Good News from the Vatican," where they're waiting for white smoke to arise from the Sistine Chapel to indicate that the cardinals inside have voted on a new pope, brand new to me when I read Brown's book, were once more in the spotlight.
Although this time one of the popes on the ballot is a robot-- which by that very fact alone makes it better than Angels and Demons. It's a quirky but fascinating story, told from the perspective of a tourist who is waiting, along with five others, for the result.
Despite its easy telling, it could be a very provocative piece. Of the six tourists, 3 are opposed to the idea of a robot pope, 3 are all for it. Interestingly of the three in favour, two are "men of the cloth," who desire it for practical purposes (a robot would access more information and, as we all know, information is power), and the third, the narrator, seems to want it because he finds it vaguely subversive. That none of those in favour seem to even consider spiritual reasons for or against might ruffle a few readers' feathers.
Another line, "The proper pope for our times is a robot, certainly. At some future date it may be desirable for the pope to be a
whale, an automobile, a cat, a mountain" also seems to be thrown out as a harmless bit of whimsy, but considering the contentiousness some feel by the fact that there hasn't been a woman pope, or a gay pope (for just 2 examples illustrating the lack of diversity), it's quite interesting that Silverberg didn't put any of those in his list of potential popes. It raises so many questions about what his motives for this omission were. Was it a subtle way of letting us know that the robots were just a metaphor? Or was it the opposite? Maybe he didn't want it to turn into an overtly political story at all, so he avoided using either of those (or other human) examples. Or maybe, since this is supposed to be in a time where robots walk amongst us and can even be nominated for pope, we're to assume that the glass ceiling had been shattered for other human demographics long before.