My life in outer space

Posts tagged “military

Fortune’s Pawn – Rachel Bach (2013)

Fortune's Pawn (Paradox #1)

Devi Morris is a young ambitious mercenary in the interstellar kingdom of Paradox. Her ambition is to become a Devastator, one of the elite force under the command of the king himself. To do this she will have to wait ten years or more to gain enough experience to be accepted.
However, her friend Anthony has advised that there is a vacancy for a security position on a high risk ship, captained by a trader called Brian Caldswell. Experience on his ship ‘The Glorious Fool’ is thought of as being a fast track entry to Devastator status.
So, Devi (with her own personal armour) becomes half of the security detail on a ship which boasts among its crew a large parrot-like navigator, a handsome and mysterious cook, a mystic, a creepy child with strange powers and an exile from the ferocious xith’cal reptilian race.
Gradually Devi becomes curious about both the cook, Rupert, with whom she becomes romantically embroiled, and the Captain’s business, which turns out to be far more than merely trading goods between planets.
There are some effective action sequences, although the romance element is a little schmaltzy, cringeworthy and more akin to a Mills and Boone novel than a militaristic space opera. It doesn’t make a lot of sense either. For reasons I can’t really go in to without using spoilers, Rupert has a past which would really preclude any romantic involvement unless he was prepared to come clean. He seems like a decent bloke and in his circumstances would not have flirted with Devi to the degree that he does. Additionally, there is one scene where they initiate a kiss and Rupert – having second thoughts – has to walk away, and stands there, shaking. This strikes me as not so much romantic but just a tad creepy.
The other point that vexes me very much about this novel is the concept of a hereditary monarchy controlling a network of planets. It just doesn’t fit with the interstellar society in which this is set. How did this evolve and over what period of time? It is, at the end of the day, a mere decorative effect since we see nothing of the king or any indication of how this system works. For me, it is less decorative and more bling. It’s also a bit of a cliche adopted I imagine to appeal to the demographic target for this series. Clearly this is not the one into which I slot.
I find it quite interesting though that the people who find the concept of a monarchy romantic and fascinating are those who live in countries who don’t actually have one. The reality of such systems is rather irritating and very depressing. Had Bach attempted to make a political point about monarchies it might have made sense, but that’s not the case.
However, even taking into account the absurd interstellar Royalty concept, this is a very enjoyable read. One is drawn in to the story and the various mysteries which Devi has to unravel, some of which are left hanging for the next volume.
The action sequences are very well done, and the novel zips along at a fair pace. There’s some decent characterisation and I am really looking forward to the next installment. It would be great if Devi returned to find that there had been a revolution in Paradox and that the kingdom was now a republic, but I fear I am going to be disappointed.

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Valiant (Lost Fleet #04) – Jack Campbell (2008)

Valiant (The Lost Fleet, #4)

Continuing his journey back to Alliance space, Captain ‘Black Jack’ Geary has stress aplenty.
A decisive victory over the Syndics was blighted by losses of his own ships and by the fact that the Syndics destroyed one of their hypergates, unleashing deadly radiation on an inhabited Syndic planet. Subsequently Geary was warned discreetly that worm programmes were at work in the system, viruses which would have disabled ships’ engines during a hyperspace jump and ensuring that Geary and several other major ships did not return to normal space.
Additionally, two of his Captains exhibited ‘cowardice’ in not coming quickly enough to the aid of other ships. One of the Captains let slip that their orders may have come from elsewhere. While transferring the two captains to another ship the shuttle exploded, killing both of them.
So, having to cope with possible moles within his own fleet and a personal life that has become somewhat complex, Geary is under enormous stress to keep the fleet together and get them home with as little damage as possible.
The journey continues…


Galactic Medal of Honor – Mack Reynolds (1976)

Galactic Medal of Honor

‘The Galactic Medal of Honor was the most important, the most coveted award of all time. It was given only to a handful of the bravest and most self-sacrificing of those defending Earth from the mysterious alien invaders that had appeared fifty years before. It was almost always given posthumously.

