Review: The Chaplain’s War

As I write, the author of The Chaplain’s War (Brad Torgerson; Baen) has recently been one of the subjects of a three-minute hate by left-wingers in the SF community, following Larry Correia’s organization of a drive to get Torgerson and other politically incorrect writers on the Hugo ballot. This rather predisposed me to like his work sight unseen; I’m not a conservative myself, but I dislike the PC brigade enough to be kindly disposed to anyone who gives them apoplectic fits.

Alas, there’s not much value here. Much of it reads like a second-rate imitation of Starship Troopers, complete with lovingly detailed military-training scenes and hostile bugs as opponents. And the ersatz Heinlein is the good parts – the rest is poor worldbuilding, even when it’s not infected by religious sentiments I consider outright toxic.

Harrison Barlow is a chaplain’s assistant in an Earth military that is losing a war with mantis-like aliens bent on wiping out humanity. He and a remnant of the fleet are penned up on a Mantis-held planet, and the force-field walls are literally closing in. Then, the reason they were not instantly wiped out after losing their battle is revealed when Barlow is questioned by a Mantis anthropologist he comes to think of as the Professor.

The Mantes do not understand human religion. They have previously wiped out two other sophont species who engaged in religious practices. The Professor is of a faction among them now thinks this was over-hasty and that some effort should be made to understand “faith” before humanity is extinguished.

In the novel’s first major event, Barlow – with nothing to lose but his life – refuses to answer the Professor’s questions except on the condition that the Mantes call a truce. Much to his own astonishment, this actually happens; Barlow is repatriated and celebrated as humanity’s only successful negotiator with the Mantes.

The rest of the novel cross-cuts between (on the one hand) flashbacks to Barlow’s boot-camp experiences and the events leading up to his crucial meeting with the Professor, and (on the other) the events which follow on a Mantis decision to break the truce while Barlow and his superiors are negotiating with the Queen Mother who initiated the war.

What follows is deeply flawed as SF even if you’re not put off by Torgerson’s religious evangelism. The Mantes are too obviously authorial sock puppets; they (and the Queen Mother in particular) swing too readily and rapidly from being profoundly alien to seeming excessively human-like in psychology considering the given details of their biology and society.

By the time the Queen Mother begins having pangs of conscience over her previous behavior, believability has already essentially collapsed. The Mantes have become humans in funny-hat carapaces. Lost is any of the illusion, so necessary in fiction but especially in SF, that the author’s characters and his setting have any causal autonomy.

The ensuing redemption narrative is so obviously manipulative that it’s wince-inducing. It gets worse as it goes on, and the ending is positively mawkish. Even a religious person should squirm when an apologia is this clumsy.

Then we get to the essential anti-rationality of the author’s religion. There are several crucial beats in the plot at which the day is saved by what the author none-too-subtly hints is divine intervention; I think this is a direct crime against science fiction’s core promise that the universe is rationally knowable. But this book is a tepid mess even if you don’t see that as a problem.

75 thoughts on “Review: The Chaplain’s War

  1. Ouch. This one goes on my “do not want” list.

    I’d be interested to hear about what you think of The Tuloriad in this context…

  2. >I’d be interested to hear about what you think of The Tuloriad in this context…

    Bad for similar reasons – a Posleen weeping from pangs of conscience didn’t strike me as much more plausible than a Mantis doing so, because by that point we have gotten hints of just how seriously the Aldenata fucked up when they manipulated Posleen biology.

    But it’s not as bad. Partly because Ringo & Kratman are better writers. Partly because they have the good sense to at least equivocate about the confirmation status of religion. Yes, they say you need to have a religion when facing religious foes, but they deftly evade the question of whether the religion has to be true or just psychologically useful.

  3. What is your take on Olaf Stapleton’s Starmaker? Rationally knowable, or not?

  4. >What is your take on Olaf Stapleton’s Starmaker? Rationally knowable, or not?

    I don’t know. The only Stapledon I’ve read is Odd John. I should fix that.

  5. @esr: “>What is your take on Olaf Stapleton’s Starmaker? Rationally knowable, or not?

    I don’t know. The only Stapledon I’ve read is Odd John. I should fix that.”

    You should.

