RogerBW's Blog

Operation Medusa, Glynn Stewart 03 December 2022

2017 space-navy SF, sixth of its series. The Federation is doing a good job on the battlefield, but it's simply a smaller economy than the Commonwealth, and those numbers are starting to tell. So Admiral Kyle Roberts comes up with a plan to end the war now, win or lose…

Many military fiction authors treat the politics that lead to war as a boring but necessary preamble; Stewart actually takes an interest. Roberts, at a staff organisation that's been looking into the progress of the war and ways to stave off inevitable defeat, has come up with multiple plans, but it's up to the politicians to decide which of them to adopt. (And one of those politicians has it in for him, personally… but is not in other respects a bad person! Actual characterisation, folks!)

Soon enough we're on to the action, though: there's a complicated program of simultaneous strikes against strategic targets (and a plausible-ish justification of why the Commonwealth hasn't hardened them so far as to make their destruction impossible). But while one of those strikes is obviously going to be the great big glory moment of the entire war, that's not where Roberts is sent – instead, his job is to keep the enemy commander thinking that the Alliance is still trying to take back the worlds at the front, attack logistics bases, and so on, as it has been so far.

At the same time, the enemy commander is shown as an interesting blend of good soldier and fanatic, serving political masters of whom some are fanatical and others just want their planets safe. This isn't a masterpiece of fiddly politics or personalities, but it's several steps above the usual "civilians bad, unless they do everything the military says, in which case they're acceptable" that's the best many other mil-fic series can manage.

There are certainly great big battles and desperate last stands and crowning moments of heroism. Spaceships get blowed up real good. But, and this is the reason I stick with this series, it's not just "a war machine is blowing up a war machine" or even "human-shaped dolls are shouting passionately as the bridge consoles explode"; when a ship is in a fight, the reader has some idea of why it's there, what its commander is trying to achieve, what the odds are like, and that's much more what I care about than "a flight of 3,000 missiles" (though those are here too).

Half of what would follow would be decided by computers, but the whole point of having a human with a high-interface bandwidth in a starfighter was to add the randomness of the other half.

Er, no, randomness is quite easy for computers. I suspect you meant "unpredictability" or "intuition" or something of that sort.

This is the end of the story of the big war, but Stewart has written further in this universe.

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