The bearer of this medal became the idol of all mankind, would never want for any necessity of luxury – would never want for anything.

Everyone on Earth sought that medal… One man was going to cheat to win it – and live to regret it.’

Blurb from the 1976 Ace Paperback edition

An unremarkable and rather dated piece from Reynolds in which space-pilot Donal Mathers – fatigued by long weeks alone in space – is offered the chance to earn (duplicitously) the famed ‘Galactic Medal of Honor’ whose recipient is granted system-wide fame, free lunches for life and liberties above the law.
Earth is on constant alert against The Kraden; aliens who, fifty years before, invaded the Solar System, engaged in a battle with several Earth ships, and then fled. It transpires eventually that the Kraden were on a peaceful mission and that the whole subsequent military operation has only been maintained for political and economic reasons.
Meanwhile, evil and corpulent businessman Demming has discovered an abandoned Kraden ship and persuades Mathers to ‘discover’ the ship, pretend to engage in battle and thereby disable it, somehow killing all the aliens on board (who are conveniently already long dead).
The plans works unbelievably well and Mathers is awarded the Galactic Medal of Honor and is consequently used as a figurehead and political pawn for Mr Demming and his radioactive element mining company.
Mathers goes off on long binges of women and alcohol, but redeems himself just as power is about to absolutely corrupt him.

This is apparently an expanded version of a short piece (‘Medal of Honor’ AMZ 1960) which is sadly merely expanded rather than updated since the style seems more suited to 1960 than to 1976.
It has interesting points in that Reynolds (a member of The Socialist Labor Party) at one point has a character launch into a lecture expounding the pros and cons of Capitalism, State Capitalism and Communism which is sadly not an everyday feature of Space Opera. Reynolds unfortunately lays the ‘evil big business’ theme on with a trowel. Demming is a gross, corpulent businessman who will eat a five course meal followed by an entire rack of lamb for dessert, and he doesn’t mind who sleeps with his daughter, emphasising the moral cesspit into which these capitalists have fallen.
Despite his socialist credentials Reynolds throws in references to ‘queers’ which, if in a work of some depth one could argue was the view of the character and not the author. Unfortunately this is not a work of some depth and does discredit to an author striving add a serious political dimension to his work.

‘He didn’t catch any of their names, save those of the two actors, and he knew them already, of course; Ken Westley and Rexford Lucas. It came as a shock to realize that both were homosexuals, and neither bothered to disguise the fact off-lens as they were now. Both even had limp handshakes and he suspected that both would like to get him into bed.’

(p 214)


Courageous (Lost Fleet #03) – Jack Campbell (2008)

Courageous (The Lost Fleet, #3)

‘The Alliance has been fighting a losing battle against the Syndicate Worlds for over a century. Now, Captain John ‘Black Jack’ Geary, who returned to the fleet after a 100 year suspended animation, must keep the Alliance one step ahead of its merciless foe…

After a series of deadly engagements, the Alliance Fleet is severely damaged and its arsenal is running low. Forced to halt in the Baldur Star System to raid the Syndic mines for raw materials, Geary is anxious to get moving again. But what should the fleet’s next move be? The Syndics are starting to catch on to Geary’s tactics, and as the Alliance ships jump from system to system, it’s getting harder to keep one step ahead.

What’s more, Geary has started to piece together fragments of intelligence together into a highly disturbing picture: The Syndics have been keeping the existence of another potential player in the war a secret – and this unknown power may have the means to annihilate the human race…’

