David Drake’s Favorite Cathedral

If you’ve read David Drake, or if you know anything about him, you know that he did not have a fun time in Vietnam. (Although a lot of people had it worse, and he’d be the first to point that out.) He’s not a very demonstrative, unreserved guy. He loves history and Latin, and has spent a lot of time with each. He has also spent a lot of the time since then writing devastating military science fiction about war, how one wins and loses, and how the survivors cope with a lot of mental and emotional problems. Except for earlier things by Heinlein and other authors, this began the modern subgenre called military sf.

(If anybody ever refers to Drake as “war porn” or “carnography” in your presence, feel free to punch him or her. Also, you can be sure that such a person has never read Drake, or has poor reading comprehension skills, or has no heart.)

So it’s worth paying attention when he says that in 1977 (only a few years after coming home from Vietnam), when visiting horror/fantasy writer Ramsey Campbell in Liverpool, “the interior [of the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King] gave me a feeling of peace and happiness which I’ve never felt in another building. I’m not religious (and was raised to be anti-Catholic), so I didn’t expect to have a positive reaction. That’s anecdotal evidence, but it was (and remains) my truth.”

He wrote this up because the cathedral makes a guest appearance in The Sea Without a Shore, his latest RCN novel coming out in April. The RCN novels are more good-natured space opera than his typical really gritty stories, but they are good stories of friendship and duty in a fictional military in a very different sort of civilization. In a lot of ways, they seem to represent his imagination finally healing, so it’s nice to see a little nod to the Lord in there. (Not to mention his friends Ramsey and Jenny Campbell!)

Modern church architecture comes in for a lot of criticism, and justly so. But the best of it can do its job well, and any Catholic church with an inhabited tabernacle is not just a building. There are some people who are less guarded in a non-traditional setting, and maybe God can get their attention better that way. So modern architecture has its place; and really, Liverpool looks pretty nice inside. It also got built in 5 years by its architect Gibberds, when they’d been trying to get something done for 100 years at that point without getting anything done but a crypt church underground. So I’m sure anything’s better than a hole in the ground, and that looks a lot better than just anything. There’s a humanity and a soaring quality that the really brutalist modern architecture lacks; I don’t see people feeling like crawling ants in there.

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