Typically I don’t review two books on the same day by two separate authors, primarily because the voices are too dissimilar and the subject matter at hand varies drastically, but today I decided to make an exception after reading both The Chaplain’s War by Brad Torgerson and City Beyond Time by John C. Wright. Both are extraordinary works, bordering on instant classic status, and have compelling voices, arguments, and stories abounding within.
First up is Wright’s City Beyond Time: Tales of the Fall of Metachronopolis, a collection of stories which begins with the story of a private investigator turned Time Warden. Jake Fontino is a down on his luck private investigator who, through the course of his investigation, is offered the position of becoming a Time Warden — while being recruited by their arch nemesis, Anachronists, who believe that all time travel (except for sight seeing) is immoral. A visceral tale with a deftly-woven plot, City Beyond Time stamps the “Writer to Watch” label on John C. Wright.
The best part — the absolutely best part — of this first novella is the fact that it is written out of order, and yet it works. I have no idea how the author managed to pull it off, but somewhere along the line the disjointed story of a time traveler works better when it is told out of order. I tried reading it both way– once in numerical order, and once as it was presented by the author. In numerical order, the story is a quaint piece on time travel and a man with a good enough moral compass to question both the ethical realities of time travel and the strength to do what was needed. In the order presented by the author, however, it’s an amazing tale of discovery, loyalty, inner strength and how a man must face the consequences of the decision he makes. A splendid start, in other words.
The rest of the stories follow the typical short story collection format, though the storytelling level never falls off. The final story of the collection, The Plural of Helen of Troy, is another small masterpiece in the making, with Jake Fontino fighting against time, paradoxes, and destiny all as Metachronopolis begins its fall. A masterful collection of stories, one that I am absolutely thrilled to have read. I should note, however, that while I talked about Jake Fontino the most, the character Owen Penthane, from the short story within titled Choosers of the Slain, is quite possibly the best written character in the entire collection.
Overall, this is a solid collection of works, and much like Frank Miller’s Sin City, it’s a story that you will not be able to put down. A definite A+, must buy book.
Next up is Torgerson’s The Chaplain’s War, which is the story of the reluctant Chaplain’s Assistant as he struggles through war, peace, uncertainty, and questions of his own faith as humanity fights against an implacable enemy. Received as an electronic Advance Reader Copy back in May, I gobbled this one up in one sitting, and Torgerson joined my list of “Writers to Watch.”
Harrison Barlow is a trapped POW on a planet with other humans who survived a disastrous assault upon the planet by an alien race who seem to resemble mantis cyborgs. Humans, because of how we are, call them Mantis. As Barlow is tending to his flock — he continues to profess a lack of certainty involving any particular deity or religion, which endears him to his fellow prisoners of war — in his handmade chapel (while keeping his promise to the Chaplain, who died trying to protect the others), he is visited by a Mantis who calls himself Professor. He is both a researcher and a teacher, and he is very curious to learn about humanity’s faith in religion. Barlow, not sure what he can offer the Professor, tries to teach the teacher that there can be more to humanity than at first glance. Standing against the Chaplain’s Assistant is the very nature of humanity itself, as well as preconceived biases against humanity on the part of the Mantis.
Part of the allure in this story is that, unlike most SF novels with war against the aliens in it, this one is more about the search for peace, not victory. It’s a fine distinction to be had, for if victory is achieved, a certain peace could be had. However, the strategic importance in which the author lays on the “true peace” methodology over “true victory” profoundly impacts the story, and Barlow as a character. Take note: while this has action and military in it, this is less of a military science fiction novel and more of a classic Heinlein novel (Stranger In A Strange Land comes to mind). The author’s work is tremendous here, and shows the skill and prose of a writer far more mature in his years than Torgerson is.
This is also the first time I instantly messaged a writer after completing their debut novel and thanked them for writing the book. Yes, I’ll admit, I had a fanboy moment.
Another must-buy book here.
City Beyond Time — A+
The Chaplain’s War — A