Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Passage at Arms

(Originally posted on Tuesday, 27 December 2011)

My rating: 8/10 (low re-reading value)
Please read my post from April 2009 to find out about my rating.
Please read my post from May 2009 to learn about Glen Cook’s style of writing.

Right from the first page I felt “Passage at Arms” would be an exceptional book. It starts in the middle of tense combat on the surface of a planet, but the fighting is rather a background than the main action. The most important thing about this first chapter is the feeling it gave me. The atmosphere is like a mix of the great science-fiction novel “Forever War” (two alien civilizations clashing) and the great film “Terminator” (chaos reigning during the fighting in the city ruins as seen in the “future flashbacks" of the soldier Kyle Reese). Great stuff.

I must warn you that the second chapter shows what was happening a couple of days before the fighting from the first chapter and the action in all the following chapters takes place only in space, so the start of the novel can be misleading. At first I was angry, but after some time I realised it was a touch of genius. The tone of the first chapter is simply unforgettable.

What’s good:
1. Glen Cook’s style of writing.
2. This novel is VERY, VERY, VERY gripping. It’s one of the most gripping books I have ever read.
3. The story is about one very long mission of a climber – a small space ship which is used similarly to a submarine during The World War II.
4. Glen Cook created great speculative science about climbers. Similarly to a submarine going underwater, a climber goes into a different state of energy, virtually vanishing from the normal space (it “climbs”). It leaves only a small trace in the normal space and is reduced to a “Hawking point” which is very small and can’t be hit directly by a missile. However nearby explosions of the missiles do harm it by raising the temperature inside the climber. When the temperature is too high the cooling system fails and the climber explodes because the antimatter inside its tank cannot be controlled properly. Great idea.
5. The atmosphere about living together for a long time in close quarters is good, but it could have been done a little better. What’s really captivating it’s rather the lack of patriotism of the more experienced crew and their only will to survive this one more patrol. Glen Cook skilfully shows that a soldier after prolonged tense fighting is not the same person as when he was joining the army or when he was leaving his military school for real combat. Glen Cook also shows how a soulless decisions of the higher command can ruin morale in any unit.
6. This book also shows how much depends on the captain of a (space)ship like this and how much pressure is laid upon him. He has to carry on the orders of the higher command without losing the respect of his own crew. He is the only person who cannon crack an inch, because he holds the whole crew from falling apart.
7. There are very good examples of how much the news about the ongoing war is manipulated before reaching the people at home.

What’s bad:
1. I didn’t like the idea that a spaceship which is moving so fast and is almost invisible can be traced so easily.
2. The fighting at some moments seemed too easy or simplistic.
3. The very strange behaviour of the higher command toward the end of the book is not believable or reasonable (at least for me).
4. This novel is too heavy emotionally for me to read it again.

The speculative science of a climber is great, but could have been used somewhat differently and the fighting could be better. I liked the science and the space battles in “The Dragon Never Sleeps” more, but I must admit that “Passage at Arms” tells a much more intimate story and is much easier to follow. Glen Cook created a unique feeling about a climber and its crew. As I said it’s one of the most gripping books I have ever read, but it's also exhausting emotionally. Considering its low re-reading value I still rate “Passage at Arms” as a novel more than just good.

No comments:

Post a Comment