    The Star Maker takes the premise that our universe is neither the only nor the last one the Star Maker of the title will create. The Star Maker is an artist, learning its craft by doing, and the one we live in is a step in its artistic development.

    Stapledon does not call his Star Maker “God”, nor as I recall does he really try to explain what it is. We are simply presented with a cosmic entity that creates universes as art.

    I liked it, but I’m not certain I’d call it science fiction, though I shelve it with the other SF.

    You can get a decent electronic copy at the University of Adelaide, among other places: http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/stapledon/olaf/star/

  6. This brings back question I’ve asked before on correlation between SF author’s religious beliefs and the degree they ten to stick to genre’s basic promises :)

  7. As a Christian, I personally apologize on behalf of this and all attempts to hijack popular culture and smuggle in a religious message. Unfortunately, it will continue to happen.

    BUT, I am interested whether you know of any SF books worth reading that include a treatment of religion? Or is theism too fundamentally anti-rational?

    I hesitantly suggest A Canticle for Leibowitz but I’m not sure it’s really SF, since although it is sciency, and it is fictional (and futuristic, and apocalyptic), the science is not fictional.

  8. >This brings back question I’ve asked before on correlation between SF author’s religious beliefs and the degree they ten to stick to genre’s basic promises :)

    I think a sincere adherent of a faith-holding religion must necessarily violate SF’s core promise of rational knowability unless his faith is compartmentalized away from the part of his mind that writes SF. Some writers manage this. A curiously large cohort among those that do are Mormons.

  9. >I am interested whether you know of any SF books worth reading that include a treatment of religion?

    There have been attempts, but they all violate conventional religion by being rationalist about its subject matter.

    For example, there’s a repeated trope in SF that gods are entities (psionic projections, if you will) created by the force of human belief, increasing and diminishing in power as the number and intensity if their believers changes. A well-developed version of this shows up in, for example, Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods, which though fantasy exactly replicates the way the trope is deployed in SF.

  10. >A curiously large cohort among those that do [separate their faith from SF] are Mormons.

    Does that include Orson Scott Card?

  11. >Does that include Orson Scott Card?

    Yes. Also Brandon Sanderson, whose Final Empire sequence, though marketed as “hard fantasy”, has all the signature traits of technology-of-magic SF. And Howard Tayler, whose Shlock Mercenary webcomic is an extended graphic novel of fairly hard SF.

  12. I like Brad. I read the second of the novellas this is based on in Analog. This, while it’s his first book from Baen, and is what he’s “known for” isn’t typical of his output, most of which is better.

  13. @Tulip: “BUT, I am interested whether you know of any SF books worth reading that include a treatment of religion? Or is theism too fundamentally anti-rational?”

    One that comes to mind is James Blish’s “A Case of Conscience”. The protagonist is a Jesuit priest attached to an expedition to expand contact with a newly discovered sentient species. It provokes something of a crisis of faith for Father Ruiz. The aliens are wholly admirable, and in many respects more highly developed than humanity. But they are apparently without Original Sin, and as such, by his theology, must be creations of the devil. The ending leaves the matter ambiguous.

    Blish also did a pair of novels sold as horror, titled Black Easter and The Day After Judgement. In Black Easter, God has apparently actually died. (Or at least, gone somewhere His angels can’t find Him.) In The Day After Judgement, the city of Dis arises in the Nevada desert. At the end, we encounter Satan, crowned by a magnificent halo, and bitterly unhappy. With the death of God, he bumps up to the top spot in creation, and doesn’t want the job. He begs man to grow up and become worthy to accept the Keys to Heaven so he can hand over the responsibility.

  14. Thx, I’ll keep an eye out for Blish’s Case of Conscience. And that reminds me of course what I should have already thought of, C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy; in Out of the Silent Planet, humans encounter multiple unfallen species on Mars, and in Perelandra, the Garden of Eden scenario is replayed on Venus. The third book, That Hideous Strength, is, um, quite different.

  15. And I’ll note here that Howard Tayler manages to include a sympathetic priest in his cast of characters who handles questions of religion without either having it take over the story or violating the expectation of rational knowability. I can’t speak to Sanderson, but I don’t think Card even tried that one.

