Late Reviews From Avalon: The Chaplain’s War

The Chaplain's War by [Torgersen, Brad R.]

I had the privilege of meeting Brad Torgersen for the first time at this year’s DragonCon. I had known him online for several years, and he was gracious enough to agree to blurb my book, All Things Huge and Hideous earlier this year. He was also very (needlessly) apologetic that the blurb had not worked out. (It was just a matter of bad timing; Brad had been deployed for a very long time, and my request came as he was finally getting to come home. A lesser man wouldn’t have even tried to help me out). But I appreciate Brad’s service even more than the blurb.

At the Baen Roadshow, Brad was also giving away copies of his debut novel, The Chaplain’s War, along with his soon-to-be-Dragon-Award-winning The Star-Wheeled Sky. Because I’m a rather obsessive person, I elected to take a copy of The Chaplain’s War, which Brad signed for me.

So on the flight home, The Chaplain’s War was my reading, and all I can say is, it wowed me. It reminded me of nothing so much as one of my early-adulthood favorites, Ender’s Game. Only it seemed to me to reach more deeply into a question that Orson Scott Card didn’t get to until the sequel Speaker For The Dead: How do you make peace?

The story itself is a bit reminiscent of Ender’s Game. It concerns humanity’s war with the mantis-cyborgs, a race much more technologically advanced, and controlling a much larger stellar empire. In fact, we learn early on that the mantes have already exterminated two other intelligent species, and there seems to be no reason that humanity would not become number three on their list. But that all changes when an alien Professor has a conversation with  Harrison Barlow, the Chaplain’s Assistant in a mantis POW camp. The mantes have no concept of God, and the Professor wishes to understand this strange idea that all three of the mantes’ victims have shared.

What follows is an intricate but action-packed story of humans and aliens working together and fighting against each other to survive. In fact, it occurs to me that this is Ender’s Game meets Enemy Mine. Interwoven through the story of Barlow’s capture by and eventually his diplomacy to the aliens is the story of how he became a soldier and a chaplain’s assistant in the first place.  It’s a story that masterfully blends questions of faith and honor together through a cast of beautifully real (and flawed) characters.

I can hardly wait to find time to get to The Star-Wheeled Sky and its eventual sequel. And I’m honored to count Brad Torgersen as a friend and supporter.

I Lied. And Sold Something.

Having titled this post, I feel I really must hasten to add that I didn’t sell something BY lying. I don’t do that.

No, it’s just that I’m mortified to realize that my last blog post, over a month ago, said that I was “starting to be able to bring the blog back.”

I so was not able to do that. I really thought I was, but then the school year struck back and ate all my free time again. So I won’t make that promise again. I really do HOPE that I’ll be able to do this more regularly, but as the semester winds down, NaNoWriMo is heating up. I’m over halfway done with my 50k words, but Thanksgiving doesn’t promise to be much of a break, so this could be interesting.

Finally, in unrelated news, Cirsova has picked up one of my favorite short-shorts I’ve ever written, “Adeste, Fideles.” I hope you will all enjoy it.

New Snippets! And a New Blog Post! And New Links!

Hoo-boy, what a month it has been.

Folks, starting a school year with elementary-school age kids, AND a new job, AT a new school, when it’s the first time both your wife and you have ever worked full time?

It’s no joke.

I am incredibly blessed to have all these opportunities, but I do not deny that it has been frantic and hectic. Good, but not relaxing. And some things have suffered.

This blog is definitely one of them. But I’m starting to be able to bring it back.

Over the past week, I have been fixing and improving book links. My new books are available over on the right sidebar: $3.99 for ALL THINGS HUGE AND HIDEOUS and $2.99 for THE GIRL WHO WASN’T THERE. In addition, if you want a taste of each, I have brand NEW SNIPPETS UP FOR EACH ONE in the SAMPLE SNIPPETS link above.

I hope to have new snippets up soon. Also, I have confirmation that I have sold a new short story: no shit it’s a CHOOSE-YOUR-OWN-ADVENTURE LOVECRAFTIAN NIGHTMARE. Never thought I’d sell it, but Stupendous Stories has picked it up!

Thanks for reading, friends.

Surprise! SCI-FI NOVEL RELEASE!!

It is with great pleasure that I announce the publication of my first science fiction novel, The Girl Who Wasn’t Thereby Digital Fiction Corp.

