pull it off this entertainingly.

Bill Furlow on Great Books Under $5 wrote:

Stephen Goldin describes himself as a professional fantasy and science fiction writer and an atheist.

The first of those descriptors is readily apparent in Polly!, but a surprise turn makes the last relevant as well.

I know I risk turning off some readers if I let on that the book’s protagonist, Herodotus, has the greatest sex of his life with a beautiful woman who may actually be God. But reviews are supposed to warn readers away from books they won’t like, so perhaps that’s not a bad thing. Most readers, though, would lose out if they let a little thing like that deter them from reading this unusual little novel.

As the book opens, Herodotus has just awakened in terror to find his bookstore on fire and smoke billowing upward into his second-floor apartment. His wife has left him, and the IRS claims he owes $8,000, which he doesn’t have. Now this.

Short on good options, he sets out in his decrepit Corolla to pay an unannounced call on his brother, who lives on a ranch in Nevada. On the way, the car breaks down in the grueling desert heat right in front of a mansion. Polly is its owner.

It must be said that Goldin is an atheist with a great sense of humor who doesn’t take himself too seriously. He is well grounded in the Bible and theology – and the Marx Brothers. The verbal sparring that takes place between Herodotus and Polly, whoever she may actually be, is brilliant from beginning to end.

In brief, Polly is a lion-owning, acrobatic, Japanese-speaking, gourmet-cooking nuclear physicist who hosts a houseful of friendly people whose lives she has touched with her kindness and generosity. Not that she always seems so kind to Herodotus, who is understandably confused by such oddities as an elevator in a two-story mansion that ascends for 13 floors.

The book is an allegory of self-discovery – or perhaps, universe discovery – by Herodotus, who can’t possibly match wits with the wise-cracking, teasing Polly. Without giving away more, let’s just say the conversation, which is laced with hundreds of puns and one-liners, eventually works its way around to the Supreme Being.

Whether she is or isn’t literally divine, Polly’s organizing principle is that entropy – the constant tendency of the universe to run down – is unstoppable, even by her, but nevertheless must be resisted.

Overwhelmed with Polly’s seeming omniscience, Herodotus presses for answers to the big questions about life and thereafter. Eventually he asks, “So fighting entropy is the point?” “No,” Polly replies, “Fighting entropy is what I choose to do.”

She wages the battle on an incalculable number of fronts, including helping a group of protesters save a polluted river, teaching illiterate adults to read and befriending a child with leukemia.

Polly! is the kind of book aspiring writers should read just to study the craft. Goldin’s writing is fastidious. And he seemingly has the gift (Would that be a theological term?) of calling on everything he knows from the silly to the profound to create a story that starts out being entertaining and winds up being interesting, even thought-provoking.

Red Haircrow on Red Haircrow Review wrote:

Fast moving, well-written, tongue-in-cheek dramatic comedy which was so representative of real-life in some aspects, it felt like coming home. You could well understand the main character’s feelings, and though written in first person, the sole perspective is varied enough that it never seems one-dimensional.

I found the story laugh-out-loud surprising at times, a witty, intelligent “what if”. It’s irreverent and thought-provoking with characters asking some of the same questions I did as an inquiring young person. People not willing to ask the hard questions about Christianity and their book of beliefs, nor accept the fact there are no definite answers or substantiated miracles or anything else, would be highly offended. This is a provocative fantasy which, if anything, should confirm a Christian faith, because if they still “believe” after reading it, they should give themselves a pat on the back.

I thoroughly enjoyed “Polly!”, especially the end note by the author:


Tired of hypocrisy? Want to fight entropy? Or maybe
just hang out and talk with good people?
Come join the party. Meet us online at Polly’s place: We
don’t guarantee Polly will furnish any of her worldfamous
refreshments, but the company will be sociable
and the atmosphere stimulating. Who knows? Maybe
Polly herself will drop by for a chat.

And please check out the POLLYTHEISM blog at: Remember, Pollytheism
is the only religion in the world not endorsed by the
person it’s devoted to.