  16. @ESR: Thanks. Interestingly, Mistborn: Final Empire appeared in the beta version of your SF 101 reading list, so it’s already on my wishlist.
    @DMcCunney: Thanks for the recommendations. A quick Amazon search revealed that “A Case of Conscience” is available in Spanish, which is good news for me.

  17. It looks like Correia missed an opportunity by putting together a slate designed to annoy left-wingers rather than a slate of best recent right-wing fiction, or at least plausibly the best. Any suggestions?

  18. >a slate of best recent right-wing fiction, or at least plausibly the best. Any suggestions?

    I’m the wrong person to ask. If I tried to emulate the esthetic judgments of a right-winger closely enough, what would probably come out of it would be a parody that would offend actual right-wingers.

  19. From your description, I suspect that this book is a compilation of the novellas “The Chaplain’s Assistent” and “The Chaplain’s Legacy”, with possibly some more detail. Does anyone know if that’s accurate?

    “The Chaplain’s Legacy” is the one that Correia put on his “Sad Puppy” slate as a novella, and I thought it worked well enough by itself (it’s the section where the Queen Mother is separated from her saucer, sounds like the middle section). The rest of the novella slate is fantasy (and at least one arguably doesn’t even reach the fantasy bar), so I ended up putting this one first…

  20. The closest you’ll come to a slate of best right-wing SF is a slate of the best libertarian SF. Right-wing SF tends to be milSF, and Eric has already dealt with my favorite series…

  21. @Tulip: “A Case of Conscience” was expanded from a novella of the same name. The book won the Hugo Award in 1959.

    Blish considered it the first part of a thematic trilogy called “After Such Knowledge”, with the aforementioned Black Easter and The Day After Judgement parts two and three.

    And on Lewis, ah, the joys of copyright law. Lewis’s work, including the Space Trilogy and the Narnia series is in the public domain in Canada, which is still “Life + 50 years”. The complete Narnia series is available on Project Gutenberg CA, and the Space Trilogy is starting to appear. To my delight, The Screwtape Letters is up too.

  22. @Jorge: You’re quite welcome. No surprise there’s a Spanish translation. As mentioned, the book won a Hugo in 1959 and regularly appears in Best SF lists.

  23. @Tulip: Thinking about it, another classic you can look for is Anthony Boucher’s novelette “The Quest for St. Aquin”. The protagonist is a young priest of a future Catholic Church driven underground by the government, who is sent by his Pope on a quest to find the legendary St. Aquin, who is reputed to have proven the existence of God by logic. It’s been widely anthologized and should be easy enough to find.

  24. Interesting, thx.

    Incidentally I took a look at the list of Hugo winners/finalists on wikipedia, and Canticle For Liebowitz was there. But that doesn’t prove it’s SF, as there are also two Harry Potter books, and that’s definitely fantasy, not SF.

  25. Ugh, reminds me of that catechism exercise I mentioned earlier, of explaining Jesus to aliens.

  26. If the anthology of Jewish SF titled Wandering Stars is still available, it’s a good read.

  27. “BUT, I am interested whether you know of any SF books worth reading that include a treatment of religion?”

    I highly recommend _A Canticle For Leibowitz_. I will leave to others to decide whether it’s SF, but it’s well worth reading.

    Arthur C. Clarke’s famous short story “The Star” is required reading.

    Orson Scott Card’s _Speaker For The Dead_ is thought-provoking.

  28. There was also a short story called “The Limit of Vision” by Barnes, written some years ago. I can’t find any references to it now, but I think it was published in Asimov’s. It involves an interstellar future where a Catholic society is opposed to a Marxist one, and the key question of the story revolves around the aliens (there are three intertwined species on the same planet) accepting Christianity and how this impacts the power structure on the planet.

    This may sound like apologetics, but it’s not, or doesn’t appear that way to me. It looks more at the societal impact of religion than on questions of what is true.

  29. >I am interested whether you know of any SF books worth reading that include a treatment of religion?

    IIRC, while it was not the main point there was an important minor character in Well’s _War of the Worlds_ that was a priest (or more likely, an Anglican clergyman). Also, the POV character thought a bit about the regligious implications of what was going on.

