Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Review - Faith, by John Love

I bought Faith because it had an awesome cover, a pretentious title, and a sweet premise on the back of the book. A super powerful ship visited a civilization 100 years ago and then left, and ever since then that civilization has gone into decline. Now it's returned, and the human civilization is determined to fight it off via epic space battle with their own super awesome ship stuffed with felonious geniuses (not to be confused with felinious geniuses; that would be altogether a different book).

It's an exciting book, especially as the build-up for the eventual fight between the two ships does such a good job of playing up the mysterious and powerful nature of the enemy ship (called Faith). The actual engagement takes up the majority of the book and goes through several stages, as do the characters on the ship. There's intense back-and-forth between the two ships, each part more interesting and stranger than the first, and as the cleverness and competency of the protagonists meets up against the impossibility of the task, you find yourself rooting quite hard for the good guys.

But Faith is quite ambitious in that it's not just a story of two superships fighting an epic battle. The story heaps themes upon itself at every opportunity, whether it's the Other, irony, faith (duh), solitude, or so on. The ship Faith is strange and ponderous and ideal for hosting symbolism, and Love gets all the mileage he can out of it, and does so well. When the antagonist of an entire novel is a ship, it's difficult to give it the weight of character that Love does so here with such obvious enjoyment. The synopsis calls Faith "the bastard child of Moby Dick and Kafka, invincible and strange." So, yeah, he's kind of swinging for the fences on this one.

The book does quite a bit to support its ambitions, however; the writing is well done and often quite clever. All the metaphors were original, except in the case where he re-used them within the same book (he is quite fond of vomit, sex, and pooping metaphors; but then again, who isn't? Oh, right). But at times I got the sense that the writing outpaced the story in a negative way in that the narration often got too caught up in wordplay and irony and mining every detail for potential significance.

By the end of the book, I was unsatisfied, but only because the buildup was so marvelous. The resolution of this grand apparatus that Love had so carefully constructed did not match my hopes. If Faith were a less ambitious book I would have enjoyed it more, but not as deeply as the times that it made me really think deeply at the themes at play. Faith is guilty of, dare I say it, over-reaching. The engagement with the ship wasn't enough for Love - like Moby Dick, it had to represent something even larger and grander somehow, but in reaching for that level of significance, the concrete story that supported such a Grand Symbol was undermined in some ways. In the end, the carefully crafted build-up and the quality of the writing make this an excellent recommendation for most science fiction readers.

3.5/5 stars

Here is an interview that John Love gave soon after the book was purchased which offers some good insights, and another more recent one here.

No comments: