2007’s Command Decision is the fourth volume in Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta’s War series.
Having narrowly survived the previous adventure, Ky Vatta sets out to completely reshape interstellar politics. After all, if she does not do it, the Deepspace Benevolent Association — Team Evil! —most definitely will.
The various players split up so they can do more damage to the enemy. Because that always works.
Ky has a very small fleet to call her own. Because the previous owner of the ship was a member of the DBA, she also has possession of a ship-portable ansible, technology that ISC had worked hard to suppress lest it imperil their monopoly on interstellar communications. Not only does she now have a key insight into how the DBA is coordinating its efforts, she has technology she can use to entice groups to join her infant “Space Defence Force.”
Conveniently for the Vattas and rather less so for ISC, ISC relied on security by obscurity. They never patented the ship-to-ship ansibles because that would reveal that ship-to-ship ansibles were possible. Legally there is nothing stopping the Vattas from appropriating ISC’s invention … save for ISC’s well-earned reputation for vindictiveness.
While Ky is instilling the concept of “common defence” on an interstellar community previously happy to limit contact to trade ties — the EEC without NATO — her ally Rafe returns to his home world of Nexus to discover that his family has gone missing and that his father has been replaced as CEO of ISC by Lewis Parmina, his father’s former subordinate. Parmina is part of Team Evil. In case that anyone hasn’t yet figured out that they are very bad people, we learn that they murdered a baby for the lulz.
Rafe regains control of ISC, has Parmina arrested, and sets out to unravel Team Evil’s subversion of ISC.
Too bad that ISC has remained something of a mindless behemoth, regardless of Rafe’s best efforts. Ky has been making unauthorized repairs to ISC facilities and spreading ship-to-ship ansible tech, both of which initiatives have annoyed the heck out of the parts of ISC that Rafe hasn’t yet managed to control.
ISC dispatches their large but outmoded fleet to stamp on Ky. That’s bad luck for Ky. It’s even worse luck that a DBA fleet is also on its way to annihilate her.
Do not begin reading the series with this volume. Or the previous volume. I imagine the author would prefer it if you purchased all five books but at the very least, you need to go back to at least volume two.
I am not keen on the cover art this series got in the US. Too dark and busy for my taste. Here’s the British cover.
Moon leaves a lot this region’s history to the imagination. Aside from ISC, nobody seems to have been much interested in using fast and cheap FTL travel to carve out empires for themselves. Perhaps ISC made a point of discouraging it. In any case, the series presents the reader an interesting setting wherein systems generally have small defence fleets without ever encountering a situation in which they needed to use them, which unfortunately means that they lack the experience to deal with the DBA’s bold innovations in the field of interstellar conquest.
Speaking of the DBA, Team Evil really does murder a baby just because they can. The child’s death serves no purpose and is arguably counter-productive because it signals that cooperation buys no mercy. It’s useful to the narrative, however, because it lets the reader know that Team Evil is really really evil. No kidding. Because mass murder, crashing the interstellar economy, and carrying out wars of conquest might not have convinced the reader of the team’s inherent nastiness.
One of the beneficiaries of Moon’s distaste for subtlety is the community of Gretna, Louisiana , a place where kill-crazy Caucasians slaughtered African Americans in the aftermath of Katrina. This occurred some years before this novel appeared, but Moon remembered. Namesake world Gretna, settled by white supremacists, sees the ongoing interstellar crisis as an opportunity to savagely exploit displaced persons. The lesson here, I suppose, is don’t annoy people who purchase ink by the barrel.
Objectively not a lot happens in this book. What does happen is important to the series’ plot and interesting enough that I didn’t want to put the book down. Despite my kvetches, I kept reading. Moon has strengths as well as weaknesses and her strengths are on display here.
1: Not to be confused with the Gretna in Scotland, a border town famous for allowing eager couples from England to take advantage of Scotland’s more liberal marriage laws.