  30. It seems to me that abstracting away from the specifics of any one religion, one key feature of a certain kind of religious mind is unshakeable optimism in the face of uncertainty, grounded in faith in a benevolent deity. (Chabad chassidim have a name for this: “Holy foolishness.” With it, they attempt truly audacious feats of social influence in the most slapdash manner imaginable, and succeed more often than a sane observer would expect.)

    I wonder if that mindset is examined at all in SF. Rationality is insufficient in the face of too much uncertainty, and the rationalist would be at a disadvantage under such circumstances. That is a story that could be told without too much preaching, I suspect.

  31. A Canticle For Leibowitz is unquestionably SF by any definition that is not aggressively restrictive. It is set in the future, and raises questions of religion in SF context, but it has no supernatural elements of any kind, not even by implication, as A Case of Conscience does.

  32. Clarke occasionally wrote religious characters in his stories, and usually took them seriously enough to write them fairly well. (That second part, in my opinion, is where a lot of authors fall down.)

  33. Have you read any of the work by Tsutomu Nihei?

    Knight of Sidonia, one of his more conventional work, deals with eldritch horror directed at a Japanese seedship at traveling STL.

    BLAME!, for example, deals with a super advanced dyson sphere that ate up the solar system and growing out of control. The whole plot revolves around finding a human who’s not transhuman enough to stop the out-of-control growth.

  34. I think Poul Anderson’s religious characters were where he showed his highest level of craftsmanship. He was one of the few unbelievers whose fictional adherents seemed to breathe the same air of belief as those authored by the genuinely religious.

  35. Oog. Stapledon’s work is interesting but, the prose. He never uses a three-letter word when he can fit in a polysyllable. It’s built like Soviet architecture.

    I can see the inspiration for L’Engle, Stross, and some other writers in that rather ungainly ramble. It may qualify as SF by our host’s definition. Maybe.

  36. Somebody mentioned C.S. Lewis “Space Trilogy”. There is also “The Screwtape Letters”, quite good (though not SF).

  37. What say you of free will? Can it be described scientifically? Is there any hope of finding evidence to support or refute it?

    Arguably, free will is axiomatic to science, because only with it can a scientist choose to conduct an experiment.

    The alternatives are either (1) a clockwork universe that predetermines every course of events, including which experiments are allowed to occur; or (2) a chaotic world in which scientists are just particles in Brownian motion; or (3) some combination of those that gives at most an illusion of choice within a world regular enough to seem comprehensible.

  38. Cathy, thx for the tips. I reread Ender’s Game in advance of the movie, and have since also read Speaker, it was very thought-provoking.

    And Canticle is a favorite. The reason I don’t think it’s science fiction is that I like the definition of changing one scientific fact and playing out the consequences; in Canticle science has regressed, and is being rediscovered, exactly as we know it.

    And I will definitely read Clarke’s Star. Google found it for me in PDF, and even on youtube, read by Clarke himself!

  39. BOOM! Clark’s The Star is pretty fantastic. I listened to the utub, and read along at the same time (it was interesting to hear a tiny bit of Irish in Clark’s voice, most noticeably in the word ‘Father’)

    It’s a pretty powerful twist ending that I didn’t see coming. I’m glad it’s just science fiction, because it would make me (much like the Jesuit narrator) very uncomfortable if it were true.

  40. >The reason I don’t think it’s science fiction is that I like the definition of changing one scientific fact and playing out the consequences; in Canticle science has regressed, and is being rediscovered, exactly as we know it.

    But the “change one thing” definition is too narrow, for reasons discussed extensively in the recent post and comments on the deep norms of SF. Rediscovering science and rebuilding civilization is a perfectly reasonable SF subject.

  41. In the last half-page of Stranger In A Strange Land, it turns out that when Mike goes to “heaven” (or wherever it is), he is “Archangel Michael”, with a strong suggestion that he is the Archangel Michael and this is the place that Christians call “Heaven”. But he says “Thou art God” to another archangel and it is obvious this is the way it is there. (This “place” is touched on a couple time briefly before the end of the book.) It is sort of a “all this weird stuff is actually rationally knowable” but that last bit of ending gives that a very sharp twist, which was sort of cool, but… a very sharp twist.

    Heinlein was a great writer, partly because of how he approached SF, but to me, largely because he was a great story-teller. I remember telling people as a young teen that you get hooked on one of his stories in the first line of the book.

