RogerBW's Blog

Command Decision, Elizabeth Moon 29 August 2015

2007 military SF, fourth in a five-book series. Kylara Vatta is putting together an anti-pirate navy while her cousin Stella is rebuilding the family firm.

Those are only two of the viewpoints: we also have Rafe Dunbarger, remittance-man son of the boss of the interstellar communications monopoly ISC who's trying to get back in touch with his family, and Aunt Grace, who allowed herself to be presumed to be the dotty old aunt but is now using her covert-operations background to run the military establishment of Slotter Key. That does make things rather bitty at times, as the narrative switches from one character to another, and the emphasis gradually shifts towards Ky as the book progresses. This is really her book just as it's her series, and the other sections sometimes drag a little.

There is more reversal of previous assumptions, some effective, some less so. Another significant character who's been largely off-stage turns out to have been a Bad Guy all along; it's clearly necessary that he be so now, but it makes his actions in earlier books look a bit self-defeating (he now has form for distorting messages between people who trust him, but apparently didn't do so back then when it would have made his life vastly easier).

More effective is the revelation that ISC's FTL communications monopoly (and indeed its Terrifying Space Armada) rested on self-assurance more than on a technical edge. Indeed, with the revelations here one starts to be a bit surprised it hasn't fallen sooner; the only barrier to innovation has been the universal assumption that it can't be done. (Even so, they miss obvious implications of the hardware they have.)

Where book three seemed as though it could be summed up in a few pages, this one's rather more substantial. The pacing is more even; the big space battles come somewhere in the middle rather than being saved until the end. There's less attempt to force individual character arcs into this fragment of the larger story, and this book is mostly about our heroes succeeding rather than being put-upon and then coming through in the pinch.

Even then, there is perhaps a bit too much nepotism, when the CEO of a huge interstellar company can appoint his unknown son as interim CEO while he's indisposed and nobody blinks twice; when Aunt Grace can casually put a substantial government force under the command of her niece. It felt a bit clumsy and forced: this person is a Protagonist, and is therefore wonderful, and everyone can recognise that, and anyone who disagrees with them is probably a Bad Person or at least unenlightened. Character development has slowed down to the point of invisibility, and since the primary focus is military there's much less of the lovely small detail of space-merchant life which made the first book such a remarkable gem.

Those are the major weak spots, though, and they're not by any means fatal flaws. The book didn't hold many surprises, and it's clearly connective tissue between the early investigations and what I assume will be the massive battles and revelations of the final volume (it might have worked better if slightly compressed and combined with the previous book), but nonetheless it's satisfying to watch the pieces get lined up.

Followed by Victory Conditions.

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