My notes:

I don’t do it often, but while searching for the official description of Polly!, I happened to read a review of this book before I’d personally read it. The point they’d made was that it should be recommended to “no one”, based on the fact of its god disrespecting and hateful narratives. What that person didn’t seem to take into account was that it was a narrative. It’s one of the main character’s views, which after having your wife walk out on you, your store and livelihood burned down, you’re bankrupt and down on your luck, even many “believers” might doubt their god or curse their luck. The lack of objectivity some people display is stunning at times.

These past weeks I’ve been doing specific research, beyond my past studies into post-war Germany and the Holocaust, on attitudes which allowed atrocities to happen. It wasn’t great evil in the majority of people, it was intolerance for others which eventually morphed into widespread hatred and condemnation of those who think, believe or behave different than oneself. Amazing how a fantasy book can bring out the intolerant, hypocritical nature of some “true” believers.

Caroline Cryonic on Adarna SF wrote:

“That’s the way the universe works. Not random at all. The universe is passive-aggressively hostile.”

– Polly (she who may or may not be God)

Polly! is a quirky contemporary fantasy with a hopeful message. It follows Herodotus, a middle-aged man down on his luck, as he undergoes a process of rediscovery upon meeting the enigmatic Polly. The story is comparable to the Frank Capra film It’s a Wonderful Life, but it speaks to non-religious skeptics and has a weirdness that makes it more interesting. It’s never clear what Polly is, but she fights entropy, gives some serious tough love, and has plenty of thoughts on dealing with a passive-aggressively hostile universe.

The reader follows Herod’s journey from sorrow to renewed hope and wonder. Goldin’s prose is really enjoyable, it moves quickly with just enough description to make a scene memorable. The pacing is smooth, there’s never a dull moment, and it’s always engaging and unpredictable. There’s some offbeat humour which helps lighten the mood, and all of it feels natural to the story and Herod’s point of view.

While there’s only two major characters, they’re done excellently: Herod is a sympathetic everyman and Polly is vibrant force to be reckoned with. Another aspect I liked was the timelessness of the setting and the themes–it could be set any time in the next thirty years and it would still feel contemporary.

The worst part of the book has nothing to do with its contents—it’s the cover. The cover is confusing to potential readers, and Polly doesn’t even look like that. But hey, don’t judge a book by its cover. Polly has a French maid that is funny but a bit too over the top, and there’s a line or two or dialogue that rubbed me the wrong way, but those are insignificant nitpicks.

I advice checking out the longer sample at Smashwords to see if you like Herod and Polly and its agnostic themes. The book is filled with interactions between these two characters getting all Socratic-method style discussing life, the universe, and everything else. Polly pulls out all the stops on her criticism of organized religion, so if that’s not up your alley, well yeah, you’d think it’s blasphemous. It’s a quirky book that’s not going to appeal to everyone, but I enjoyed the ride and it made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

You might like this if you like…
Agnostics and atheists; a giant house with the craziest interior design; tips on dealing with a passive-aggressive universe; lots of dialogue

Mary Wood on wrote:

My biggest problem with the book is also what makes it so good: I have no idea how to categorize it in my Kindle collections. Is it drama? Fantasy? Humor? Social Commentary? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

Not a long read at all. Definitely fun. Definitely thought-provoking. 4 stars as I guess I wanted a less open ending? Personal preference? Not sure. But it's well worth the ride!

T. Jackson King on wrote:

Stephen Goldin's POLLY takes on the subject addressed by some of humanity's most sacred tomes, and blows conventional wisdom to smithereens. Oh, it would also be viewed as highly irreverent, blasphemous and offensive, at least by those humans pretending to be in charge of life and the universe. This tale takes the case of a decent man who has suffered a few Job-like troubles, puts him into an encounter with a twenty-something young woman of mysterious powers, and sets him on the pathway to exploring why humanity has to fix itself using its own talents, rather than waiting for divine rescue. Very nice characterization, flawless dialogue, a great evocation of real world issues for real people, and a delightful put-down, or smack-down, for all the dogma-bred hyper-religionists who use spiritual faith as a tool to run the world. A great story with fine characters and an ensemble of scenes that nicely encourage the reader to not only "think for yourself" but to realize how much power to do good resides in the hands and heart of any person.

