Not a flawless book, The Two-Space War has the definite feel of the debut of a series still finding its sea-legs.
Nevertheless, it’s a voyage worth completing, and I enjoyed it increasingly as I went on.
The set-up is kind of complicated, which slows down the action at the start. This is a standard problem in stories set in unfamiliar worlds, but I thought the authors did as good a job as anyone in weaving the info dumps into the narrative.
The premise is that humans have learned to travel to distant galaxies, by traveling through “Two-Space,” the second dimension. The trade-off is that all but the simplest early Industrial Revolution technology rapidly deteriorates in Two-Space. So the ships by which people travel there have to be wooden ships, similar to those of the Napoleonic era, with interesting differences.
As the story opens, Lt. Thomas Melville and a landing party are stranded on a distant planet, battling thirst and suicidal, ape-like monsters. They await rescue by their mother ship. They were recently attacked by a ship of the evil Guldur Empire, and their captain’s death has left him acting commander.
Through skill and military discipline, he manages to save his landing party from the apes. Shortly thereafter they are picked up by their mother ship, only to learn that the ship (their ships are sentient) is dying, and that the Guldur are coming in fast.
Lt. Melville determines not to take refuge on the primitive planet, but to employ a bold strategy against the Guldur ship. So begins a story that steadily builds in dramatic tension, and draws the reader both through suspense and with interesting, likeable, growing characters.
In some ways I found the world-building a little self-indulgent, by my personal reckoning. The universe Lt. Melville and his crew explore is notable for planets containing elves and planets containing dwarfs, and so (in this narrative) J.R.R. Tolkien is considered an actual prophet. His books are venerated as if they were Scripture. There are also numerous references to the “classic” writers of the 20th Century—such as Heinlein, Weber and Pratchitt. In this version of the future, Science Fiction is considered the highest literary form. Elements of Tolkien, Patrick O’Brien, and (perhaps) Kenneth Roberts rub together in this universe, not always seamlessly (in my opinion), but in the end the authors make it work.
I’m not sure what to say about religious matters (the future seems to be vaguely Christian, in a syncretist sort of way), or the issue of women in combat, which is addressed so eccentrically that it’s hard to draw a conclusion what the authors think.
But the real heart of this book is the battle scenes. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (full disclosure: he sent me a free review copy) is a retired officer of the Army Rangers, a former professor of Psychology at West Point, and a recognized authority on the physiological and psychological effects of combat on human beings. His descriptions of the experience of battle are as authentic as any you’ll ever come across, and they in themselves make The Two-Space War a moving and unforgettable read. I’m serious about this. The combat scenes are worth the price of the book all by themselves.
Once I got acclimated I was riveted. I recommend the book highly, and hope there’s a sequel.