    But the late stuff gets really weird and I was repelled by his obsession with female genitalia and how they smell…. sex in a book is fine, but endlessly circling around to sexual references… This sort of seemed to start in I Will Fear No Evil” – old man’s brain transplanted into the body of a young woman – so you could argue that that endless sexual references was the subject of the book. But to me, Heinlein seem to go nuts after about 1980. I know many people feel differently.

  42. >Um… Am I on a “longish posts will await moderation” list?

    No. There is no such list.

  43. Do you know or have a guess as to why my Asimov/chemistry and Heinlein comments had to awate moderation – was it just the lenght?

  44. >Do you know or have a guess as to why my Asimov/chemistry and Heinlein comments had to awate moderation – was it just the lenght?

    I have no idea. The ways of Akismet (the shared WordPress spam filter) are mysterious.

  45. Of course, even more important than Heinlein’s approach to SF was his approach to life that affected so many people – pro-human, pro-progress, pro-science/technology and doing what you think is right and taking the consequences.

    I have always had some reservations about his sense of duty… A duty to defend against predators of people or society – sure. Military service for everyone? I guess partly because I grew up in a peaceful time in a peaceful country (Canada) that hasn’t been directly threatened for… uh… centuries (except for the World Wars, which I would have voluntarily fought in). The “woman and children first; men are expendable” becomes less relevant as security of life becomes more certain.

    (Canadian history is so boring that no one knows it – trappers, The Hudsons Bay Company, some stuff between what is now Ontario and Quebec, the Canadian Pacific Railroad, farmers and, of course, The Calgary Stampede (just kidding – sort of)).

  46. An even more extreme counter-example to the “change one (or n) thing(s)” definition: Hal Clement’s “A Question of Guilt” (1976; collected in The Best of Hal Clement). It takes place outside ancient Rome, and there’s no science or technology used beyond what was available then. But from the way the story deals with its themes, it is SF by almost any definition—certainly by ESR’s definition of “core SF”.

  47. How about Douglas Adams? I love the writing. Sure, it is absurd humor, but grant an extra allowance of McGuffins for laughs and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series comes close to solid (but not “hard”) SF, doesn’t it?

    Oddly enough, I think that the Dirk Gently detective stories are good SF.

  48. Hitchhikers’ Guide is anti-SF. (IIRC, ESR used it as an example.) Its treatment of SF tropes is well-done and affectionate, but its universe is fundamentally not a rational place. (What seems to have been misunderstood by people complaining of ESR’s “genre policing” is that “defective SF” and “anti-SF” are not pejorative terms but descriptive ones; and Eric has spoken of works in both those cSF-adjacent genres he enjoys.)

  49. >Sure, it is absurd humor, but grant an extra allowance of McGuffins for laughs and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series comes close to solid (but not “hard”) SF, doesn’t it?

    Oh Goddess, no. Parodic anti-SF – absolutely not a universe of rational knowability, that’s the point.

    >Oddly enough, I think that the Dirk Gently detective stories are good SF.

    Yes, they’re played pretty straight once you get past the deliberate obfuscation in the narrative – which, again, is the point.

  50. Re: Douglas Adams H2G2

    Okay, yeah not rational knowability, but some of the irrationality is so familiar – stuff developing else’s-problem fields, and Bistromatics – the odd way numbers move in restaurants…

  51. >Oh Goddess, no. Parodic anti-SF – absolutely not a universe of rational knowability, that’s the point.

    I’m curious: setting aside its anti-SF nature, do you like Hitchhiker?

  52. >I’m curious: setting aside its anti-SF nature, do you like Hitchhiker?

    Some of the bits are funny, but the underlying nihilism bothers me. I have a similar reaction to Monty Python.

  53. >@esr What definition of nihilism are you using? Moral? Metaphysical?

    It seems to me that lurking underneath the darker sort of British humor is something close to but not identical to moral nihilism – everything is shit, everything is worthless, there is no truth or meaning, you are helpless, give up trying.

  54. Hmm. I sort of see that in Monty Python, almost all of which I don’t like. Douglas Adams is my favorite author – I love the books and I love the way he uses English. Arthur Dent is always trying to do what is right, but the universes do sort of swirl meaningless around him – he is sort of a doomed protagonist, constantly battling a metaphysical nihilism. Ford Prefect and Zaphod are certainly light on morals…

    Douglas Adams loved Monty Python, describing it as (from memory) “a way to be very silly and very intelligent at the same time” and he was a great admirer of John Cleese.

