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Reviews in Project: Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck (42)

Lady Elaine, please remember to order your bride-sized fridge

Space Viking  (Space Viking, volume 1)

By H. Beam Piper  

13 Aug, 2015

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck

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I will probably review all of my H. Beam Piper novels (or at least the SF ones) eventually. I have a specific reason for reviewing 1962’s Space Viking this week. A reason I will not explain until Friday. Foreshadowing! The mark of quality literature!

Speaking of foreshadowing, when Lady Elaine warns her husband-to-be Lucas, Lord Trask, Baron of Traskon that 

It’s bad luck to be called by your married name before the wedding.”

Trask should have listened. For that matter, every aristocrat on the planet Gram should have noticed just how crazy Lord Andray Dunnan was, and what a bad idea it was to allow Dunnan to assemble his own private army. Elaine and Trask in particular have good reason to be worried: through no fault of her own, Elaine plays a central role in Dunnan’s rich fantasy life. But … Dunnan is the nephew of Duke Angus, who is poised to make himself king of all Gram. Dunnan is too well-connected to be shot out of hand, so everyone tacitly tolerates his obvious craziness.

Then everything goes pear-shaped. Dunnan’s men hijack the starship Enterprise; in retrospect, the purpose for which Dunnan recruited all those mercenaries. Dunnan tries to assassinate Elaine (for rejecting him) and Trask (for winning her) before fleeing in the Enterprise. Dunnan’s mistake is to kill Elaine, but only wound Trask. While the aristocracy of Gram may not be inclined to pursue their vendetta into space, nothing will stop Trask from chasing Dunnan to the ends of the galaxy. 

Chasing is easy enough. Actually finding Dunnan, on the other hand.…


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Someone to watch over us

The Red: First Light  (Red Trilogy, volume 1)

By Linda Nagata  

29 Jul, 2015

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck

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Linda Nagata’s Nebula-nominated The Red: First Light is the first volume in Linda Nagata’s Red Trilogy.

At first glance, life in Nagata’s near-future seems pretty sweet. Many of the civil liberties that have long been such an onerous burden to hard-working Americans have been set aside, allowing them to focus on more important matters. Lieutenant James Shelley is a fine example: in another life he might have wasted his life as a political activist, agitating against wars and other profitable activities. In this life, his first attempt at political activism prompted a firm response from the government that stands in loco parentis over all its subjects. One plea bargain later and Shelly became a hard-working member of America’s military forces serving overseas.

If that wasn’t wonderful enough, the same advances in neurological interfaces that allow Shelley and his fellow soldiers to function as a Linked Combat Squad allow his minders to keep an eye on what he is doing, or even feeling, pretty much 24/7.

There is, however, one glitch in the program. 


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Trapped in a warzone

Trading in Danger  (Vatta’s War, volume 1)

By Elizabeth Moon  

1 Jul, 2015

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck

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If I am going to review MilSF that doesn’t suck, at some point I need to address the Elizabeth Moon issue. On the one hand her books (or at least some of them) are clearly candidates. On the other hand, many of them have been published by Baen, whose publisher is a willing participant in this year’s attempt to nobble the Hugos. Baen is a company whose works I don’t review. A company that’s dead to me. 

However … thanks to various events that are Googleable, Moon moved over to Del Rey. That company is not colluding in an attempt to nobble the Hugos and is not dead to me. The system works! 

2003’s Trading in Danger kicks off Moon’s Vatta’s War series. Well-meaning Ky Vatta is booted out of the naval academy when a well-meaning attempt to help a friend results in a PR-disaster for the service. The navy doesn’t consider meant well” a defense. Former cadet Ky finds herself on the curb outside the Academy, waiting for a ride home. 

This is a bold opening gambit if the series as a whole is supposed to be military science fiction. 


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Whatever Happened to Robert Frezza?

A Small Colonial War  (Small Colonial War, volume 1)

By Robert Frezza  

24 Jun, 2015

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck

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1989’s A Small Colonial War is Robert Frezza’s debut novel [1]. It is also the first volume of Frezza’s short lived Small Colonial War sequence, a military science fiction series that would bookend Frezza’s career as an SF novelist. 

All the world’s problems finally came to a head in the great calamity known as the break up. Four billion corpses later, Japan emerged as the remaining dominant power on Earth. Not especially humanitarian in purpose, the empire seems no better and no worse than the empires that came before it.

By the 22nd Century, Japan’s empire reaches to the stars. But there’s a catch: their ships may be faster than light, but they’re still slow. A combination of time dilation and time spent in hibernation means that travellers return home to Earth to find that decades have passed while they have only aged months or years themselves. As a result, the Japanese Diet has only the vaguest ideas as to what its imperial tendrils are doing, way out in the stars. A second consequence is that interstellar travel is exile, something that those in power avoid if they can. 

