by John Love
Cover Artist: Adam Paquette
Review by Benjamin Wald
Night Shade Books Trade Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781597803908
Date: 03 January 2012 List Price $14.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Faith, John Love’s debut novel, is a far-future story of space combat and occasional philosophizing. The plot centers around the arrival of a mysterious alien ship of incredible power and unfathomable motivations, dubbed Faith, that begins to perpetrate random attacks on the ships and planets of the commonwealth, an expanding coalition of different races led by humanity. This ship is moving ever closer to Earth, and an Outsider class ship, the commonwealth's ultimate weapon, is dispatched to stop her. The crew of the ship, like the crew of all Outsiders, is a group of incredibly talented antisocial misanthropes, mainly criminals and psychopaths, selected for their incredible skills. The novel aims for a kind of cynical cleverness, akin to the work of Peter Watts, but it falls short, landing instead in awkward pretentiousness for the most part.
The science in this science-fiction novel is a significant fault. I am no SF purist, I have no objection to SF that hand-waves the science in favor of action. However, what science there is should at least be right. Love falls short on this front. Several of the weapons he describes make no sense at all; for example, "breathtakers" penetrate the hull of an enemy and then destroy all of the atmosphere, creating a vacuum. How one destroys a gas so as to produce vacuum is unexplained, as is why one would bother, rather than say just destroying the hull and venting the atmosphere into space. Another example is the planet that Love describes as being so massive it has some of the properties of a neutron star; an astrophysical absurdity. No planet could have that kind of mass, or even close to it, without becoming a second sun. These scientific blunders detracted significantly from my enjoyment of the novel.
Another flaw is the fact that the plot of this novel is rife with events that make absolutely no sense. I'm not referring to the actions of Faith, which are supposed to be incomprehensible, but to basic elements of worldbuilding. Why should all of the most skilled crews be primarily criminals and psychopaths? This is never explained. Nor is why these criminals, in control of vastly powerful warships, never run amok rather than following orders. Similarly, it is stated many times, by various characters, that only an Outsider class ship fighting alone can defeat Faith, and that other ships trying to help would only bring disaster. However, why this is the case is never explained, and it leaves an unsatisfying gap in the novel.
All of this might be forgivable if plot or characters were strong enough. However, the characterization, while adequate, is nothing special. The fact that most of the main characters are unrepentant criminals never seems especially relevant unless it is directly remarked upon; the characters are a bit antisocial, but the psychopath vibe is not really noticeable. The plot has some reasonably exciting action sequences, but in general Faith is too incomprehensible for her actions to generate real suspense. Faith's abilities are never made clear, and so the reader is left feeling that she can do whatever the plot requires of her. This makes the cat and mouse battle of the two ships start to feel old fairly soon; the reader is merely left to wonder what impossible feat Faith will do next. The opening of the novel is also saddled with about 100 pages of irrelevant and over-long buildup that feels like the author is just marking time until the real story begins.
The one thing this novel does very well is imagery. Love manages some beautiful descriptive passages, and these drive home the alienness of Faith very effectively. At the sentence and paragraph level the writing is occasionally excellent, but these brief stretches cannot make up for the failures of the larger whole. Overall, this is a disappointing novel, marred by plot holes, poor science, and baggy plotting. The imagery and description, while highly effective, are not worth dealing with the novels significant flaws.