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The Two-Space War by Dave Grossman and Leo Frankowski

The Two-Space War by Dave Grossman and Leo Frankowski is a book that hovers between two spaces: the realm of a good science fiction yarn and the classroom of a pedant. The yarn is spun out well enough, at least where the pedant doesn’t take over the book with his chalk-dusted fingers, his pipe smoke, and his tweed sport coat with elbow patches. The pedant does have some good material to work with that can, again, be broken down into two spaces. The first is the concept of the warrior-poet, an old idea fallen more recently on hard times and disrespect. The second educational element is “warrior science,” lessons in the psychology and physiology of combat. The one flaw in the book as a novel is that the educational elements come off a little too heavy-handed. Still, it’s a good book that this reviewer has read and enjoyed multiple times.

The background premise behind the book is that mankind has sought the stars and found them. But not through high technology and moving through some fourth dimension of space. Instead, mankind found a collapsed, two-dimensional version of the universe where everything was much closer together. Unfortunately, high technology didn’t work in this Two-Space. Instead, men built wooden ships coated with an intelligent mold that allowed them to have a three-dimensional bubble of air and warmth as they sailed from planetary island to planetary island in the sea of this two-dimensional universe. Thus, we were back to wooden ships and iron men. And in their travels, Man has discovered other races, who just happen to resemble the races of the worlds created by J. R. R. Tolkien. A great war is brewing that somewhat resembles World War I, the naval actions of the Napoleonic Wars and similar wars of the era, and the war in old Tollers’ The Lord of the Rings. This last is especially so in the way the races line up on the two sides of the war.

Because Two-Space erodes technology, men who go to space have a reverence for low technology, proven solutions and customs. Most planetary populations avoid high technology since it separates them from the ability to go to space and make their fortunes. They also have fallen back on older entertainments. There are no action movie DVDs in this low technology milieu. So, it’s back to 18th century-style action-adventure poetry. Before even the technologies of books and writing, there were warriors and epic poems. Homer, the Eddas, and Virgil all started with works meant for oral/aural transmission and memorization. They put them in formal stanzaic structures with a plethora of poetic devices to bind the lines and act as mnemonic devices. Many early adventure tales in English were told in verse. Going back to the Anglo-Saxon, there was Beowulf. Later came such works as Spenser’s The Faerie Queene or some of Lord Byron’s adventures. Many battles were commemorated in verse. In the current day, with so much estrogen-driven poetry, we sometimes forget that poetry used to be the kind of testosterone-fueled medium we now associate with Jackie Chan and Bruce Willis films. The authors of The Two-Space War have not forgotten, and would like to revive this elder medium.

The book follows the exploits of Lieutenant Thomas Melville and the crew of his Two-Space frigate. Melville is based on various historical figures, including Field Marshall Lord Wavell. Lord Wavell was a warrior-poet who had committed several works of poetry to memory, including long works and many that were military-themed. After World War II (a time when he was commander of British forces in the Middle East) he put together and had published a book of those memorized poems. So, Thomas Melville is a man who has poetry running through his head and sometimes through his lips. The poetry parallels the action of the book, not surprisingly. I assume that the authors formulated the plot based around where they could use Wavell’s memorized poetry.

Most of the poetry in the book is formalist. Some bits of it are quite old, many others were written just before or during Wavell’s life (1887-1950). Several of the poems were written about conflicts that Wavell was in and lived through. It’s all what this reviewer would consider good poetry. It is generally very well integrated into the book using the concept of the warrior-poet expressed in the character of Thomas Melville as the thread that binds it to the fabric of the book. This concept of the warrior-poet and the integration of these old poems into the book are what make the book most worth reading. The action and overall plot are good and well scripted, but the poetry adds a dimension above that of the average science fiction space adventure.

Ted Kooser, former Poet Laureate of the United States, has a metaphor for losing the reader. It is based on an event of his childhood where he was on a glass-bottomed boat. He was enthralled with the world passing beneath him. He was part of that world. Until another passenger dropped her sunglasses in the bottom of the boat. The noise and motion startled him and brought him back to the upper world where he was hot and sweaty and a hyperactive young boy who was easily bored and had been sitting still on a boat for far too long. So, he uses the phrase “dropping the glasses in the boat” to mean the author has done something to knock the audience back into the reality that they are merely reading a book and not living through it.

Messrs. Grossman and Frankowski do nothing so prosaic as dropping sunglasses to the deck. They drop cannonballs. While this reviewer is of the opinion that good books do usually teach and that it is the hallmark of good science fiction that one leaves knowing more technology, philosophy, or history, Grossman belabors his points that come from his day job of warrior science and, to a lesser extent, the idea of the warrior poet. The warrior science information is good and interesting in context, but Grossman seems to be using the seven-plus-or-minus-two rule of repetition for learning new things. This reviewer thinks Grossman should have let the reader get repetition through re-reading the book, rather than having his nose rubbed in the lessons repeatedly. When writing about humans, the author does not have to mention every time his characters relieve themselves each day the book spans for the reader to know that they are taking care of these necessities. Likewise, we do not have to see every time these warriors sit by the fire and discuss battles, nor do we have to be reminded of the basic principles after each and every battle in a book that is mostly battles.

So, except for the repetition and pedantic tone of the warrior science information, this is a good book and an interesting concept. As a fan of both poetry and science fiction, this reviewer would be happy to see more such books. In fact, the book leaves us with a good case for a sequel, and one hopes that Grossman and Frankowski have such in mind. The universe and culture they have created is an interesting one, and the smooth integration of poetry into the novel might be an example for other poetry lovers to help bring it back to a wider audience.

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