The Chaplain’s War
Brad R. Torgersen
Trade Paper, $15.00
I’m a little confused about this one. Baen’s site says the book is due to be out sometime this month (October). When I checked Amazon earlier today to find the exact release date, the book was listed as having been released on September 15. I suspect that might actually be October 15 and a slight slip-up on Amazon’s part.
None of which is really important. What is important is that Brad Torgersen’s first novel is soon to be available, and if you like military sf with a bit of depth, you should read it.
The Chaplain’s War is what is sometimes called a fix-up novel, meaning that it was originally published in parts and the parts have been fixed up to make a novel. There is nothing wrong with this approach.
I read the first two stories that make up the novel in Torgersen’s first collection, Lights in the Deep, which I reviewed at Amazing Stories. And while I enjoyed “The Chaplain’s Assistant” and “The Chaplain’s Legacy”, to be honest, I liked some of the other stories in the book better.
Still, I jumped at a chance to read the novel and would like to thank Baen Books for the eARC. I discovered something. Even though I knew what to expect for the first part of the book, I found I enjoyed the story more the second time around.
There’s a lot of military sf out there, and while I’ve not read a great deal of it in recent years, I think it’s safe to say that Torgersen’s approach is a little different.
The story concerns Harrison Barlow, a young man who is a POW on a harsh planet. Humanity has encountered a race of hostile and very advanced aliens bent on being the only sentient race in the galaxy. The aliens resemble preying mantises and are called mantes by the humans. Barlow was the chaplain’s assistant. He made a promise to the chaplain as the man lay dying that he would build a chapel for the survivors. When the story opens, a mante scholar arrives at the chapel seeking to learn about humanity’s God. The aliens practice no religion, and the concept of spirituality is one that is difficult for them to understand.
Through his growing friendship with the alien, Barlow is able influence the course of the war so that humanity isn’t eradicated. A fragile peace forms, but it doesn’t last. Barlow finds himself in the position to trying to broker a more lasting peace if he can survive.
“The Chaplain’s Assistant” is reprinted pretty much as it appeared, but Torgersen inserts a number of new chapters into “The Chaplain’s Legacy” showing Barlow’s time in basic training. This will come to have an impact on the ending of the novel. The military aspects feel real because Torgersen is in the reserves.
The thing I liked best about this book was that Torgersen treated the concept of faith with respect. Not surprising since Torgersen has made no secret of his religious beliefs. What made things really interesting is Barlow is a nonbeliever when the book opens and does his best to remain so throughout.
Before you think the author is going to beat the reader over the head with his religious beliefs or that the book is one long sermon, it isn’t. Torgersen mixes the spiritual aspects of the book with subtlety, integrating questions about God and faith into the story organically. The result is thought provoking questions arising as part of an entertaining story.
And the story is entertaining. Torgersen doesn’t shy away from conflict, violence, or space battles. Barlow is a complex character, one with his own frustrations and internal conflicts. This is very much a military sf book, one that shows aspects of military life not always seen in other works in this subgenre. And a book I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m looking forward to reading more of this author’s work.