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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Faith by John Love

Heard of this one?  Probably not.  It's been pretty under the radar for book due out in less than three weeks.  Seriously, go Google it.  Now try the author's name.  What'd you come up with?  Not much, I bet.  All I could find was an erudite i09 piece and the corresponding and pages.  The page doesn't even have cover art for crying out loud.  All of that goes to say, more people need to be talking about Faith.  Jove Love's debut is tremendous science fiction that blends literary traditions with space opera and all the various subgenres therein.

The basic premise is that 300 years ago an unidentified ship visited the Sakhran Empire and left it devastated.  One Sakhran recognized the ship for what She was and wrote the Book of Srahr.  When they read it, the Sakhran's turned away from each other, sending their Empire into a slow but irreversible decline.  They called Her, Faith.  Now She's back, threatening the human Commonwealth and the only thing standing in Her way is the Charles Manson.

Aegrescit medendo. A latin medical phrase that means, 'The cure is worse than the disease,' is appropriate here.  The Charles Manson isn't the Enterprise.  It's an Outsider, one of the Commonwealth's ultimate warships, crewed by people of unusual ability -- sociopaths whose only option is to serve or die.

I mentioned the Enterprise because the main plot is somewhat reminiscent of the Star Trek model.  Deep space encounters, prolonged stand-offs, failed diplomacy, synthesizing the unknown, and eventual escalation of force are all eminently present in Faith.  The bridge of the Charles Manson, where the vast majority of the novel takes place, has a captain, a first officer, an engineering officer, a pilot, a weapons officer, and all the other parts normally associated with a Federation Starship.  Of course, Captain Picard wasn't a sexual deviant (notice I didn't say Kirk!) and Commander Riker wasn't an alien with claws for hands.

In many ways Faith is a satire of the model Gene Roddenberry exemplified in his iconic series.  To boldly go where no man has gone before was the mantra of the Enterprise, a ship that was the Federation's representative to all sentient life throughout the galaxy.  The Charles Manson is the ship the Federation would send in when a Romulan Warbird took a dump on the Enterprise.  It's the ship their embarrassed to have, unwelcome in every port, but tolerated for the service only they can offer.  Love gets into the muck with each of his deviants, connecting them one by one to the reader, never redeemed but always compelling.

Moby Dick starring Captain
Jean-Luc Picard. Freaky.
Not just a delinquent Star Trek novel, Faith is also a psychological journey akin to that of Captain Ahab in Moby Dick.  On the Charles Manson, Aaron Foord is Ahab, an unrelenting, obsessive, and meticulous task master who drives himself and his crew to the limits to defeat Faith.  And Faith, an enigmatic and worthy opponent who Foord both loathes and adores, is the white whale.  To someone whose read Melville's classic, many of the concepts that the whale represents are likewise present here.  By the novels conclusion Love has melded the space opera with the literary, providing a resolution to the conflict while initiating a conversation with his reader about metaphysical concepts at home in Plato's Cave.

If the novel has a weak point, and I'm not sure it does, it's that some of the early chapters -- incredibly well done in their own right -- seem unrelated to the main narrative.  This phenomenon leads to somewhat rhetorical beginning that doesn't engage at the same level as the time spent on the Charles Manson bridge.  There are also moments where Love delves into some of the more scientific details or finds himself caught in a logical loop.  For a novel that ends with more questions than answers, the fact that these explanations. both scientific and subjective, were allowed to slow down a brisk novel seemed a strange choice.

Given that it's the first 2012 novel I've reviewed, I'm hesitant to be as glowing as I'd like to be about Faith.  How can I call it one of the best debuts of the year?  I don't suppose I can.  I'll have to settle for this: John Love's debut is on par with Dan Simmons's Hyperion in its quest to pose questions and attempt to answer them.  It may not measure up to Simmons's classic space opera in terms of pure storytelling, but I have little doubt that the currents of the novel will ebb and flow in mind for years to come.  Not bad for a debut no-one's talking about.

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At December 14, 2011 at 6:44 AM , Anonymous Odo said...

Realy looking forward to this one

At December 14, 2011 at 9:25 AM , Blogger Civilian Reader said...

Sounds interesting. Will have to check it out.


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