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Science Fiction Index


A novel by Eric Thomson
(2016, Sanddiver Books)

Siobhan Dunmoore, book 3

A mission to rediscover a lost human colony turns sour when they discover its highly military xenophobic nature and that it will stop at nothing to create an empire.


-- First reading (ebook)
January 27th to February 7th, 2023


I really like the writing style of this author when he’s describing the military structure and activities of the starship. My favorite parts by far were the descriptions of the day-to-day actions, surprisingly. I also loved that the crew went down to the planet prepared, for all the grumbling of the first officer. Seeing the early reactions of the people, and noting the tendency toward fascism put them all on their guard, from scanning for surveillance devices to speaking Cantonese instead of English and using coded messages showed that these characters are intelligent. I love reading about smart characters who do smart things and still get into trouble, despite that –it’s so much more rewarding compared with stupid characters or actions. Their preparedness almost paid off completely. The only writing that felt forced was from the Shrehari point of view, but I wonder if that’s intentional. It was rougher and felt like it needed editing to bring it up to the level of the rest of the book –it was harder to read and less professional, but maybe that’s what makes it feel more alien. The climax went as predicted, but was very well written so it was very enjoyable nonetheless. This book had a definite Star Trek feel to it, with familiar references, taking some of the best rules and applying them well. Despite that, the book had its own feel.

Spoiler review:

In three books, the author has explored three completely different situations, while still giving us the sense of familiarity between them. In No Honor in Death, Dunmoore rooted out corruption as she took over her new ship. In The Path of Duty, she fell under the spell of a charismatic commander, and while I found it less interesting, it was still enjoyable. In this third book, she’s heading into a first contact situation, but with a lost human colony modeled on the German Nazis.

The book is a real last hurrah for Stingray, as the crew knows that they will be called back for decommissioning soon. Everything they do indicates a ship ready for retirement, with the crew trying to be gentle with it, the parts fragile and hard to replace, and the knowledge that new types of fancy starships will be coming off the line soon. So when they are given a mission into an unexplored part of the galaxy, they know it’ll be their last one.

Colonel Kalivan has found a probe that presents a mystery –it appears to have traveled two thousand years from a colony ship that left three hundred years ago, and went off course and got lost. Faster-than-light (FTL) travel made those colony ships obsolete, but the people wanted to get away from the racism and high technology and wars that Earth had been fighting with for so long. I don’t know why the wormhole angle was necessary. Maybe it’s a stretch that they could go from a peaceful agrarian society to full fascism in only a few hundred years. Regardless, the mystery is never solved, except to acknowledge that they’ve had a long time to get entrenched.

The early part of the book is quiet, especially after they’ve left Commonwealth space. The book focuses on the characters and how they interact as a whole and as individuals. I’m glad that Pushkin and the others were proven wrong about Kalivan, as I thought he’d have an agenda that went contrary to their common good, like so many Star Trek admirals did. That he wormed his way into the confidence of Dunmoore was tough to accept, especially when she seemed to favor Kalivan over some of her own crew. It showed that Pushkin had a sweet spot for her, if not necessarily a romantic one as implied by Kalivan. But in the end, it showed also that the commander of a starship needed friends, somebody outside the chain of command where there would be no conflict of interest. It seemed that every break they had was consumed by chess, which started with Pushkin and transitioned to Kalivan as the mission progressed.

The next part of the story mostly follows Dunmoore and Kalivan as they contact the planet and are reluctantly hosted in the Protector’s Palace. I almost wish we didn’t get the perspective of the Mirandans (who have named many of their planets and moons after Shakespeare’s The Tempest). We are warned about the machinations before they happen. It ruins a bit of the surprise, but I think it was done this way so that the author could increase the tension when it came back to our main characters. We know what’s coming, and wonder how they will react.

The incursion into the solar system, where Stingray overwhelms the Mirandan defenses, was a lot of fun, showing once again how great this ship functions under Dunmoore. But it also shows how well it functions without her, as Pushkin takes command while she is away, and listens to his officers and techs, learning about the Mirandan treachery almost as it happens.

First Contact is sketchy, as the Mirandans are inept at dealing with friendly aliens. They’ve been invaded several times over their history, and always managed to beat back the aliens, including those that occupied their planet and have almost been wiped out. Protector Hames is months away from retirement, but sees Stingray as an unwelcome opportunity to gain higher technology. The chiefs of internal and external security, Marant and Dalian, believe Stingray a threat to their society and culture, and want nothing to do with it, preparing a plan to take the ship by force to gain its FTL and advanced technology.