  55. It seems to me that lurking underneath the darker sort of British humor is something close to but not identical to moral nihilism – everything is shit, everything is worthless, there is no truth or meaning, you are helpless, give up trying.

    There is a tradition of not taking oneself too seriously, which could easily come over in some circumstances as not being able to take oneself seriously enough.

  56. >There is a tradition of not taking oneself too seriously, which could easily come over in some circumstances as not being able to take oneself seriously enough.

    I tell you quite seriously that to an American – even one who has lived in Great Britain and thus has a much, much better feel than average for British culture and language – this attitude often looks like an inability to take anything as other than a corrosively nasty joke.

  57. Well, there’s an element of that, but it’s not the only note in the symphony. Or coda, or whatever.

  58. …doomed protagonist, constantly battling a metaphysical nihilism.

    That really makes me sound like a lit-twit using poor English.

    Lemme try:%nbsp; %nbsp; Arthur Dent was a decent guy who was repeatedly swept away by emergencies he didn’t understand…. He tragically (in the common (non lit) use of the word) lost Fenchurch…

    As much as I can recall, the humor isn’t in the bad stuff, as it often is in Monty Python. In Douglas Adams work, I don’t see “nasty” (although there is one-disaster-after-another).

    @esr %nbsp; %nbsp; if you have had enough of this subthread, that is fine with me; I don’t want to see Adams work in a nasty way.

  59. “Canadian history is so boring that no one knows it – trappers, The Hudsons Bay Company, some stuff between what is now Ontario and Quebec, the Canadian Pacific Railroad, farmers and, of course, The Calgary Stampede (just kidding – sort of).”

    There is something to be said for living in a country that generates little to no news. News is usually bad stuff that is fascinating to read about but not to actually live through.

  60. There is something to be said for living in a country that generates little to no news. News is usually bad stuff that is fascinating to read about but not to actually live through.

    That is true. This is a gross simplification but…   Canada wasn’t built on Principles and it doesn’t have a Role in the World. It was built by people trying to earn a living, get by and get along.

  61. @esr:
    >Some of the bits are funny, but the underlying nihilism bothers me. I have a similar reaction to Monty Python.

    Now that you mention this, I can see this both in the Hitchhiker’s series and in Monty Python, but, for Monty Python, at least, I don’t find myself really strongly bothered by it (I find myself bothered by some of the symptoms, i.e, when they make jokes I consider to be in bad taste, but in general find them hilarious). With Adams, I’d certainly noticed parts of the Hitchhiker’s series to be rather depressing, but for the most part found it quite entertaining. I think to some degree I find absurdism entertaining exactly because I’m not a nihilist.

  62. What say you of free will? Can it be described scientifically? Is there any hope of finding evidence to support or refute it?

    As a philosopher*, my only reply is “the experience of free will is essentially irrefutable for almost all human beings”**.

    That this is arguably, from physics, pure illusion over the reality of strict mechanism, is completely irrelevant to everything important; we cannot experience our existence as mechanistic.

    Free will is thus, to the best of our knowledge, a damned lie that we are utterly incapable of disbelieving – nor would it really improve anything if we could, since, given the truth of the thesis, that knowledge wouldn’t really change anything.***

    (* Bachelor of Arts, Philosophy.

    ** The ones that don’t experience it, we would generally regard as completely insane, yes?

    *** “How can you make judgment X, knowing that there is no free will?” “How can you expect me to do otherwise, if there isn’t?”)

  63. A couple notes:

    1. I only read the sample for The Chaplain’s War, but came to the same conclusion. Just a lousy book from the get go.

    2. The Tuloriad is pretty much 100% Kratman. Ringo’s only involvement is in the worldbuilding. Kratman’s Catholic but generally loves to muse on the effects of religions on Society but this isn’t one of his better attempts. He’s also riffing on some deliberately silly religious jokes he’s had running for a while (the Jewish AI married to a Catholic Priest as well as the Baptist Posleen). Ringo (another Catholic) on the other hand has rather deliberately woven religion (and Catholicism in particular) very deeply into the backstory of the universe (particularly in the case of the Bane Sidhe and their longstanding connection to the Catholic Church). Note the underlying universe here is in large respects Anti-SF, as things are somewhat deliberately unknowable, at least to non-ascended species. In a lot of ways the Legacy of the Aldenata is High Fantasy with High Tech, the inverse of technology of magic SF.

