I finished up Faith by John Love a few weeks ago — I set aside the book and put off my review so I could ponder just exactly what I had finished reading. And, yes, it’s taken me a few weeks to get my mind around both the plot and the ultimate meaning that this book throws at its readers. I often have difficulty writing book reviews if I wish to avoid spoilers, and this is a book that absolutely must remain as spoiler-free as possible.
Faith is, using the most basic of summaries, a story of a space battle between two ships — one sent from Earth and the other from an unknown location with an unknown agenda. The Commonwealth (with Earth as its central planet) consists of numerous planets and two races — humans and the Sakhrans. The Sakhrans were once an advanced spacefaring civilization, but the arrival of an unknown ship 300 years prior to the main story caused the Sakhrans to slide backwards to a point where they are almost subservient to the humans now spread across the galaxy. The Sakhrans are faster, stronger, and much more aggressive, but they left their home world and have never tried to gain a position of leadership. With their fleet destroyed by Faith, the name they’ve given to the unknown ship, the Sakhrans have lost whatever drive and, for lack of a better word, faith they once had.
But now, 300 years after the Sakhrans fleet was destroyed and Faith disappeared, the unknown ship has once again appeared, and is targeting the technologies of key planets and leaving a debris field of ships in its path. The Commonwealth, anticipating the return of Faith, has been building a series of nine ships that form the Outsider class, the most powerful ships ever built. These ships are manned by nothing less than the riffraff of humanity. Murders, rapists, psychotics, and more are forgiven by the Commonwealth in exchange for taking key positions on this new class of ship. The crews don’t think or act like standard military crews, and the hope is that by giving them autonomy, allowing each ship’s captain almost complete authority over their ships, they might be able to stand up against Faith and eliminate the threat the Commonwealth faces from a ship that has never communicated with its opponent, never given quarter (except to non-military or non-threatening planets and facilities), and has never lost a fight.
So, I’ve set up the premise of the book — The Charles Manson (the Outsider ships are given names from the worst of humanity) is given orders to intercept Faith and destroy it. The majority of the book covers the engagements between the Charles Manson and Faith over a series of navigation jumps as Faith moves closer and closer towards Earth.
Now here’s the rub — when I finished this book (or as I neared the end and the ultimate truth of the tale began to take shape) I began to realize that this tale was way more than a simple ship versus ship story. Yes, the technology descriptions of the fights, the variety of weapons that each ship throws at the other, the physics involved in sub-luminal travel and fighting… all of this is very entertaining and well written. But there’s a secret tucked into the story — a secret that I’ve said I won’t reveal — and the secret doesn’t hit you until you’re so close to finishing the book that all of the mysteries and questions that have been raised about the Sakhrans, Faith, and the ship’s intentions all come together in one super-fast smack across the face. To quote Neo — Whoa!
I mean… I really didn’t see that coming. What didn’t I see? Read the book.
During the last few weeks as I’ve thought about the story, I’ve had a number of thoughts about the book. I’ve bounced back and forth between being angry at the author for taking such a leap of… argh… faith that his readers would accept the ending of the book and laughing out loud at such a great joke played on the reader. Then I realized that… no, it isn’t a joke. A bit of existentialism thrown into a good scifi story is fully acceptable. I even had a specific scene from Animal House pop into my head as I pondered the truth of Faith and its reason for being.
Okay, I know… I’m rambling and not really telling you anything. And I’m sorry. I just know that I would have been extremely angry if I had been given any inkling of a hint about the ship and its mission. So, I’m going to leave this review by simply stating that if you’re looking for a good ship-vs-ship story with advanced technology and an adversary that is as alien as it can be, you’ll love the story. You may even find yourself siding with Faith once you get some background on the captain and his crew members and their sordid history. But if you’re looking for a good ship-vs-ship story with a thought-provoking plot and an ending that will leave you surprised, maybe angry, possibly confused (until you think it over for a bit), and definitely entertained, you’ll discover that Faith is one of those rare science fiction stories with plenty of twists and dozens of questions… and those don’t come along all that often in my opinion.
[Editor’s note: We were corrected that “Srahr,” as it originally appeared in the post, is the name of one of the aliens who wrote the Book of Srahr, but the name of the alien race itself is “Sakhran.” The post was corrected to reflect this.]