Dunmoore and the landing party are not fooled by the exterior presented to them, where the Mirandans are surprised at the Commonwealth attitude toward aliens, and deny there can be any harmony with xenos. Dunmoore and the others attend a formal party and ask pertinent questions, not surprised at the answers they receive, though disappointed. And when it becomes clear that Dunmoore won’t share her technology with the fascist dictatorship, she knows it’s only a matter of time before they take matters into their own hands.

Dalian allows Dunmoore to tour the prison where they keep their xenos for research and study, which Dunmoore learns means torture. She finds a Shrehari crew there, tortured and half-dead. She is shown one of the planet’s native species, a gentle breed that is considered xeno and hostile. By the time she gets back, she’s furious. I liked Kalivan’s even tempered reply to her that she can’t be sure the Commonwealth isn’t doing the same. Is it worse that it might be hidden from the bulk of society instead of in full view?

Her reaction, even though given in a language unknown to the Mirandans, is unmistakable. They classify Stingray as xeno and take her landing party captive, threatening to torture Foste or Vincenzo if she doesn’t comply. Dunmoore knows that Pushkin is coming for a rescue, even though she ordered him to leave her behind, so she acquiesces to the Mirandan demands, calling down shuttles with technicians to show Dalian how to create antimatter and FTL engines. It was obvious that Dunmoore was using a code, as she repeated the number eighty one several times, and Dalian should have been suspicious. The order to abandon her is probably the hardest thing a commander could ever do.

As they had left Commonwealth space, Dunmoore attacked a Shrehari vessel, and it almost escaped, but managed to get off an emergency call for help. Dunmoore’s old adversary Brakal, who managed to get himself another ship, picks up the call, but isn’t certain that it’s Stingray that attacked the scout. He follows Dunmoore to the Mirandan system and enters at about the same time as things start to go sour with Dunmoore’s mission.

Once again, I almost wish we didn’t get Brakal’s point of view, as it was obvious that everything would converge at the worst possible moment. The scenes were also much more difficult and awkward to read, and I wonder if this was a choice by the author to make it seem more alien. Everything, from the metaphors to the speech and observations were less polished. If it was intentional, it was quite a feat. Still, by the time Brakal showed up, it was unclear whether he would help her or attack.

The rescue was intense and a lot of fun to read. The Stingray troops took the Mirandan’s completely by surprise, but neither side was incompetent. In the short time it took the troops to take over the landing pad and fight their way into the research station, Kalivan was killed, trying to save another of the crew. The two shuttles were prepared for action, and while the Mirandans threw surprises at Stingray, both Pushkin and Dunmoore did a great job adapting to them. I love watching this crew in action.

When Brakal arrives, Pushkin patches him through to Dunmoore on the approaching shuttle, and she tells him of her encounter with the Shrehari crew being tortured. She gives him the location of the torture station, and he fires on it in a rage. He also doesn’t follow the limping Stingray out of the system when they leave in a hurry.

The direction of Miranda’s society seems to have shifted, but their ultimate fate will probably remain a mystery. They are too far out to be of any significance to either the Commonwealth or the Shrehari, even if they expand quickly. Now that they know FTL technology and antimatter can be created with human knowledge, they will probably pursue it with all their determined might, something not addressed by this book. But by then, they might have shifted their xenophobic nature.

The book ends with a huge fanfare, saying goodbye to Kalivan and the dead crewmembers, then receiving their new ranks and stations, as well as giving their full report of what happened on Miranda, which Dunmoore is certain they will be told to forget entirely. Then, in an emotional ceremony, Stingray returns home and is decommissioned, with full honors. This is quite the change from how they arrived back in the first book, to angry admirals and conspiracies. Pushkin gets a ship with Deval as his first officer, and Dunmoore secretly gets transferred to a special ops team on a brand new stealth warship (as Pushkin rails against the bureaucracy when he thinks she’s getting a desk job).

The four phases of this book were very distinct (trip out, interaction with Miranda, return home, and reassignment), and had a different feel to them. I think they all had something interesting to say about the characters and how they react to situations. The crew has grown, and is now going their separate ways. There is another trilogy of books featuring Dunmoore, and I wonder if we’ll see any of the others along the way. One of the best things about these books was the multitude of ship’s crewmembers and the way they did their jobs smartly and superbly, even if most of them were just mentioned in a few brief instances.


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