Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,
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Book Review: The Chaplain's Legacy, by Brad Torgersen

Enemy Mine with religion.


The Chaplain's Legacy

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, 2013, 58 pages


This novella, the shortest of those nominated for a Hugo, is entertaining but not particularly original. You can read it for free, or buy the upcoming book it is a part of.

The Chaplain's War

Warrant Officer Harrison Barlow was taken POW during a war with the mantes, an insectoid race that has already wiped out several other rival spacefaring races and was well on its way to exterminating humanity. Barlow, who was assistant to his unit's chaplain, somehow brokered a cease-fire with the mantes, who were intrigued by human religion. When the cease-fire appears to be at an end, the human Fleet calls Barlow back into service, hoping he can persuade the mantes to stay their hands (claws) once more.


"Instruction," I corrected her. "And it’s not even anything so formal as that. You ought to know as well as anyone, if you’ve earned your commission recently, that the mantes are an utterly atheistic people. They cannot even conceive of a God, nor a soul, nor do they understand anything about Earth’s varied and flavorful religious history."


Negotiations do not go well, and while the humans have a few surprises for the technologically superior mantes, Chief Barlow, a young female Captain, and two mantes, including the leader of their entire species, wind up stranded on a barren planet, pitting them together in a rather contrived survival trek which of course leads to mutual philosophical self-examination, meditations on faith, and shared bonding experiences.

The author (a Mormon, and a member of the military, the latter being more obvious than the former) treats the subject of religion sympathetically but fairly agnostically. Chief Barlow is a stock character, the cleric who's lost his faith, only to have it put under scrutiny by atheistic aliens. The mantes are interesting if overly convenient aliens, not quite humans in bug suits but still not really quite alien enough despite their insectoid appearance and cyborg technology. There are some other stock SF themes like over-reliance on technology, and some stock tropes as well, like the crashed lifeboat that they have to abandon, the planet that is conveniently habitable yet uninhabited, space battles between two supposedly mismatched races that are always closely fought, and the man and the woman who are chastely forced to strip and share a sleeping bag with much ensuing embarrassment and embarrassing questions from the bugs, etc.

Torgersen has no great gift for language and this is quite a standard, almost retro, military SF tale. I enjoyed it, and in contrast to the generally secular future envisioned by most SF writers (Star Trek being the most notable example) or weird mish-mash spirituality such as that embodied by Star Wars, Torgersen does present a human future in which religion occupies the same role it does today, even in space, which is probably more realistic. That said, other authors have handled religion in science fiction and bridging-the-gap-between-alien-races more profoundly, so it's hard for me to see this is a Hugo-worthy novella.




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Tags: 2014 hugo nominee, books, reviews, science fiction
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