    3. Adams wrote for Monty Python. Unsurprisingly there’s a LOT of cross-pollination.

    4. Canadian History is only boring to those who don’t study it closely, particularly the long military history of Canada. Worth noting that Canada has fought more foreign wars than the US has, and with a greater win rate (even the War of 1812, which neither Britain nor the US truly won, but the colonies which became Canada certainly did).

  64. >Note the underlying universe here is in large respects Anti-SF, as things are somewhat deliberately unknowable, at least to non-ascended species. In a lot of ways the Legacy of the Aldenata is High Fantasy with High Tech, the inverse of technology of magic SF.

    I disagree with this assessment. I don’t consider unknowability to be an anti-SF signature if it’s contingent on computational capacity. Neither science nor SF promises that you can know everything right now, just that there is a rational path from where you are to understanding any given puzzle. If that path has to go through upgrading your biological computing equipment, that’s not a problem in principle.

  65. I probably should explain a little more why I consider Legacy of the Alldenata an Anti-SF universe, given its MilSF roots.

    Functionally it’s MilSF with a dose of Magic and a strong indicator that there is very much more going on in the background. Essentially the foreground universe is very much knowable, with exceptions (supernatural creatures for example, there’s a clear reference that Dracula was active in the fight against the Darhel in Europe). But the underlying universe strongly hints that it’s not rationally knowable to anything less than an ascended species (and I’m using Ascended in the fantasy sense) The Al’Denata are functionally gods at this point in the history and the basic story up until Eye of the Storm is about cleaning up their mistakes from their path to ascension. There’s strong indicators that the universe really isn’t rationally knowable to anything but gods.

    Ironically Ringo’s ‘Fantasy’ series, the There Will Be Dragons universe, is actually a very hard SF take on the ‘Wizards War’ which so often figures into BFF backstories. But Ringo does like to screw with genres.

  66. Previous attempt to post stuck in approval queue, then disappeared.

    Anyway, there is a follow-on story to this book. Someone posted a link to it in one of the other comment threads.

    The story is bad. And predictable. There’s a ‘reason’ for the mantes to be the way they are, and it’s as trite and predictable as you might think.

  67. I think a sincere adherent of a faith-holding religion must necessarily violate SF’s core promise of rational knowability unless his faith is compartmentalized away from the part of his mind that writes SF. Some writers manage this. A curiously large cohort among those that do are Mormons.

    Mormonism is a mighty convenient religion, since one gets social enforcement of good female behavior, substantially reducing the prisoner’s dilemma and tragedy of the commons problems of the modern sexual market, hence the higher reproduction rate among Mormons. If you are not a Mormon, Love is war, love is a battlefield, and all is fair in love and war, which renders marriage and children difficult.

    Thus there are strong practical reasons to cynically “believe” Mormonism, particularly if you hope to reproduce, just as there are strong practical reasons to cynically “believe” PC

    Perhaps someone should construct a religion less silly, but with similarly effective social enforcement of patriarchy.

  68. “I think a sincere adherent of a faith-holding religion must necessarily violate SF’s core promise of rational knowability unless his faith is compartmentalized away from the part of his mind that writes SF”

    You have it exactly backward. Christianity proposes that a rational God created a rational universe and created men endowed with reason able to deduce the intricacy, beauty and grandeur of the rules of that universe.

    Outside of this conviction in the rationality of the universe, science is neither feasible nor explainable. (This is why the scientific revolution occurred in Europe, not in China). In Christianity, that conviction can be defended rationally. I can give a reason why I can and must conclude that part of the universe never seen by man must be controlled by the same laws of nature as obtain in my backyard; outside Christianity, that conviction is an arbitrary axiom, or, to be clear, a matter of faith. The agnostic or atheist or pagan can give no reason why he can or should conclude that the laws of nature will be the same in unobserved areas of the universe as in observed ones.

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