I have been working on this book since… longer than I care to think about. And it’s a good book. So what took me so long? Well, I bought it in paper. Yeah, I know, most people buy books in paper, what gives? Long story short – and I think I’ve told the long story before – I’m in the habit of reading ebooks over paper for about a decade now.
I tried sticking this book in my bag and pulling it out to read in stray minutes like I do ebooks on my phone or tablet. It didn’t work. Not for the bulkiness of trade paperback size, although that was a factor. No, it was more that this was a book which demanded my full attention. I’ve had very little to give of that this semester. Until last night. I was halfway through the book, I sat down, and I finished it. It was glorious.
The Chaplain’s War, if I must make a short comparison, is like Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. It’s half philosophy, and half soldier training, for similar motivations. Like Rico, Harry lives on a world threatened by aliens. Like Rico, Harry joins up for a war against bug-like aliens. he suffers through training unlike anything in his life previously, makes friends, and then watches them die.
Unlike Heinlein’s shorter novel, Torgerson interweaves his hero’s training in the past with the present-tense story of the interaction with the aliens, and the crisis of faith the Chaplain’s assistant is having after long years as a prisoner of war. It is handled delicately. There is no proselytizing in Torgerson’s writing. It is, simply, an exploration of faith itself. If we are not the center of the Universe, and after our death, nothing, then we are forced to consider those who live around us. This is central to The Chaplain’s War. The mantid aliens have no faith, only themselves, in a semi-automated existence that forbids them even companionship in ways humans would understand. Because of this, they relentlessly crush any sentient races they come across. They are the center of the Universe, and others are competition alone.
The humans in Torgerson’s book are not saints. They suffer, they falter, they doubt. But in their earnest seeking, they convey to the curious aliens that the Universe may just be larger than only one race needs.
If you are looking for a philosophical throwback to the days when Science Fiction explored the really big stories of ‘what is human?’ then you will enjoy this book. Although the two threads are not close at first, they do merge by the end of the book, and they are both needed for the full tale. Yes, you could skip through and just read the present-day story of the aliens, the Chaplain, and Adanaho, but why? Enjoy, savor, and finally, put it down with your mind full of dreams and hope and a small spark of faith in humanity.