Easy Reader on wrote:

After reading and reviewing Jade Darcy and the Affair of Honor I got the opportunity to review another of Stephen Goldin’s books. When perusing through his catalog I came across Polly! There was just something about this cover. It was the newer cover. A beautiful twenty-something girl looking directly at you with a look of compassion and love, with the whole world in her hand. I didn’t really care what the book was about, the cover just drew me in and made me want to read it.

So was what was beneath the cover as compelling and interesting as the image on front? In a word. YES!

Rod is a guy down on his luck. His wife left, his store burnt down, his apartment burnt down, the IRS is on him for around eight-grand, and his car broke down in the desert. Right in front of a mansion with a snowman in the front.

Yep. A Snowman. Made of real snow. In the desert. Thank that’s odd? Well just wait until you meet Polly!

Polly meets Rod – or Herodotus – and tells him to come inside and she’ll have her guys take care of his car, it’s been afflicted by a burst of xeron radiation, which is why it broke down. That’s what Polly said anyway.

So he goes inside, and the house is of course much larger on the inside than on the outside, and it seems she’s hosting a party. While Polly goes and gets a few things done he talks and mingles with some of the guests. They tell him about their problems and how Polly was there for them in their time of need. Each problem much worse than what his was. So when he states his problems, they just don’t seem like they aren’t that big of a deal. His quest now is to find out who, or what Polly is.

He begins to start feeling like Polly is God, or a God. But she doesn’t really say anything about it. She doesn’t deny it, but doesn’t say she is either. She says that she’s just a fighter of entropy. She helps a group of protesters, teaches adult literacy classes, visits children with leukemia, all while leading Hero (as Polly calls him), on a journey to really find out what is important to him, and what kind of person he is.

Herodotus keeps pressing her about the universe and what’s the point, almost insisting that she is God. And with each turn she talks about religion now, and in history, and why in the world would the creator of the universe need validation from some nobody on a small planet in the middle of nowhere?

The whole series of events that transpires is blasphemous, it takes on all religions, it spares no ones feelings. But it’s one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever read. The way Stephen Goldin crafts this book is so masterful, that in between the very sharp dialogue there is a much much deeper meaning, and will make you stop to think about your own life.

That’s the thing about a well crafted book. It will be entertaining, and fun, but it will challenge the way you may look at things, or at the very least make you look internally at the type of person you are. Now, those that are hardcore Catholic, or Christian, or Jewish, or any other religion might find pause to put this book down, and write it off. Who is Stephen Goldin to say that my prayers aren’t being heard, or that Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross wasn’t really a sacrifice? But don’t drop it just yet!

The journey is one of self-discovery. Asking the hard questions, and dealing with the answers that you might not want to hear.

All in all, this 150 page book is jam packed with witty dialogue, and well thought out statements on theology and religion. Not only from the past, but from where we are today as a culture. From all the dialogue and actions, I actually get the feeling that Polly, is actually short for Polytheism. She mentions on more than one occasion that Herodotus is named for one of the Greek Gods, and eludes to her being just one of many….if she is one.

But above all, she speaks of hope. She speaks of how the problems can’t all be solved, but you can do the best you can. And nothing is ever hopeless.

It’s a fantasy novel that…well, it’s a comedy that…hmmm….this book isn’t really easy to define, but it’s fantastic.

I didn’t want this book to end. I felt that when I put this down, I lost a friend in Polly. I enjoyed my time with her so much, I stopped reading it, just so I had another day with her. So it seems that Polly not only touches the people written between the cover of the book, but also the people on the outside looking in.

This book reaches the top twenty list for me, and comes highly, highly, HIGHLY, recommended by me.

Andrew Carlson on wrote:

This is a quick and very entertaining read. I laughed all the way through.

Some may say the story is blasphemous. Not me. I loved the message of what is the enemy of the universe and what agents of Polly can do in response. Balance.

If I could rate it 6 stars I would!