Blurb from the 2008 Ace paperback edition

Once more ‘Black’ Jack Geary takes his Alliance Fleet into battle against the Syndics, hoping to fool them by behaving unpredictably.
He faces dissent in the ranks from some quarters, since a large vocal minority within the Fleet have invested in a rather different military philosophy over the one hundred years of war during which Geary has been in suspended animation in an escape pod.
Senator Victoria Rione has been behaving distantly, having in the last novel become Geary’s lover. It transpires that, having believed herself to be a widow, she has discovered evidence that might suggest her husband is still alive and a prisoner of the Syndics. Thus by becoming Geary’s lover, she has dishonoured her husband, her family, her ancestors, Captain Geary, the fleet and (judging by the amount of palaver this causes) most of the known universe.
I accept that it’s a plot device used to create tension between the characters, with both Geary and Rione nurturing their long-felt-wants in different cabins, but Campbell really lays it on with a trowel.
However, he eventually drags us back to the main action and a satisfying space-battle finale.
As a further taster, the Fleet’s intelligence division was monitoring the enemy fleet’s traffic when a large consignment of enemy ships emerged from a hypernet gate to confront the Alliance Ships. It would appear that Syndics never expected their ships to emerge in this system.
The only conclusion one can draw is that the suspected alien third party deliberately directed the ships to the system where the Alliance ships would be.
It remains to be discovered, however, how the aliens knew that the Alliance ships were going to that system in the first place.


Fearless (The Lost Fleet #02) – Jack Campbell (2007)

Fearless (The Lost Fleet, #2)

‘Outnumbered by the superior forces and firepower of the Syndicate Worlds, the Alliance fleet continues its dangerous retreat across the enemy star system. Led by the legendary Captain John ‘Black Jack’ McGeary, who returned to the fleet after a hundred year suspended animation, the Alliance is desperately trying to return home with its captured prize: the key to the Syndic hypernet, and the key to victory…

Geary is convinced that the Syndics are planning to ambush the fleet and finish it off once and for all. Realizing the fleet’s best (and only) chance is to do the unexpected, Geary takes the offensive and orders the fleet to the Sancere system. There, a multitude of possible routes home give the Alliance fleet a better chance of avoiding their pursuers – and an attack on the Sancere shipbuilding facilities could decimate the Syndic war effort.

Weary from endless combat, the officers and crew of the Alliance fleet can’t see the sense in charging deeper into enemy territory – prompting a mutiny that divides them and leaves Geary with higher odds against him than ever before…’

Blurb from the 2007 Ace paperback edition

Black Jack McGeary continues to lead his fleet deep into enemy Syndic Territory in order to find a way back through the network of wormhole gates to Alliance Territory. Taking a Syndic system by surprise, the fleet find some Alliance prisoners on a Syndic world, among whom is Captain ‘Fighting’ Falco, a charismatic egomaniac who begins to gain power in the Fleet, after having failed to take overall control of the Fleet from McGeary.
Falco leads a rebel group of ships away from the Fleet, aiming to take a shortcut back to Alliance territory.
McGeary, meanwhile, sails on, using daring tactics and bold leadership to defeat the Syndics, including the controlled detonation of a wormhole gate mechanism. He also initiates a romance with Senator Victoria Rione, and finds more evidence suggesting that extra-terrestrials are secretly manipulating and exacerbating the war between the Syndics and the Alliance.
Eventually the Fleet reunite with Falco’s ships, which have been badly decimated in battle, and Falco, alive but mad as a plank, is relieved of any command and taken into psychiatric custody.
It’s short, enjoyable, disposable Space Opera, and doesn’t pretend to be anything else.


The Siege of Titan – Michael G Thomas (2011)

Siege of Titan (Star Crusades, #1)

At a time when Humanity has spread out into the galaxy, the Centauran planets are united in an Alliance which is threatened by The Zealots, a fundamentalist group of suicidal maniacs.
Spartan, as his name may suggest, is a wrestler/fighter in a deadly and illegal fight ring. When the games are raided, Spartan, attempting to escape, accidentally kills a policeman and is sentenced to either ten years in prison or ten years in the army, training as a marine to fight the zealots.
It’s competently written and maintains the interest but the narrative is a little one-sided. There is no attempt to humanise the zealots or – at this stage – to explain why officers within the Navy would wish to side with them.
Thomas is very good when he is in space. The description of ships and their structure does much to add some verisimilitude. It is presumably no coincidence that Post 9/11 there have been a succession of works which feature religious maniacs, suicide bombers, and a level headed rational crew to sort them out.
Keith Brooks ‘Keepers of the Peace‘ turns the idea on its head to a certain extent, but its genes have their origins in the same pool.


