Friday, February 20, 2015

The Chaplain's War by Brad Torgersen

One day, I'm going to be comfortable enough with myself to admit publicly that I waited too long after downloading this book to read it. At some point, I will shamefacedly emerge from my cocoon and tell the whole world that I goofed. I'll acknowledge the fact that I goofed and ask for help from all of you in moving on. Today is not that day. Today, I will simply tell you all how much I loved this book. I may even mention that I voted for this book as Best SF Novel for the Goodreads Awards as a write-in candidate, but don't count on it. Nor will I mention that Brad is the leader of the Sad Puppy Brigade and that they have my full moral support, even if I couldn't justify the expense of paying for a con membership when I knew I wouldn't be able to go to the con. Granted, it's all true, but I'm not talking about it.

Brad Torgersen's The Chaplain's War is, paradoxically, the best SF book of the past year for the same reason that I didn't read it immediately upon downloading it:  It's about a Chaplain. Actually, Harrison Barlow, our main character is a Chaplain's Assistant.  He is a surprisingly secular Chaplain's Assistant though, and one who finds himself in a position he's not entirely comfortable with.  As a man of no faith himself, he finds himself building and maintaining a chapel at the request of the Chaplain he had previously served under. He also finds himself instructing the alien mantes in the meaning of god.

The foil for our hero is The Professor, a mantis who is basically an xeno-anthropology professor. He, along with his students have come to the human colony on the planet of Purgatory in an attempt to learn about human spirtuality. He is not at all pleased that Harrison is not able to assist him with it.

This is where Torgensen's work departs from the tradition Mil-SF hero and that's a good thing. I don't hate Mil-SF. I love Mil-SF, but I've never seen this take on it and it's awesome. John Ringo's Mike O'Neal is the type of character I would normally expect to see as a main character in this type of story. He runs a unit, kicks ass and takes names. Harrison Barlow is not an ass-kicker by any stretch of the imagination. He's actually more of a peacemaker. And therein lies the appeal to the book.

Barlow is a man of peace. He is a man who built a chapel for all because it was necessary. He is not a member of the religiously faithful, but he seems to me to be strong in his faith in his own humanity and the humanity of those around him. He helps his community maintain their sanity through some very tough times and he toils endlessly to build a peace with the mantes to save his fellow humans. To me, this was the best part of the book. I've read about hundreds, maybe thousands, of hard-charging warriors out to slay the foe. Barlow is the first I've seen of this type of a character that is not a coward, but is not truly a warrior either. Sure, there are a lot of tropes in SF/F and Torgersen does use a few

This is the part where I would ordinarily go over the flaws in the work and there have to be some, but I seem to have missed most of them. I'm sure there may have been a grammatical error somewhere, or maybe Torgersen fudged a bit on some of the math and/or tactics in a space battle but I couldn't tell you where. There really wasn't anything that threw me out of the story or really even lessened my enjoyment of it. I'm aware that this work started as a short and a novella but I haven't read either of the originals so I'm not aware of any problems that may have occurred as a result of their amalgamation and translation into a longer work. Here is the bottom line: The only thing stopping this from getting a perfect score is the fact that I don't want to give one this soon into the beginning of my blog. As a result, The Chaplain's War gets 4.99999999999999999999999999999999 out of five chapel pews.

The Chaplain's War can be purchased here:

The Chaplain's War
Brad Torgersen
Baen, 2014

On Sunday: Paramount's World War Z starring Brad Pitt

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