2008’s Victory Conditions is the fifth and final volume in Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta’s War quintology.
Gammis Turek’s Deepspace Benevolent Association is very much at war with the local systems: if sabotage and acts of piracy did not prove this, their campaign of intimidating atrocities do. Simple self-interest would dictate that the independent governments coordinate their defensive efforts against a common foe. Regrettably, not only is there no local tradition of transnational cooperation, but some factions are convinced the DBA is not the greatest threat they face.
Interstellar communications monopolist ISB, for example, is convinced that Ky Vatta, or rather the threat to their monopoly presented by Vatta’s appropriation of previously suppressed cutting-edge ansible technology, is a far greater threat. Although Rafe Dunbarger, the new ISB CEO, is in love with Ky (not that either seems willing to admit to their mutual interest), his ability to steer the company in a constructive direction is constrained by his shaky control of the board.
There is quite a lot Ky and her allies do not know about the DBA. Indeed, lack of information is one of Ky and her allies’ greatest challenges, up there with “the DBA is better armed” and “the DBA has a surprisingly large supply of double agents.” Ky can make educated guesses regarding the DBA. One such guess involves the Moray system.
Moray has extensive shipyards. Since pirates need ships, the Moray shipyards are an attractive target. It’s a reasonable supposition that Turek will eventually descend on the Moray yards to fill gaps in his fleet. In fact, this is not just a reasonable supposition. It is something the DBA is even now plotting, having used middlemen to commission the very ships they now plan to steal.
Points to Ky for foresight! It’s just too bad that despite Ky’s best efforts, Turek escapes with a handful of new ships. Much worse, both for the alliance in general and Ky in particular, is that a combination of space mines and design defects in Ky’s flagship Vanguard leave Vanguard a shattered hulk, and the majority of its crew quite dead.
As far as the public knows, Ky Vatta, the central figure of the common defense, died defending Moray. What will happen now to the efforts to stop the DBA?
Anyone who has gotten five books into this series without grasping that the bad guys are very very bad (no, even worse than that) has only themselves to blame. At some point Moon may introduce villains with a degree of nuance and I may expire from surprise … but today is not that day.
Vanguard’s destruction makes it much easier to keep track of the multitudinous dramatis personae in this series. This is not one of those works where everyone with a white hat gets to watch the final credits role. Dying is always a career option1, especially for anyone whose last name is Vatta.
Moon has always been willing to place older women in important roles (would that other authors would imitate her). If I’m to keep this synopsis readable I’m forced to focus on Ky and Rafe — but it’s her aunt Grace who leads the crucial home-front resistance on Slotter Key. Dismissing older women as irrelevant biddies would be as wrong in a Moon novel as it would be in any given Miss Marple story.
While this book definitely concludes the series, Moon doesn’t tie everything up with a nice bow. Despite the existence of shipboard ansibles, it’s not all clear who has lived and who has died. Some subplots are unresolved. Moon has left herself lots of room for sequels2 while providing enough payoff to satisfy readers.
1: Although he didn’t make it into the synopsis, one of Vatta’s allies is a dashing rogue named Ransome, who, if he were featured in a movie of the book, would almost certainly be played by whoever is the current answer to Errol Flynn. It’s pretty clear that Ransome is utterly convinced he and not Ky is the central protagonist in this series; it’s also clear that he has plot immunity.
2: Nine years later Moon published two later books in this setting. I have read neither Cold Welcome (2017) nor Into the Fire (2018). I wonder if these are direct or indirect sequels. No, don’t tell me. I’d prefer to find out myself.