RogerBW's Blog

Valor's Choice, Tanya Huff 02 April 2016

2000 military SF, first in the Valor/Confederation series. Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr's platoon of Marines is just back from a hard fight when their liberty is cancelled and they're sent off to escort a group of diplomats as they try to get a recently-discovered world to join the Confederation. Then things get worse.

This is military SF of that school that says the author has Been There, and is determined that you should know it. There are good and bad elements to this: the story always feels real and immediate, but it's an effort to read. There are no heroes here, just people doing their jobs and dying, for chapter after chapter.

The background is lightly sketched in, with a war between the Confederation and the Others, and three "young" races including humans recruited to do the fighting because the "older" races have forgotten how. There's a strong feeling of coming in in the middle of the story, which is a good thing: we all know roughly how Marines work, and we don't need long lectures on how they're set up or the Obligatory Boot Camp Sequence to get to grips with the world.

On the other hand the people we end up following are a bunch of interchangeable grunts (always saying "fukking" rather than "fucking", presumably to satisfy some publisher), with an average of about half a personality trait each (this one's always playing games on her handheld computer, that one has a daughter), and names so indistinguishable that we can barely tell which species they are when we forget. One of the non-human species is lizards who like eating their enemies; the other is "elves" who sleep with anything and constantly emit pheromones, though they can wear maskers which mostly suppress this. They all think like humans. They all act like humans.

I'm not sure just how much four years as a cook in the Canadian Naval Reserve in the late 1970s counts towards having Been There; as far as I know the Canadian Navy wasn't involved in any combat during that period, but it was committing ships to STANAVFORLANT and various exercises, and there are plenty of opportunities to be injured or killed in peacetime military service. Certainly the scenes of general military life that take up the first 40% or so of the book seem plausible enough, up to the point of covertly allowing some of the bored Marines to go and mingle with the natives (while thinking they're being terribly cunning and sneaking out), on the basis that it's going to happen eventually anyway and they might as well do it when they can be observed. That part I found quite interesting.

Then things go to hell, with the platoon's transport shot down over a "wilderness preserve" where the hormone-addled adolescent male natives go to form packs and kill each other until they develop some degree of sentience. The protracted fight that takes up most of the second half of the book turns out to be shpxvat Ebexr'f Qevsg with slight modification, and the author sounds terribly proud of herself in the afterword for having thought of it. Because no mil-SF author has ever done that before.

It's all carefully set up with the author's thumb on the scales so that nobody ever has any option except fighting, and I frankly got bored with the fighting. I didn't find myself really caring what happened to the characters, and it smelled too much of the lamp. A late revelation that gur jubyr guvat jnf n frghc ol Xree'f bja fhcrevbef va pbyyhfvba jvgu gur nyvraf really didn't help matters.

Technically, the writing feels sloppy; quite often people speak without any mention of who they are until a couple of paragraphs later, and quite a few sentences gave me cause to stop, go back, and try to work out what was meant.

People who like stories of US Marines fighting on alien planets will probably enjoy this. Once upon a time that included me, but it doesn't seem to any more. Followed by The Better Part of Valor but I'm unlikely to continue with this series.

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  1. Posted by Dr Bob at 10:46am on 02 April 2016

    I read it years ago in the US edition and enjoyed it enough to read a few of the others. Was slightly miffed that the shpxvat Ebexr'f Qevsg scenario was so close to the original.

    But it does have a heroine whose breasts were not described by the author (presumably because said author is female). That was very refreshing at the time.

    Preferred this volume to the 2nd - the "trek around a derelict spaceship" one. Preferred vol 3 and 4 to both of those.

  2. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 06:37pm on 02 April 2016

    The series does get better but whether you can bring yourself to read it until it does is another matter. I enjoyed the series but I enjoy Ian Douglas's Heritage Trilogy and re-read it.

  3. Posted by RogerBW at 09:40am on 03 April 2016

    Well, I didn't stick the "In Brief Avoid" tag on this one, and I don't think it's entirely without virtues; clearly it works for people who aren't me. I think I've drifted pretty thoroughly out of the mil-fic target audience over the years; I want stories primarily about people, whom I'll get to know well enough that I actually regret it when they get killed.

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