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The Chaplain's War Kindle Edition
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|Length: 544 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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Top Customer Reviews
The Chaplain’s War starts with our main character Harrison Barlow, a Chaplain’s Assistant(a MOS in the Army, the equal of Navy’s RP) imprisoned in an alien POW camp, along with many other humans, located on a barren alien planet called Purgatory. Barlow and the rest of the humans are the last survivors of a Earth military counterattack on the Mantes, a violent alien species bent on exterminating human life. Accepting his fate he devotes his time to maintaining a non denominational chapel open to all who wish to use it for prayer or self reflection. His chapel attracts the attention of a Mante overseer, a Professor, who wishes to study the concept of faith and religion, ideas alien to the Mantes. Barlow and the Professor become friends, and their relationship eventually spurs on a temporary truce between the two species. Unfortunately both sides have militant sides that sabotage the peace potentially leading to the extermination of Humankind and it’s up to Barlow to fix the situation and restore peace.
The book bounces between the present where Barlow is interacting with the Mantes and both sides are on the brink of total war and the past, where you get a detailed history of Barlow joining the Fleet, going through bootcamp, training, becoming a Chaplain’s Assistant, and ending up a prisoner on Purgatory. The first major flaw of the novel lie in these flashback chapters. They are detailed boring cliché bootcamp chapters. We get the typical join the military against his parents wishes, the scary bootcamp drill sergeants, the rivalry with the street smart kid, showing leadership and emotional potential. The military fiction equivalent of the farmboy in his village. The main problem is not the narrative but the fact that it drags on for several repetitive chapters, as an active duty service member I found real bootcamp dull so I don’t need to read five chapters of standing in formation. Sadly these useless chapters take you away from the interesting happenings on Purgatory and make the whole novel choppy and uneven.
Putting the bootcamp adventures aside, the real failure of the novel lies in its main topic, religion. The Chaplain’s War takes place 190 years in the future yet Barlow’s version of Christianity remains identical to early 21st century moderate conservatism. Not only is the portrayal of Christianity uninspired but Mormonism, Islam, and the other religions mentioned are static and unchanged from what they are in our present world. SciFi is all about speculation yet Barlow’s future culture and religion is identical to ours. A lot changes in 190 years. 190 years ago the United States was a new country, Mormonism was first created, and slavery was going strong. Religions drastically change throughout the centuries. A modern day Christian used to prayer groups and acoustic guitar camps would not understand or even comprehend the religious fervor of the Reformation or the world of the Medieval Christian. To portray religion unchanging in a future where Earth has FTL capabilities and has made contact with alien life is just absurd and the greatest disappointment in this book. I came in expecting a fascinating look at religion and faith in a SciFi setting, instead I got chapters of boring bootcamp imitating Starship Troopers.
Now, I confess to being a non-impartial reader, because of the selection of the main character. Harrison Barlow is an enlisted man, serving as a chaplain's assistant. I'm third generation in a four generation family of U S Army enlisted. The hero in most military fiction is either an officer, or in the infantry, and Harrison Barlow is neither. He's just a guy, doing his job the best he knows how to do. And, in fact, that's what most people in the military are: just ordinary people doing their jobs. They take care of the mules, load the ammo, make sure that the water is clean, and only sometimes are on the front lines with a rifle. So: this speaks to my personal experience and family history, and therefore, I'm inclined to regard it with favor. But there are only five stars to award, not ten, and so my prejudices have little effect on that rating.
Here's what is marvelous about The Chaplain's War: it is an ENTIRELY NEW take on the Bug Eyed Monster. Sure, the BEMs are evil, wicked, mean and nasty; wait, no, they aren't. Yes they do kill the humans, they have overwhelming technology, but they aren't evil. They are just alien. What makes this treatment different from all the other BEMs that have come before is the way that they have been changed by their technology. Now, maybe Brad had some sort of hippie-dippie idea of making this a metaphor for 21st century man blah blah blah, but IF so, he hides it very well. It's NOT just a twist on man's inhumanity to man, or whatever the latest schtick is; it's a real story about real people, and real aliens who are definitely NOT human, but aren't either superhuman nor subhuman. They are just alien.
Now, apart from that original take on the aliens, and tghe fact that the hero is an enlisted man in a non-combat role, there is nothing original, but that's not a deficit. Just because Heinlein wrote Starship Troopers, it doesn't mean Buettner shouldn't write Orphanage. Basic training is basic training, but the stories are just as individual as a fingerprint. Tell it a million times. Ten million.
I've heard that some people have objected to the story because it has religious content. Well, bite me. You can't posibly tell a meaningful story about real people under stress without talking about how many of them turn to God to find meaning. If they are arguing that sci-fi is supposed to be escapist, and therefore shouldn't carry over any religious themes, I would invite them to devise an escape kit that doesn't have any items from the current reality. Like food, water, flashlights, and a good knife; those are not things found in the world we are escaping into. They are what makes it possible for the escape to be survivable. Brad's not demanding that every story about BEMs include a religious theme, but he does have the right to put a religious theme into his own work. I enjoyed it and found it both believable and an essential part of the story. If you don't like it, then be sure not to use the Force, but don't talk badly of it, or Lord Vader may find your lack of faith...disturbing...
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