RogerBW's Blog

A Small Colonial War, Robert Frezza 14 May 2015

1990 military SF. In the 22nd century, the Japanese empire which controls Earth and the colony worlds sends a task group to suppress a three-way colonial revolt. It doesn't help that many of the colonists are exiled Boers.

At times this seems like a point-by-point answer to Jerry Pournelle's stories of Falkenberg's Legion. These soldiers fight in counterinsurgency warfare for an empire and cause that they don't particularly believe in, against terrible odds, with officers who get less competent the further up the chain of command they are; and many of them die.

"So who are we shooting?" Henke asked with some asperity.

If he'd had epicanthic folds and the ability to hold his opinions to himself, Matti Harjalo would have been at least a colonel. "Dear me, the admiral must have forgot to mention that. I don't know. Acting Major Rettaglia, the task group intelligence officer, doesn't know. Admiral Lee declined intelligence gathering prior to landing to preserve strategic and tactical surprise, which is supposed to be our most priceless asset. A few people down there don't like USS or each other. They may not like us. The admiral doesn't expect to see anyone shoot at us, but his data is falsified or stale. The paper says we establish an Imperial presence. Beyond that, your guess as to what we're supposed to do is better than mine, Paul, yes?"

The light infantry battalion is made up largely of expatriate Finns (a country that didn't come off well in the apocalyptic war that killed two-thirds of humanity). They're obviously the "good guys" here even if, as is pointed out at some length, they're doing unpleasant things in the cause of preventing even more unpleasant things from happening later; most of the narrative focus is on them, with occasional vignettes of what the other factions are up to.

There are perhaps rather too many characters; the core cast is well-developed, but outside those few they tend to degenerate into names and jobs. As an examination of the tactics of counterinsurgency conducted by light infantry with space-based fire support, there are too many people; as a work of fiction about people, most of them are too lightly sketched in.

There is a very clear sense of progress and escalation through the book. For the most part, the colonists don't immediately cause trouble for the Imperial garrison, though they're worried about what's going to happen later (nobody knows what the Imperials may do in six months' time, because the Imperials haven't been told themselves). There's an effective raising of tension as minor incidents are defused, but there's clearly something behind them that's becoming more serious. Ultimately a major strike removes much of the support train from the strategic picture (I was not entirely convinced by the method used to remove most of the space-based fire support, but spacecraft really aren't the focus of this book and I can forgive a certain amount of impatience) and things get really nasty.

"There's somebody who calls himself Veldt-General Malherbe on the landline for you." Sanmartin wrinkled his eyebrows. "What does he want?" "Something about the manifold destiny of the Afrikaner nation and the effusion of useless blood."

"Put him on hold."

"I've got him on hold."

"Canned music?"

"Got it."

It's not at all a cheerful book, but it does get away from the gung-ho attitude and technology porn that much military SF falls into. Highly recommended if this sort of thing interests you. Followed by Fire in a Faraway Place.

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  1. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 07:58pm on 14 May 2015

    I found the book refreshing, but as you say, not a whole lot of fun. This series is a trilogy, and then he wrote a couple of other books that are meant to be humerous, but I've not read them. Finding the Small Colonial War books was hard enough. However, the second passage you quoted made me laugh, so not all relentless grimdark despair.

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