CSFF Blog Tour: Like a Crusader

“Crusader perched like a gargoyle on a second floor ledge …”

So begins Numb – with Crusaders and gargoyles, icons of the Middle Ages and the Catholic Church.

Although there are obvious and significant differences between the True Church of Numb and the medieval Catholic Church, there are also definite similarities. The power exercised in the state is one such commonality, and so is the persecution of heretics. In the True Church’s schemes to subjugate the heathen Praesidium there is some parallel to the Crusades. Yet the parallels are limited. The Crusaders had two motivations absent entirely from the True Church: the Turkish persecution of Christian pilgrims in the Middle East and the apprehension of that land as the Holy Land.

There is a story from the Crusades to which Numb bears a remarkable resemblance. The First Crusade succeeded in taking Jerusalem in 1099, but as the years went by, the power of the Crusaders in the Middle East declined. They lost territory and Jerusalem became threatened.

So it was time for the Second Crusade. Pope Eugenius III urged King Louis VII of France to take part in the new Crusade and commissioned Bernard of Clairvaux to preach it. As Urban did for the First Crusade, Eugenius III made participating in the Second Crusade a cleansing penance for sins. He wrote to King Louis: “[B]y the authority granted us by God we concede and confirm to those who decide out of devotion to take up and complete so holy and so necessary a task and labor … remission of sins.”

And Bernard declared to the crowd at Vezelay, with King Louis at his side, “The din of arms, the danger, the labors, the fatigues of war, are the penances that God now imposes upon you. Hasten then to expiate your sins by victories over the Infidels.”

Now the king’s sin, which he wanted to expiate, was this: While waging war in Champagne, Louis VII sacked the city of Vitry and caused its church to be set on fire. More than a thousand people who had taken refuge in the church died in the flames.

These cruel deaths plagued the young king with guilt and remorse. The Pope and Bernard showed him the way to expiate his guilt: a Crusade to the Holy Land.

That is the similarity to Numb. As the Ministrix directed Crusader, so did the Catholic Church direct King Louis: service to God for the remission of sins, absolving guilt for death by inflicting death.

CSFF Blog Tour: Numb

Crusader is the best assassin the Church has, carrying out all his missions with heartless thoroughness. He is intelligent and methodical in his work, his skills well-honed. And he’s numb. No pain can stop him, no emotions can get in his way.

Until he is assigned a new victim and, for reasons he doesn’t understand, he can’t kill her.

Numb is a science fiction novel written by John Otte and published by Marcher Lord Press. The various technological trappings of the story give it a feel of classic blaster-and-spaceships sci-fi. I loved the idea of the space stations and of the Ceres colonizers. The abandoned Waystation was particularly evocative, giving me a feeling of how vast space is and how very easy for even large things to get lost.

The world-building showed some very nice touches; the cube-shaped New Jerusalem Station is one of them, but my favorite is this comment, delivered by one of the novel’s protagonists: “Tell me, did the earliest Christians arm themselves when the Emperor Nero trundled them off to the Vatican hippodrome as arsonists?”

This is a clever blending of fact (Nero’s scapegoating of Christians for the burning of Rome) with error (“the Vatican hippodrome”?). Time blurs history, and I enjoyed seeing that acted out in Numb. I appreciated that Otte in no way pointed out the confusion of facts, trusting his readers to catch it on their own.

The oblique reference to the Catholic Church was also interesting. The True Church is essentially a speculative version of the pre-Reformation Catholic Church, transplanted from the Middle Ages to outer space. You could list the discrepancies between the True Church and even the medieval Catholic Church, but it still mirrors the Roman church in its political intrigue, persecution of heretics, and attempted subjugation of infidels. Alongside this, names like Inquisitor and Crusader and the Cathedral of Light are only superficial similarities.

If I had to name one fault of this book, it would be that characters’ actions didn’t always logically follow their motivations. It happened rarely, and even then was usually minor. One character, for example, showed himself wary of certain visitors to his installation but then casually shared vital information about the place.

In one place, however, it wasn’t minor. Reason would caution against helping, and then falling for, a bloody-handed assassin, especially one who had been assigned to kill you. But that’s what Isolda did. I think her decisions could have been justified, but she made them too quickly and with too little explanation.

Numb is a fast-paced story that takes surprising turns and, in it all, leaves space to the characters, through whom the novel gains emotional power. Add an intriguing framework built from the history of our past and theories of our future, and Numb establishes itself as a winning piece of sci-fi.


In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.