I really don’t know where to begin with this novella. It’s a very thought provoking read but I’m just not sure I enjoyed it. I will say, I do think it’s probably one of John Scalzi’s better works, but I also don’t think that fans of his novels would enjoy it. I also can’t decide between three or four stars. I think writing wise, it probably deserves 4-5 stars, as I said I think it’s probably the best book Scalzi has written. However on a personal level, I didn’t really enjoy it on a four star level? It’s complicated. I can admire the book, while admitting that it didn’t really work for me. I’m not even sure how to summarize it, so I’m going to steel directly from Goodreads.
Captain Ean Tephe is a man of faith, whose allegiance to his lord and to his ship is uncontested. The Bishopry Militant knows this — and so, when it needs a ship and crew to undertake a secret, sacred mission to a hidden land, Tephe is the captain to whom the task is given. Tephe knows from the start that his mission will be a test of his skill as a leader of men and as a devout follower of his god. It’s what he doesn’t know that matters: to what ends his faith and his ship will ultimately be put — and that the tests he will face will come not only from his god and the Bishopry Militant, but from another, more malevolent source entirely….
The world building in this novel is fascinating. There is just enough revealed that the world feels very real, and yet every piece revealed is used to further the plot. That’s some tight writing there. In fact, the writing in general is just very well done, and I admire it from a technical level. There are a group of worshipers that are essentially religious prostitutes (think Inara-but with a religious mandate instead of being paid), they live on the ship and service the crew. They’re never, ever gendered. And the main one, with whom Tephe is in love, is spoken about in such a way that I could see this character as either male or female. Considering there is a sex scene in the novel, I find that attention to detail utterly fantastic.
Where I get hung up is this. This novella is Scalzi working through his issues with religious fervor from his position as an agnostic. And so there are lines at the end that don’t work quite right for me, lines that make it clear that even given the nature of the world he’s building he doesn’t really want to explore exactly what the nature of deity is, and what it means for humanity. I don’t want to get more specific as we’re already brushing spoiler territory.
It’s a very short read, and I do think it’s worth reading if you’re at all interested in sci-fi. I’ll be honest, I’m now intrigued to read the novella which won the Hugo for best novella in 2010 instead of this one.