RogerBW's Blog

Conventions of War, Walter Jon Williams 02 April 2018

2005 space opera, third and final book of Dread Empire's Fall. Gareth Martinez fights the civil war as a naval officer; Caroline Sula leads the resistance on the conquered capital world.

The bulk of this book is a split story, and this is yet another example of why the form should be used with care. A captain is murdered, and Martinez tries to find out who did it and why; Sula builds a resistance, in a manner somewhat reminiscent of Cole and Bunch's Sten series in that it's a series of lectures on covert warfare procedures and practical paranoia well-disguised as an adventure story. Either of these narratives would have worked well on its own; but each of them is repeatedly derailed by sudden mid-chapter shifts to the other, which left me feeling a sense of frustration that I'm sure was not intended.

"Thank you for your candor," Martinez said, though he knew perfectly well that Kazakov hadn't been candid throughout. On the whole he approved of the moments when she'd chosen to be discreet, and he thought he could work with her very well.

One can predict how things will go (and, indeed, some of the people who will die) by following operatic principles: what would cause the greatest dramatic tragedy? Well, that is what will happen.

All right, Martinez and Sula are still the only two people who have good ideas. But the functional cast gets a bit bigger, and one starts to get a feel of an actual large fleet, rather than one control room set and lots of extras who only appear on screens.

The slim, dark-haired young woman was the most junior lieutenant on the ship, and therefore got the jobs none of the other officers wanted. One of these was Military Constabulary Officer, which put her in theoretical charge of the ship's police. If nothing else, supervising the Constabulary would give Corbigny a rapid education in the varieties of vice, depravity, and violence available to the average Fleet crouchback, an education desirable and probably necessary for her further development as an officer.

The Victorian naval politics become increasingly obvious (there's even something of a Victoria/Camperdown parallel, though it's in the context of the war), and engender a frustration similar to what the tactical innovators are feeling. But the story is mostly about the characters, particularly the characters of Martinez and Sula, as they face various challenges in manners consonant with their personalities.

The Naxid media announced the arrest and execution of the Octavius Hong wing of the loyalist army, along with their families.

But I invented them! Sula protested to herself.

When she checked the Records Office computer, however, she discovered that the death certificates were real.

There's also one of the best officer-answers to "I don't want to get people into trouble" that I've read:

"You're not getting them in trouble," Martinez said. "They're already in trouble. But you can exclude those who aren't a part of it by naming those who are."

In all it's a decent but not spectacular end to the trilogy; things go on the courses established in the second book, with very few surprises. It's good stuff, but sometimes felt like a bit of a slog (it's over 200,000 words, as opposed to the 130-ish of the previous volumes).

There are some shorter stories set in the same universe, and a fourth book (perhaps starting a new trilogy?) is expected this year. Recommended by vatine.

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