Battle For The Stars – Edmond Hamilton (1961)

Battle for the Stars

‘The Fate of the ‘Ancient Planet’ Earth depends on the skill and courage of a single spaceship commander as the constellations war across the galaxies – a vivid intensely dramatic novel of the future every science fiction fan will want to read.’

Blurb from the 1967 Paperback Library edition.

Hamilton produces an interesting idea which is never really fully developed here. Originally written in the 1950s this 1961 version is an expanded version.
Jay Birrell is the Commander of the Fifth Squadron of Lyra, one the five sectors of space which was once controlled by Earth under the banner of the United Worlds. Although Earth still considers itself to be in charge of the galaxy the five sectors have long been autonomous and are ruled by the Commanders of their military fleet.
Interestingly, Hamilton tells us that when man ventured into space he found many E-type planets already populated by humans, suggesting either some form of convergent evolution or some seeding programme by agencies unknown. This mystery is not further explored or even mentioned, which is a shame since it would have made an interesting side-plot.
Almost as soon as the novel opens, Birrell’s ship is lured into a Star Cluster by ships from the Orion sector and he is kidnapped and questioned about the Lyrans’ plans for Earth. Birrell, mystified by the questions, manages to escape but is subsequently asked by the Lyran commander, Ferdias, to take his squadron to Earth to attend a commemorative ceremony.
It appears that Earth has become important as a figurehead and that the Orionids are planning to claim Earth and – inevitably – attempt to control the galaxy.
Once the Lyrans have arrived on Earth it transpires that the Orionids are indeed planning to invade, and Birrell has to convince a reluctant United Worlds government to let him deal with them. Hamilton makes some points about government bureaucracy obstructing the military in what they have to do to get the job done, but that problem is soon dealt with.
What follows is a standard action plot which culminates in a space-battle in which the forces of Lyra – aided by the remaining fleet of the United Worlds based on Earth – fight off the nasty Orionids. There is a twist in the tale however, as Ferdias himself has plans to control Earth – something which Birrell was warned of by Tauncer, the evil Orionid.
For something published in 1961 it reads as remarkably dated. Hamilton is a competent writer but fails to expand his original tale into something which would have seemed contemporary at the time.
There are some interesting features. The sections dealing with events in space work very well, taking into account the dangers of radiation, and proving the FTL ships with radar screens which translate FTL images into meaningful visuals. The rest of the science is, however, decidedly non-Einsteinian, and there appear to be no relativistic effects to the ships whatsoever.
Earth however is a disappointment and doesn’t seem a great deal different to the world we knew in the Sixties. The galactic society is disappointingly Americocentric and it stands to reason that of course the Headquarters of the United Worlds would be in North America.


Shards of Honor – Lois McMaster Bujold (1986)

Shards of Honor (Vorkosigan Saga, #1)

Captain Naismith and her team are part of scientific expedition studying the ecology of an alien world. Her and her companion Dubauer return to the camp to find the team massacred and the camp destroyed. Dubauer is then hit by a neuroweapon and they are later captured by the leader of the Barrayaran invaders, Aral Vorkosigan, the so-called Butcher of Komarr.
Things are not what they might seem, however, since Vorkosigan himself is the victim of a plot to kill him on the planet’s surface by elements within the Barrayaran government.
Aral and Naismith have to rely on each other to survive as they transport Dubauer through a hostile ecosystem to reach a Barrayaran supply base. Inevitably, her feelings toward him begin to change as she learns the true details of his life.
Aral is a man of honour, trapped in a web of politics, spies, feudal government systems and military law.
Naismith eventually escapes, managing to help Vorkosigan defeat one of his enemies in the process, but is later captured by the Barrayarans while she is helping to defend a system they intend to invade
She is saved from the depredations of a sadistic admiral by when he is killed by Vorkosigan’s Lieutenant Bothari and is eventually returned to earth, but finds it hard to hold on to her sanity when is first hailed as a hero who killed Vortultyer and then suspected of being brainwashed into being a Barrayar agent.
Thus, she escapes again and returns to Aral, to become Lady Vorkosigan.
On one level it’s a military action novel with a romance laced through it but it’s much more than that. Bujold has created marvellous characters in Aral and Naismith. Bothari is also a fascinating concept being a psychotic soldier with a mind held together by regulations and loyalty and later twisted to the breaking point by the sadistic Vortultyer.
It’s a bit of a shame that there isn’t just one figure opposing Vorkosigan who runs through the narrative. Aral seems to dispose of rivals as soon as they start causing trouble, which is good for him, but it weakens the element of tension.


