RogerBW's Blog

Space Carrier Avalon, Glynn Stewart 19 August 2021

2015 SF, first in a series. Avalon is a famous space-fighter carrier with plenty of battle honours, but outdated and due for scrapping. But first she's due one last goodwill tour of border systems.

So yeah we're clearly in very well-worn territory here, much more so than in the Starship's Mage universe. We've got battleships and cruisers and carriers and space fighters, and missiles and beam weapons, and even if you don't know the actual military stuff it's familiar at a remove from Christopher Nuttall and the Wing Commander games and David Weber and… there isn't quite a rote-SF setting the way there clearly is a rote-fantasy, but my goodness "US Navy in Space" can come pretty close at times, especially in series that focus more on personal combat.

But Stewart is interested in his setting rather than just churning the stuff out (though with I think five or six series on the go each producing at least a book a year he's clearly worked out how to be productive!), so he makes it a bit distinctive. He can do the maths and realise that if you want to traipse gaily about a solar system while still being home in time for tea and medals you need lots of acceleration, so he invents mass-manipulators that reduce the mass of the thing they're applied to and fast ships can pull hundreds of gravities all day. He wants space fighters, so he has plateaux of acceleration and efficiency in the space drive: higher accelerations are less efficient than lower, so you could scale everything up and build a battleship that accelerated like a fighter, but it would be ruinously expensive to run (and, one suspects, relatively lacking in guns and armour).

That said, these space fighters mass thousands of tons and hold three crew, which is substantially bigger than the usual assumption of something basically analogous to an F-4, F-14 or F/A-18 depending on the age of the writer. And there's almost nothing of Earthbound fighter tactics in the battles here; the reader has to learn how the various weapons and defences work, but they all make sense within their own consistent framework; tactics flow from capabilities. This is the sort of thing that I love to do when I'm building a setting, and I'm tremendously pleased to meet an author who apparently enjoys it too.

All right, there are some of the same problems as in Starship's Mage (nobody's skin colour gets mentioned unless it's either dark or very pale), and some new ones; fans of Wing Commander may recognise the character names Blair, Deveraux and Roberts, while you don't have to know much Star Trek to spot O'Brien, Riker and Janeway. Not that the characters themselves are borrowed, but the names do stick out a bit, even if they get lost a bit in the huge cast. (There are also several named stellar nations, some of which are part of larger political groups, and it's worth paying some attention here; while this is the end of a cold war, things aren't simply two-sided.)

But this is clearly also not a world of military perfection: as our hero, the new CAG of Avalon's space fighter group, takes up his post on what has become a punishment station, there's clearly been large-scale peculation going on, not to mention drug addiction and worse things – and not only has it been happening, the previous CO has been conniving at covering it up. Even the people who aren't Designated Villains are never tin-plated models of perfection; they just aspire to get things right.

(I do worry slightly about a navy that has a Last Stand class of warship, including Thermopylae and Alamo. I mean, yes, terribly heroic, and indeed the US Navy had an Alamo for several decades, but is that really the way you want your people to be thinking?)

It's certainly not world-shaking stuff, but it steers clear of being the bog-standard recipe and even occasionally does the unexpected. At the same time, if what you want is "a US-like navy in Space", this probably isn't so far from that as to cause disappointment.

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Previous in series: A Question of Faith | Series: Castle Federation | Next in series: Stellar Fox

  1. Posted by dp at 04:54pm on 19 August 2021

    Sounds interesting! While I like some of Christopher Nuttall's work, I found Ark Royal's first book's justification of carriers in space to be very flimsy.

    For justifications of high-gee space fighters, I thought the space combat in Mark Kalina's HEGEMONY was innovative. (For extra boosted performance, the nuclear pulse engine-powered fighters use lasers from the mother ship vs. their ablative reaction mass... (and the mother ship in turn is limited by coolant to manage laser waste heat).

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 06:19pm on 19 August 2021

    And conveniently the software for the lasers to track and fire on small fast-moving targets was already built into the system.

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