Warning: Spoilers ahead.
I thought this was a very interesting piece.
The idea is that on earth, we have a weak magnetic field. Because of this, a person's soul is not able to stick around. When a human dies on a distant planet with a much stronger magnetic field, the soul appears to the base's chaplain.
The base's chaplain goes to the spiritual adviser of the local alien race to ask what can be done for the lingering soul. They take a pilgrimage to the pole of the planet to allow the soul to be released.
I think that it's a very interesting way to explain what happens to souls on earth. I could have used a little bit more explanation why the souls can't stay (instead of just weak magnetic field). Also, I didn't like that the alien spiritual adviser implied that ghost stories are proof that something more is happening on earth. To me, that didn't make sense. Either the earth's magnetic field is too weak to keep a soul there or it's not or there is something different about certain souls that keep them grounded on earth. No explanation was offered. I did try to put that quibble aside, since I know that wasn't the point of the short story, but it continued to bother me through to the end.
To preface the next paragraph, the short version of the ending: The pilgrimage to release the soul was successful, another person dies and appears before the chaplain, the alien adviser comes to the chaplain to offer his help once more and the chaplain declines. The end.
I have to admit that the ending made me so mad that I put aside the story for about two days. I felt the ending was so bad that I had wasted my time reading the story. Since then, I've come around. I'm still not a fan, but I don't hate the ending with a fiery passion anymore. I still feel the chaplain was rude to the alien adviser for no particular reason, but I accept that I may have either missed the point or that no rudeness was intended. Either way, it didn't really work for me.
I liked the writing style. Not overly wordy but descriptive enough to ground the reader.
I do also like that the story made me confront the idea that I decided what the story was about when I was halfway through and then got mad when it didn't follow like I thought it should. While I'm a bear to be around when that happens, I like to be reminded that authors can do whatever they please without catering to my idea of what it should be.
More than anything else, this story has provoked a line of thinking that has persisted for more than a week since I read the story. Do souls really exist? Is there a scientific reason why we can't interact with them on Earth? Would death be different on another planet? I find that it's a rare story that triggers that kind of internal debate, and I love On A Spiritual Plain for doing so for me.
Overall, I liked it a lot. That being said, I would not necessarily want this book to win as I had one too many problems with it, but I would not be upset if it did win.
Do I think On a Spiritual Plain by Lou Antonelli is award worthy?
Sort of - Good enough to rank, but not to be at the top.
Current rankings for Best Short Story:
3. On a Spiritual Plain