We All Died at Breakaway Station
Richard C. Meredith
Ballantine Books 
Synopsis: Three starcraft, the Iwo Jima, the Pharsalus and the Rudolph Cragstone, arrive at Breakaway Station, a link in the chain of FTL communicators between Earth and its colonies in the Palantine. The three craft are crewed by the half-dead, people who are just barely able to be made operational using extensive cyborging. They are carrying a cargo of even more badly wounded military personnel from the on-going war with the Jillies, a race of hideous, inscrutable aliens who have declared a war to the death with humanity.
At the same time, a fleet of starships under the command of Admiral Mothershed are searching the Jillie regions, hoping to find the home world of the Jillie that a fleet of human ship might voyage there and exterminate the Jillies [Or perhaps force a peace, although various anecdotes in the book make this a highly unlikely turn of events].
Captain Bracer of the Iwo Jima is alarmed to find that Breakaway has been the target of a Jillie raid, killing half the personnel and greatly reducing the stations broadcast abilities. As well, a relief mission which was to have preceded the small fleet of ships he commands never arrived and is feared lost to the Jillies. Suspecting that the Jillies may return to finish Breakaway off, he volunteers his small fleet of ships to stay until Earth can send help. Due to the nature of the FTL com system, if Breakaway goes down, it will take more than 4 years to get it online again.
Interspersed with the main plot are anecdotes either directly showing how awful the Jillies are or what terrible effects they have on the humans.
Mothershed finds the Jillie home world and heads for home, dogged by Jillie ships the whole way. His fleet of twelves ships is reduced to three early on [plus a scout ship which gets separated, damaged and off-course]. His ships make it to Adrianapolis, the largest human colony in the Palantine. He arrives chased by Jillies, and it seems to be touch and go whether his precious data will be delivered or whether it, Mothershed and his ships will be destroyed on the verge of arriving.
Meanwhile, back at Breakaway, Bracer, who has put down a mutiny by people who feel that three-quarters dead people should not have to
make the sacrifices he is asking of them, finally has to face the dreaded Jillie attack. Knowing that he will, and his crew cannot survive or win, he tries to buy enough time so that the data Mothershed is carrying may be transmitted to Earth. Everyone dies in the battle, although a handful of the cryo-corpses turn out to be salvageable. Breakaway is destroyed but hangs on long enough to transfer the information. Earth’s vengeance fleet now has a target.
Richard C. Meredith died too young to have more than around half a dozen books. This was his second: his first, _The Sky is Filled with Ships_ is entirely unreadable but he improved with time and practice.
Rereading this, I kept trying to think of a more forceful term than ‘purple prose’. The aliens are not merely an opponent, they are evil and cruel, inscrutable and ugly. Bracer is not merely brave; he is a badly wounded collection of loose bits held together with duct tape and he has lost his wife to the vivisection knives of the Jillies. There was
a plague in the past but it was not just a disease, it was something the universe’s laws should never have allowed. By his later books, Meredith had toned this aspect of his books down. I think he had to; if he’d tried to increase it, the books would have burst into flame from emotional energy alone.
Unsurprisingly, the book is dated by the era it was written in: by the late 1960s, this sort of SF had more or less discovered women were
something one might have sex with but the concept of women as characters was still some time off: Meredith’s women are two dimensional [As are the men but in different dimensions]. With few exceptions they apparently serve to carry large breasts around and to provide the occasional sex scene when the action slows.
The plot is a bit dippy as well: the sheer coincidence that Mothershed should arrive at Adrianapolis at the same time that Breakaway is being attacked brings to mind Burroughs’ tendency to have lions, the sole white woman in a given region of Africa and Tarzan crossing the same clearing within minutes of each other. No attempt is made to radio the data [although ship’s shield may be the reason for that] or as far as I can tell make several copies.
Despite that, despite the over-writing, the pulpy plotline, the dated view of people [Every book will end up having that, I expect], this still a fun book. A few people from Mothershed’s group survive but other- wise this book promises a lower survival rate than an Honor Harrington book and a more black and white set of characters and delivers. Recommended for people who like that sort of thing.
Next: Captain Empirical , Sam Nicholson