RogerBW's Blog

Antares Victory, Michael McCollum 12 April 2016

2002 military SF, long-delayed final volume in the Antares trilogy. The combined human fleets are taking on the Ryall menace, to remove it once and for all. But is there any option short of extermination?

I don't know why the book was separated by more than a decade from the first two, but it certainly has a very different feel from those earlier ones, which were always energetic; this comes perilously close to being tired. There's that warning sign of a long authorial delay: things that were given as statements of fact in earlier books are dismissed as obvious nonsense but it was an understandable mistake because of this; in other words either the author or a reader has noticed a problem and the author, trying to shore up his hard-SF credentials, has felt a need to fix it. (The extreme version of this is Larry Niven's Down in Flames.)

And indeed, after a series of space battles in the first half during which the human leaders worry that things seem to be going too well, the principal hazard that the humans face is not a military breakout by the alien enemy but their own, and their politicians', boredom. Who wants to keep up a blockade fleet for years whlie the alien economy collapses? They're genetically locked into regarding other species as deadly enemies anyway; why not kill them all now?

The best bit here, in among those space battles, is the class of new high-acceleration ships, specially designed to cross a system at a constant 10-gravity burn so as to stop the enemy from getting word out through the jump points. That's quite nicely described, showing off McCollum's engineering background, but it shows clearly how oddly dispassionate the rest of the battles are. They may be realistic, but they're not much fun to read.

So the second half of the book consists of working out how to negotiate with creatures that see you as an inevitably deadly enemy. There have been hints at this in earlier books, and it's clearly a hard problem, which McCollum puts over with reasonable plausibility. The aliens are decently drawn too: sometimes they seem too human, which is after all one of the reasons the conflict has started, but their physiology and psychology diverge enough to keep things interesting. These would be good aliens in any SF book, and for mil-SF they're remarkably fine.

But that's really all the good stuff. The characters are still purest cardboard, and the course of the plot is predictable at least at the grand scale. It's all right, I suppose, but if I'd been waiting fifteen years for this I wouldn't be impressed. I found the first of the trilogy the best of these books, but I'm glad the story has at least been completed.

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