Anna Erishkigal on wrote:

I find organized religion to be deeply offensive to what I *KNOW*. Polly, however, tickled my funnybone, with a deeply irreverent take on God not seen since Alanis Morrissette played god in the movie Dogma. This story was like reading one of those funny, feel-good stories you find in Guideposts magazine, only instead of scripture, this story is hilariously blasphemous to the teeny-tiny confines organized religion has tried to place around so vast a being as God.

I can't tell you how many times I giggled as the protagonist (Herodotus ... or 'Hero') navigates his way out of personal tragedy into a Kafhaesque situation where you ask yourself if he died and went to heaven, hell, or some purgatory deeply reminiscent of the Twilight Zone. Polly is irrational and funny, and as she drags Hero in and out of various situations, it will lead you to a much more empowered viewpoint of the Dude Upstairs.

If you are a religious person who believes that God truly makes wagers with the devil and tells people to go slit their son's throats to make burnt offerings, then is not the book for you.

4 Perfect Points

Donnie Burgess on Readers' Favorite wrote:

Have you ever had that kind of week where your (largely uninsured) home/business burns to the ground, your wife leaves you, and the IRS starts hounding you for back taxes? That’s the kind of week it’s been for Herodotus Shapiro. When he decides to escape to his brother’s house to get his bearings, his car mysteriously stops running and, no surprise, his cell phone is also dead. Stranded alone in the middle of the desert, he approaches the only building in sight: an unlikely, huge mansion that has no earthly reason to be there. He’s greeted by Polly, a beautiful, eccentric girl who has many secrets but very few answers. She seems to be toying with him, but since he’s stuck until his car can be repaired, Herodotus has no choice but to play along with her bizarre games.

Polly! is a wonderfully written story that will leave you smiling. Stephen Goldin weaves a fun and fantastical tale that is witty, clever, and deceptively deep. Polly! has a wonderfully drawn cast of characters whose mysterious motivations and peculiar traits are revealed slowly, drawing you in to find out more. Goldin’s unique writing style allows him to merge playfully blasphemous content with lighthearted humor in a way that doesn’t come across as offensive, but will definitely make you think. If you’re a fan of cheeky humor and don’t mind a bit of sex and sacrilege along the way, Polly! is a story that will keep you hooked from beginning to end.

About the Author

STEPHEN GOLDIN is a Nebula Award finalist science fiction and fantasy writer who was born in 1947 in the city of Philadelphia. When he was 13, his parents moved to California and, upon reflection, he decided to accompany them. It was a lucky thing he did, too; otherwise, when he went to college, the commute to UCLA would have been quite difficult. He eventually graduated from UCLA with a Bachelor's degree in Astronomy.

His first job out of college was as a civilian space scientist for the U.S. Navy. The urge to write was strong, though, and after several years he left to try writing full time. He only regretted the move every other Thursday, when he would have gotten paid.

After several years of genteel poverty, he took a job as writer/editor for a pornographic humor paper, the San Francisco Ball. In retrospect, this was a great crucible; because of deadline pressure, he had to learn to make his writing dirty, funny, and one draft.

At about this time, too, he began selling novels on a regular basis. While he has, from time to time, held down other full-time employment (he helped design the Star Trek: The Next Generation computer game "A Final Unity" for Spectrum HoloByte and has also written manuals and game design documents for Maxis), his real love is fiction writing and he continues to pursue it.

His first wife was fellow author Kathleen Sky. In the 10+ years of their marriage, in addition to their individual works, they collaborated on a pair of stories ("Painting the Roses Red" and "The Devil Behind the Leaves") about the diMedicis, a family of interstellar swindlers.

Mr. Goldin's current wife is fellow author Mary Mason. They currently live in the San Francisco East Bay area. So far they have co-authored two books in the Rehumanization of Jade Darcy series: Jade Darcy and the Affair of Honor and Jade Darcy and the Zen Pirates. More books in this series are planned.

Mr. Goldin is an atheist whose interests include Broadway show albums and surrealist art. He has lived with cats virtually all his adult life.

Mr. Goldin served the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America as editor of the SFWA Bulletin and as SFWA's Western Regional Director.