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A Just Determination

by John G Hemry

(Ace, US$6.50, 259 pages, paperback; May 2003; ISBN: 0441010520.)

This is a very unusual mil-SF novel. Really, it's just barely SF, and might better be cover scantermed a naval procedural -- and very nicely-done, too. In 2098, Ensign Paul Sinclair's first duty assignment is aboard the USS Michaelson CLE(S)-3, a long-endurance space cruiser, newly-deployed to patrol American-claimed space. Young Sinclair suffers through the agonies of on-the-job officer training -- trials that will bring a twinge of sympathy from anyone who's started out green in a demanding job with a difficult boss. Hemry's portrait of the trials and triumphs of day-to-day naval life rings true [note 1] to this former naval officer -- and I'm pleased that the Supply Officer, the humble 'porkchop', is one of the more sympathetic characters, since that was my job, too.

On patrol, the Michaelson detects a South Asian Alliance ship trespassing on the American claim. Challenged, the rival vessel flees. The Michaelson orders the intruder to heave to for boarding. The intercept goes horribly wrong -- the American cruiser fires on the SASAL ship, killing all on board. The intruder turns out to be an unarmed research vessel.

Captain Wakeman is called to account for his actions at a general court-martial, described as meticulously, and as grippingly, as any fictional courtroom drama I've read. Ens. Sinclair, who doubles as the ship's Legal Officer, feels compelled to testify in favor of his disgraced Captain, even though he thinks Wakeman was a piss-poor commanding officer...

All of this is related in thoughtful, serviceable, workmanlike prose that clunks at times, but gets the job done. The job, in this case, is a sympathetic examination of how the modern US Navy actually works, with fallible people doing their duty, or dodging it, or bungling it...

Naval SF novels tend to be Hornblower-knockoffs (Weber, Drake, Feintuch, etc.), so it's a pleasure to see one drawn from the 21st century instead of the 18th. The young Ensign's coming-of-age reminded me of Heinlein's classic Space Cadet, which was drawn from his 1930's Naval service. And Hemry clearly has read The Caine Mutiny, from a bit later.

Hemry is a retired Naval officer who grew up as a Navy brat, so he's walked the walk, too. His space warships are, reasonably enough, extrapolated as subs/tin cans-in-space, with similarly compact and, um, challenging interior dimensions. About the only substantial change in Hemry's end-of-the-21st century US Navy is the complete integration of women into the service. This is reasonable, too, as the Navy is a very tradition-bound organization.

This is the first of a projected four 'Paul Sinclair' novels -- the next, Burden of Proof, is scheduled for March 2004 publication. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Note 1) -- except for the language, which is sanitized for the intended YA audience. Perhaps not the wisest choice, but a defensible one. [...back to main text]

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Review by Peter D Tillman; more of Peter D Tillman's reviews can be found at: SF Site and Amazon.com. Google "Peter D. Tillman" +review for many more!

 


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