Which brings us to Lieutenant-Colonel Anton the Veriag” Vereshchagin and his command, the 1st Battalion, 35th Imperial Infantry. 


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The Peter Principle as an Adventure Novel

The Big Black Mark  (John Grimes, volume 10)

By A. Bertram Chandler  

3 Jun, 2015

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck

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John Grimes, star of a long-running series of novels and shorter works by A. Bertram Chandler (1912 – 1984), has worked his way up through the ranks of the Federation Survey Service despite the enmity of various senior officers. He has a quality few others can match: he has been extraordinarily lucky. Every error in judgment or failure to follow the precise wording of regulations has been balanced by successes so noteworthy that his superiors have had no choice but to (grudgingly) promote him.

Eventually every run of luck ends. Which gets us to 1975’s Big Black Mark.


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Peacetime MilSF

The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream  (The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream, volume 1)

By G C Edmondson  

27 May, 2015

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck

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I expect that WWII-era Marine José Mario Garry Ordoñez Edmondson y Cotton (1922 – 1995), who published under the name G. C. Edmondson, is filed under obscure by this point. Twenty years after his death, the only book he wrote that may still have some currency is The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream, first published in 1965. Even this book has been out of print since 1981. Sic transit gloria mundi.

~oOo~

The Alice, based in San Diego, is one of the odder ships in the United States Navy. She’s a small sailing ship better suited to the USN of the pre-Civil War era than to the atomic age USN. What the Alice offers the USN is the proper test bed for Professor Krom’s experimental hydrophone array [1]. What the Alice offers its captain, Ensign Joseph Rate, is a chance to earn some points with senior staff by catching its crew using the ship as a party boat. The Navy is certain something hinky is happening, but, to its utter frustration, cannot prove it. It’s almost as if the ship manages to be in two places — out at sea, filled with naked women, and back in its slip where it is supposed to be — at the same time.

There is a logical explanation but the senior staff won’t like it.


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Not Your Parents’ Flipper

A Deeper Sea

By Alexander Jablokov  

21 May, 2015

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck

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Between 1991 and 1998, Alexander Jablokov published five noteworthy novels, then vanished from the face of science fiction for an uncomfortably long time. It seems that, as has happened to other authors, he was distracted by real life. Happily, this is not another P. J. Plauger affair: Jablokov did return in 2006, in short form, and in 2010 at novel length.

1992’s A Deeper Sea sets out, yet again, a lesson empires have learned and learned and learned … and forgotten every time. Lesson: the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my long-term ally. Once the current conflict is over, the empire may find that the weapons it so considerately handed to its foreign cat’s paws are being turned on the empire itself. 

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Surly Czechs and unlucky mercenaries

The Forlorn Hope

By David Drake  

13 May, 2015

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck

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In any discussion of MilSFF, David Drake’s name is likely to come up earlier rather than later. Partly this is because he is seen as one of the founding figures of military SF (at least as it developed in the US). Partly it’s because, the occasional off-note aside [1], his work is generally never less than competent and sometimes very good [2]. Against the backdrop of the dismal swamp that is the majority of commercial MilSFF, even his merely competent material stands out.

A lot of people — me, mostly — hold a grudge against Drake for his part in establishing the Heroic Mercenary trope in MilSFF, which is a bit unfair. Firstly, Jerry Pournelle and his literary spawn are far, far more responsible for the figure of the noble mercenary bravely gunning down dissidents in sports arenas [3]. Drake’s mercenaries are often not good people — some of them are very bad indeed — but they look good because the people around them are even worse.

Which gets us to 1984’s The Forlorn Hope.


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Drafts

The Forever War  (Forever War, volume 1)

By Joe Haldeman  

6 May, 2015

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck

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This is a case of a commission dovetailing nicely with my themed reviews. For the most part I would prefer to stick to military speculative fiction that I think readers may have overlooked. There are a few classics, generally early ones, that I believe it would be illuminating to review [1]. One of those is Joe Haldeman’s classic 1975 novel, The Forever War.

When I reread this book, I remembered a more obscure work by the same author, an early short story called Time Piece”, which was published in 1970. I don’t know of any other review that has compared the two. This may be because Time Piece” didn’t win the Nebula, the Hugo, the Ditmar, and place first in the Locus, which The Forever War did. Something told me that it would be interesting to compare the two works; I’m glad I did. 

The edition of The Forever War I am reading is the 1976 mass market paperback, first printing. I understand there is a later, somewhat different edition; I don’t own that one. The edition of Time Piece” I am reading is the one in Reginald Bretnor’s 1980 collection The Future at War: Orion’s Sword.

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