Downbelow Station – CJ Cherryh (1981)

Downbelow Station (Company Wars, #1)

‘THE CLASSIC NOVEL OF INTERSTELLAR WAR

The Beyond started with the Stations orbiting the stars nearest Earth. The Great Circle the interstellar freighters travelled was long. But not unmanageable, and the early stations were dependent on Mother Earth. The Earth Company which ran this immense operation reaped incalculable profits and influenced the affairs of nations.

Then came Pell, the first station centered around a newly-discovered living planet. The discovery of Pell’s World forever altered the power balance of The Beyond. Earth was no longer the anchor which kept this vast empire from coming adrift, the one living mote in a sterile universe.

But Pell was just the first living planet. Then came Cyteen, and later others, and a new and frighteningly different society grew in the farther reaches of space. The importance of Earth faded and the Company reaped ever smaller profits as the economic focus of space turned outward. But the powerful Earth Fleet was still a presence in The Beyond and Pell station was about to become the final stronghold in a titanic struggle between the vast, dynamic forces of the rebel Union and those who defended Earth’s last desperate grasp at the stars.

Blurb from the DAW US paperback edition. Date Unknown.

It’s hard to see why this rather militaristic and conventional novel of corporate war was a winner of the Hugo Award. It’s not a bad novel, but it does seem to be a late reworking of the staple American theme of Democracy vs. Communism, or rather Capitalism vs. Communism, with a neutral space station, Pell, stuck in the middle. It adds little to the debate.
To be fair to Cherryh it is difficult to judge this novel out of context of others in this particular Milieu, but as this work is marketed as a ‘stand alone’ novel the reader should be able to read it as such. As part of a larger body of work it might well be viewed differently, but this book fails to work as single novel.
In the far future, various space-stations have been established around other stars, mining ore and other valuables for the powerful Earth Company. Eventually, as life-bearing planets are discovered, the stations find they need to rely less on Earth for vital supplies and so is born the rebel Union (a name heavy with Socialist resonance, and US historical connections) which is determined to resist Earth’s governance. Earth’s military fleet has gone rogue under the leadership of Commander in Chief Mazian and is determined to resist the Union at all costs.
The point of ultimate strategic importance is the station Pell, orbiting a planet with an indigenous sapient race of its own, the hisa.
It may be a deliberate device on Cherryh’s part that we don’t learn a great deal about the Union. We never see the Union through the Union’s eyes. It is only seen from the point of view of its enemies, or those who are trying to negotiate. We know that the Union have done bad things, such as cosmetic genetic enhancement/modification and cloning, and using personality wiping technology in interrogations. But we only know this because we are told by Earth/Company forces.
If this is a deliberate device employed to make some point about propaganda and how the average citizen views the enemy during conflict, then fair enough, but I suspect otherwise.
On the other hand, the Company forces are put into positions where they are forced to do bad things for the right reasons. The Fleet, for instance, rescue many people from Stations which have been attacked or destroyed, but are forced to dump them at Pell where the authorities have no choice but to quarantine the refugees in cramped and hellish quarters.
Cherryh’s characters are well fleshed out and the structure of the society thought through and detailed, but one never gets the atmosphere of the station, or indeed of any of the environments which appear in the book. In a novel like this one expects a certain texture, to be able to smell the inside of a warship that has been in space for years, or to see the surface of the alien planet in one’s mind’s eye.
The Planet Pell, for instance, from which the station obtains food and supplies might as well be a stretch of rural Scotland for all the description of it we are given. It has grass and bushes and it rains. We are not told what crops are grown there or how they are harvested, although there are ‘mills’, and even the hisa are not alien to any real degree. They are standard ‘Star Trek’ aliens, in this case benign ape-like humanoids with a culture which is never explored in any depth.
Likewise, the station itself fails to convince as an environment, being little more than roughly sketched backdrops of rooms and corridors. There is little here that suggests any form of culture or anything which differentiates these people from those of the time when it was written. If one compares it to, for instance, Pohl’s ‘Gateway’ written five years earlier, one can see how Pohl has combined in-depth characterisation with a solid believable setting and real SF elements,
Ultimately one has to ask whether this is Science Fiction at all since, apart from the few small elements suggested by the culture of the Union, the whole story could be set during the American Civil War in some borderline town.