The Girl Who Wasn't There - KDP Cover

Besides having an awesome cover, it’s my salute to the spirit of Robert Heinlein’s juvies, and the first book I can unreservedly recommend for kids. AND it’s on sale for just $0.99 on Kindle through Labor Day! Just in time for DragonCon! If you’re there, drop by Bard’s Tower! Paperback soon to follow!

New Stories and His Missing Materials: The Logoccentric Returns!

Hi, everyone! Well, it was a good vacation, but now I’m back! It’s the start of a bright new school year full of many good things! I got some great news in and around my vacation, so let’s get cracking!

First, if you’d like some real content, I’d like to direct you to my latest article published with SciPhi Journal (which is gaining readers by leaps and bounds) called “His Missing Materials” in which I take Philip Pullman to task for pretty much slandering the Christian faith.

As far as upcoming sales, I can’t name any right now, but it looks like I’ll have at east one if not two new announcements to make in the near future.

Finally, I’d like to share this awesome possible cover art for my next book, forthcoming as soon as I can get a small amount of edits back to the publisher:

Girl Who Wasn't

Anthology Give-Away! Holy C.O.W!

Hey, want to win an anthology with a bunch of awesome stories, including my latest, “Day Of Atonement?”

Holy C.O.W. Anthology Volume One: SFStories from the Center Of the World

Just enter at this link, right here, on Amazon!

And now, a teaser:

Rabban Shimon and Rabban Hillel each took hold of one of the thick doors leading inward and pulled it aside. Yossef entered.

            The room was just as unimpressive on the inside as it had been on the outside. It was no larger than a small house, from which all furnishings had been removed. In the northwest corner, a steep staircase descended into thick darkness. The only thing in it was a wooden table, tall but only about a cubit square. On the table lay a perfectly ordinary knife. Across from him, looking slightly stricken, was Matthias, and standing by him, the Bishop of Jerusalem, with his Chief Elder.

            The Bishop, a thin, spare man with a curiously rounded face, bowed slightly from the waist. “Peace be with you, Rabban Hillel and the followers of the Law. I greet you in the name of Iyesos Christos, the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach, and of St. Nicodemus the Rav Nakdimon.”

            The Nasi returned the bow. “Peace be with you, Bishop Konstantinos and the followers of Y’shua. I greet you in the name of the God of Avraham, the God of Yitzchak, the God of Ya’akov, and of the Elder Gamli’el of blessed memory. Give thanks to the God of gods.”

            “His mercy endures forever,” the Bishop answered. “Today, September 30th, in the Year of Our Lord 635, we present for ordeal before the throne of the Father, Matthias, a novice whom we would ordain a priest of Iyesos Christos.”

            “And today, on the 9th Tishrei, the year 4395, we present for the ordeal before the throne of the Most High, Yossef, whom we would ordain a Rabbi to teach the Law. Let His Will be revealed as it has been since the time of Y’shua, and the time of Moshe.” And he withdrew from his robes a box of acacia wood, polished with age. From it, he drew two stones.

            Yossef swayed where he stood, and he thought he heard Matthias gasp. Surely the Urim and Thummim had been lost in the time of captivity. He dared not speak, but stared at Hillel. But it was Bishop Konstantinos who spoke. “They are not the ancient relics of Israel,” he said kindly. “But they serve the purpose. As once we cast lots to determine the successor to our Lord’s betrayer, so we now cast them, that we may know the Will of God concerning you.”

            Yossef’s vision darkened and his breath quickened. This was the secret of ordination, then? No wonder they kept it a secret! He felt as though he were in a dream. God is present in this room, he thought. It was too big to take in.

            “We ask the Will of God concerning these men.” The words and the action cut across Yossef’s reverie. Konstantinos and Hillel cast their lots into the wooden table. The rattle of them echoed off the walls. Yossef stared. They were inscribed with ancient letters whose meanings he could not guess at. The Bishop and the Nasi gazed at them for a long moment. “The Will of God is that the disobedient should perish,” said the Nasi, and his voice was dead in the air.

            “This is the Will of God,” echoed the Bishop.

            The disobedient should..? What did that mean? Yossef turned to ask, but the men had the stones in their hands again, and the Bishop intoned, “We ask the Lord to reveal the disobedient.” The lots spun through the air as one and rattled in their tray. They gazed upon the stones. “The disobedient is the Jew, Yossef.”

            What? No, that couldn’t be!

