RogerBW's Blog

Trading in Danger, Elizabeth Moon 12 June 2015

2003 SF, first in a five-book series. Kylara Vatta is thrown out of space navy academy, then gets a job taking one of the family firm's oldest ships on its final voyage to the scrapyard. Of course it all gets more complicated than that.

This is SF with fighting and military forces in it, but not by any means bog-standard military SF. Ky is trying to keep her unarmed ship out of trouble, not to kill all the bad guys; and the tech is described in purely functional terms. Yes, there's in-system drive (which needs fuel) and FTL drive, but nobody talks about them in anything like engineering detail: they work, or they go wrong, and technical details are the engineers' job to fix rather than the captain's.

Indeed, the environmental systems get rather more attention than the drives: when you're taking on a load of extra passengers, well, you do need to connect up toilets and showers in the cargo holds where they'll be staying, and it takes time to get the recycling plant run up to produce enough water.

This story is much more interested in the people than in the tech, though. For example, Ky has a troubled relationship with her father (brother of the boss of Vatta Transport), but it's not just that she wants to do things and he sees her as a child; it's more complex than that, since he has specific ideas about her weak spots which turn out to be just slightly off the mark, and by the end of the book they may be on more friendly terms but they're further apart in experience than before.

This is an odd universe, and we don't get much background, since it's largely from Ky's viewpoint as a merchant skipper; there's a Universal Commercial Code which people mostly take seriously, but individual worlds seem to be independent. The closest thing to an authority is the company which has the monopoly on FTL communications. Mercenaries can be hired, and at least some of them try to play by civilised rules. I'm not sure it entirely holds together, but I suspect it's not meant to be depicted as a stable situation anyway.

So things get complicated, and go wrong, and go wronger. Ky is good at what she does, and her military training has clearly reinforced her existing backbone and leadership abilities, but she doesn't know everything, and she has to rely on other people to put their skills to use for her. (This is true of her father, too, who tries to help her out with family money and influence but finds they're a blunt instrument at long range.) Some people can cope with violence, some can't, and some are perversely fascinated by it. There's a victory, but not without cost.

"They'll be asking if I filled out some form in quadruplicate next," Ky said. "They should have a list from the mercenaries of who was put aboard, and already know that forensic pathologist is not one of the specialties listed. Of course we didn't do autopsies. We know exactly what killed them. I killed them."

I've generally preferred Moon's SF to her fantasy works, and though there are some of her usual bugbears here (Terrible Aunts, polo, the innate superiority of good military people to everyone else) I find myself distinctly looking forward to the rest of the series. Followed by Marque and Reprisal.

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Series: Vatta's War | Next in series: Marque and Reprisal

  1. Posted by Michael Cule at 11:44am on 12 June 2015

    The In. Sup. of G. M. Peeps is a thing you see all too often. I think it goes back to Kipling at least (if he'd gone to a different school stories about the armed forces in English might have turned out very differently) and Moon doesn't have as bad a case of it as (say, just to pick out a name at random) David Weber.

    Unsurprisingly, I prefer her fantasy stuff to her SF stuff and her other military SF line to this one but it's still good enough writing to get me to the end of the book and then the series.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 11:48am on 12 June 2015

    Kipling has heroic non-military people, though granted Weber doesn't. There aren't any in this book. (And I shall return to this topic in reviewing later volumes.)

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