Space Cadet – Robert A Heinlein (1948)

Space Cadet

FROM MARS TO VENUS – TO DANGER-FILLED ADVENTURES DEEP IN OUTER SPACE

Only the best and brightest – the strongest and the most courageous – ever managed to become Space Cadets. They were the elite guard of the solar system, accepting missions others feared, taking risks no others dared, and upholding the peace of the star system for the benefit of all.

But before Matt could earn his rightful place in the ranks, his mettle would be tested in the most severe and extraordinary ways- ways that would change him forever but would still not prepare him for the alien treacheries that awaited him on strange worlds far beyond his own.

Blurb from the 1990 Del Rey paperback edition

A minor yet appealing work from Heinlein which reads a little like a tamer version of ‘Starship Troopers’ in that a teenager enrols in ‘The Patrol’, makes friends and works his way through the trials of his cadetship.
It’s an unashamed wish-fulfilment fantasy aimed at a specific demographic but is nonetheless notable for the odd seductiveness of Heinlein’s style. Other critics have pointed out that even though readers may violently disagree with Heinlein’s rather right-wing (and naïve) view of human nature, he creates a very cosy atmosphere in which to express it.
Matt Dobson is our hero, a young man of ‘the right stuff’ who applies to become a cadet in The Patrol and makes friends with not only ‘Tex’ Jarman, a Texan, but also Oscar and Pierre who hail from Venus & Ganymede.
Following initial testing and training, and the elimination of weak links, the successful candidates are posted to the Randolph school ship where physical training is augmented by forced education under hypnosis.
The Patrol is an interplanetary peace-keeping force which – one presumes – rather in the manner of Gort’s robots from ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ – keeps the peace between worlds and nations by threatening to nuke the aggressor. The Earth is, for instance, surrounded by a ring of nuclear bombs, stretching between the poles, capable of striking any point on the planet’s surface.
Heinlein doesn’t go out of his way to explore the morality of this issue, other than a brief discussion between Matt and his father on the topic which is hastily curtailed for fear of sending Matt’s mother into hysterics. Matt’s mother, being a woman, is naturally hysterical and doesn’t know what keeps the moon up in the sky. Similarly, Matt’s ex-girlfriend apparently has trouble distinguishing between stars and planets.
This is probably why there are no women in Heinlein’s Patrol. Later, the Cadets are stranded on Venus and taken in by the froglike Venusians. The assumption, which is implicit within the text and not otherwise discussed, is that humans have a right to land on Venus, exploit its mineral wealth and set up a colonisation process. The Venusians – a peace-loving and philosophical race – are expected to be diplomatically talked around to the idea.
This correlates to a certain extent with the views expressed in ‘Starship Troopers’ to the effect that all species, whether intelligent or not, will compete for territory and resources. Although a diplomatic solution is proposed here, the idea of leaving Venus and its mineral wealth to the Venusians is never even considered as an option.
Despite the fact that Heinlein goes out of his way to make the point that ‘Venusians are people’ through Oscar’s discussions with other cadets, he fails to take this to its logical conclusion of the Venusians being responsible for the decisions on who should or should not, visit their world.