            “The disobedient is Yossef,” the Nasi repeated, and he looked old and shaken. “Blessed be the Name of the Lord.”

            “Rabban Hillel,” breathed Yossef. “What have I..?”

            The older man gripped his upper arm with surprising strength. “You must be silent, Yossef. This is the Will of Adonai, which you swore to obey.” Yossef stood as if paralyzed. He had sworn. Sworn to obey the Will. Sworn by the Name.

            Bishop Konstantinos approached the table. To Yossef’s distant surprise, he left the stones on the table.

            He picked up the knife.

            Moving swiftly, he pressed its hilt into Matthias’ hand.  “Do it quickly, son.”

            Matthias’ face was a mirror of Yossef’s own. “Father, I don’t understand.”

            “This is the ordeal of ordination. You have sworn by Christ to do the Will of God as it is revealed to you. Do it quickly.”

Preorder Day: “Day Of Atonement”

Yesterday, the release of an anthology that I have waited a long time for was announced: the Holy C.O.W. (Center of the World) anthology, which is an alternate history collection including stories that concern the Middle East. It ships July 29th.

I’m proud of this because it carries my story “Day Of Atonement” which imagines a historically different relationship between Christians and Jews. I’d especially like to thank my editor, D Avraham and my good friend Cliff Winnig for their insights on Hebrew traditions which were a vital supplement to my research, and made this story much better than it otherwise would have been.

Excerpt follows:

“Christ killer!”

The gobbet of mud struck Yossef below his ear, splattering his neck and robes. For a moment he stood motionless, his anxiety wiped away by shock and growing anger, watching the ochre mud drip down the white cloth of the kittel and the tallis that he wore over his shoulders, his prayer-shawl that his mother had made. The ragged urchin who had thrown it was grinning, and bending to pry more muck from the gutter of the Jerusalem streets.

“Shame!” The voice cracked like a whip through the quiet Wednesday morning. A few peddlers, busy setting up their stalls selling sacrifices and food, paused to stare at its source. Yossef turned, distantly wondering if anyone else could hear how close that voice was to cracking. “Shame on you, boy!” Striding past Yossef, the priest in the rough black habit grabbed the boy’s arm and twisted hard. He howled, and the mud fell. “I am not hurting you, boy,” he said, more calmly. “You but feel a small portion of the pain your sin has brought upon your soul. How do you dare to defile a man, let alone a man of God on the Eve of the Day of Atonement?”

“His people killed Christ, father!”

“Oh?” The priest raised his eyebrows and pointed the boy’s chin firmly at the soldier who stood guard at the Double Gate. “His people helped us defeat the Arabian heretics as well. But if you want to fight, there is an Imperial soldier. They, too, took part in shedding our Savior’s blood. Will you throw your mud at him?” After a moment of silence, he snorted. “I thought not. Your cowardice and unforgiveness shames Christians, not Jews. Get home, and pray to St. Nicodemus for your sins.” The boy ran off to a stall, where a bearded man wore an expression of shame mixed with fury. He dropped his gaze and hauled his son around a corner.

The priest straightened and looked at Yossef. “I am so sorry. Come, let’s get you cleaned up.” He helped Yossef unwind the tallith and folded it neatly. “I don’t suppose you have a spare?”

“There will doubtless be one in the shrine, Matthias,” Yossef said. “It is no great matter.” The tightness in his voice betrayed him, however, and his old friend’s eyes darkened with shame.

“My people should know better,” he said. “We have disgraced ourselves before the Father, and ask your forgiveness.”

“As His mercy is everlasting, so we forgive.” Yossef repeated the ritual formula, and felt his own shame. It was not Matthias’s fault: God forbid, he might have to ask the same of a Christian, someday. Matthias led Yossef up the steps of Constantine’s Church, where it nestled on the southern side of the great wall of the Temple Mount. An acolyte rushed to meet them as Matthias dipped a towel in the basin at the entrance to the nave. Matthias stopped his incipient protest with a hard look.

“I know it’s holy water,” he said evenly. “And what is more holy than lifting up the oppressed?” The acolyte looked suffused, but stepped back in silence.

End of excerpt.

Whoever Is Not For Us: Author’s Note

One of my favorite things to do when I write SF is to screw around with genre expectation. And there is one that is almost never messed with that was too fun not to try to deal with, and that is the Parasite.

