RogerBW's Blog

Audacious, Mike Shepherd 13 July 2021

2008 military SF, sixth of the Kris Longknife books. Kris is sent to the back of beyond, in another vain attempt to keep her out of trouble. Good thing she has a pocket warship and quite a few Marines.

This series continues to be military SF that accepts that fighting action alone is not enough to sustain interest. Yes, it has many of the usual mil-sf tropes (the bad guys have political officers and secret police; senior enlisted are always right; good soldiers on the wrong side will still be good soldiers, and tactical competence and moral competence go together; any non-soldier who tries to tell soldiers what to do is wrong), but it also has interesting people who sometimes do things other than fighting.

"You do the humanity thing. We'll do the other stuff."

It also has consequences: the solutions to Kris's problems in earlier books (particularly the most recent two) were not always clean, and some of those ragged edges are still flapping around and affecting her reputation and what she can get people to do for her now.

It also has two separate plots, and the one that takes up the greater part of the book suffers from an obvious authorial hand on the scales. Team Good turns up at a poor colony world, only to find a ship in orbit and troops on the ground, clearly engaged in some sort of looting and/or takeover. Team Good's ship is a bit more capable than the other, and will clearly have to take it on at some point. But they don't at first, because the bulk of the story is a ground campaign and if they did the smart thing, of either scaring off or crippling the ground forces' commanders and ride home first, there wouldn't be all those battles on the surface because the ground forces would, with no pay, no way off-world and no sympathetic locals, have to surrender on the spot. As indeed they do when the space battle finally happens, but this is only once the ground battle has got down to the heroic last stand.

Diegetically it's a huge gap in everyone's thinking (Team Good is doing its best to save lives, after all, even among the enemy, and avoiding the ground fighting would certainly have done that), and Shepherd has to make everyone stupid in order to cause the fighting that's presumably the reason why at least some of the readers turned up.

This is a shame, because the action's highly enjoyable, as is the rest of the book. And Kris even manages to fail at something, not a thing this series has offered much before: it may be not go as far as being through her own error, but it's not because anyone else sabotaged her either. That wouldn't be remarkable in many genres, but in one where competence and success generally equate to moral virtue it's a bold and welcome move by Shepherd.

As regular readers will know I get irked by turn-the-handle genre milSF, especially the stuff that's just a pretext for the author to rant about how wonderful the USA is. This isn't that, and I welcome it.

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