In SF, whenever people are infested by an evil parasite-like creature determined to enslave them, body and mind, it is always a hideous, nasty thing. Or it’s invisible. By contrast, on the rare occasions (like STNG’s the Trill, say) that a symbiote is beneficial, it is always invisible. For whatever reason, we’re wired to believe — or maybe it’s just that we really, really want to believe — that beauty is truth and truth is beauty. It might have something to do with the fact that beautiful people are usually healthy ones, and breeding with the healthy only makes good evolutionary sense. But there’s certainly no rational reason to believe that this would be the case.

Beneficial symbiotes aren’t even common in SF. I can’t name a single case in which a disfiguring symbiote has been good for someone. The closest I can get to it is the symbionts from the Babylon 5 episode “Xenogenesis,” which was a very bold move on the part of the show. But even the hideous symbionts caused pain and disfigurement only for a moment, and then they vanished invisibly within their hosts.

So for “Whoever Is Not For Us,” I wanted to break that trend and ask what would happen if the truth came disguised in ugliness. It was a fun story to write. I hope you enjoy it.

Release Day! “Whoever Is Not For Us”

Today, “Whoever Is Not For Us,” a military SF piece with a spiritual dimension that I first “sold” in 2014,* is finally being published! It also marks my return to Don Crankshaw’s and Kristin Janz’s Mysterion website. I was in on the first anthology they released, with my story “This Far Gethsemane,” and they run an awesome ship. The story is here, and I hope you like it. I also hope you’ll back them as they buy more stories (hopefully from me!)

*to a small press which never paid or published the work and then tried to re-buy it after 18 months of hanging on to it and never answering queries. No thanks.

Short Story Release: “Whoever Is Not For Us.”

Received confirmation today that “Whoever Is Not For Us” will appear on the Mysterion website on July 8th, but for supporters of their Patreon it is available NOW.

Here is an excerpt, just to whet your appetite:

(Sorry for the lack of paragraph indents, but WordPress is particularly stupid in that regard).

Whoever Is Not For Us
by
Scott Huggins

 

The sparking hell of Main Engineering shuddered and rang like a cymbal under the blows of magnetic grapples impacting the outer hull. Marine Captain Manuel Stolz spared a single glance for Commander Ellerbee and her mate frantically working on the drive bomb.

“How long?” he said. His voice echoed in his combat suit helmet, unnaturally loud.

“A couple of minutes,” grunted Ellerbee. The Navy engineer’s hands were moving too fast for him to follow.

Too long. Stolz switched to his Marines’ channel. “Perimeter check.”

“Conrad, hatch secure.” 

“Olivett, hatch secure.”

“Plekhanov, hatch…” The lights went out with a photoflash and Plekhanov’s voice was swallowed by a roaring hiss. The boarders were through the stern perimeter, moving with a precision inhuman and terrifying. Their lasers strobed the compartment. Ellerbee’s suit sprouted holes: superheated air and flesh jetted out, knocking her body back into Stolz, smashing him into the bulkhead. Conrad slammed the butt of his rifle into the helmet of the attacker that appeared suddenly behind him. Then he leveled it at the thing’s belly. He and the alien fired at the same moment. They exploded apart from each other.

Stolz’s reflexes and enhancement took over. Riding the tailored hormones like a roller coaster, he tucked and bounced off the bulkhead, rolling back to fire his puppetcutter. The focused EMP seared through the Brainsucker’s circuit-neurons, severing the connection between host and parasite, and his target spasmed and went still. Then Stolz was through the hatch, into the weapons bay. Scanning. His bulky gun’s screen showed nothing. He sealed the hatch and moved again, bouncing from wall to wall. His back itched, but no infinitely hot finger reached out to stab him between the shoulder blades.

They wanted him alive. Wanted them all alive. It was their way.

He dogged the hatch behind him and turned forward. Then he heard the shout. “Manuel, stop!”

He stopped. He didn’t remember letting the gun go, but it hung before him in microgravity.

Zanne’s voice.

Numb, he reached for his holster. So even this prayer would be denied him. He’d had nightmares about this moment, had planned for it. And prayed it would never happen. The weight of the weapon filled his hand with heavy and final comfort. He focused his eyes on it, and the comfort drained away. 

His laser sidearm was burnt clean through. He’d never noticed the hit. And the hatch behind him was beginning to glow red. The Brainsuckers were burning through. He was trapped, with Zanne on the other side, coming for him, and he could not kill himself.