Review: A Just Determination, by John Hemry

I picked this one up because it was a space opera series:

This one started weak but ended strong.

The basic tale is that a young ensign goes out on his first assignment in the space navy. While the ship is out on its tour, something happens, and it results in an investigation and trial for another officer. The stuff on board the ship and out on the patrol did not thrill me and in several cases it outright annoyed me. However, the investigation and the trial were top notch. The legal stuff was precise, engaging, and it seemed real. The space stuff, no, not really.

Apart from some physics gaffes dealing with zero gravity and how things are different in a vacuum, the two things that bothered me the most had to do with this space navy and its mission. Specifically, it was the United States space navy. I’m not necessarily and big-happy-peaceful-earth kind of guy, but having nation to nation conflict in deep space seemed a little pointless.

The other naval detail that bothered me was that the purpose of their mission, specifically to defend a US “sovereign claim” on certain regions of interplanetary space. I found this kind of ridiculous because the value of such a claim would be dependent on the location of planets. I can understand keeping a patrol around a claimed planetary body, but it was clear that this was a fixed region of interplanetary space.

But apart from the senseless of that, it’s counter to longstanding US policy. Much of what the US Navy does in today’s real-world high seas is to defend the concept of the “freedom of the seas”, which is that apart from narrow strip around the nation itself, oceans are open to all ships to travel. The only exceptions are to be for necessary international issues such as wartime trade blockades or enforcing internationally agreed upon sanctions.

Much of the 1980’s saber-rattling between the US and Libya was over Libya’s attempt to expand its territorial waters far out into the Mediterranean. It’s also the reason the US regularly sends ships into the Black Sea and other gulfs/seas that other nations view as their own personal playgrounds. So, to have the US space navy enforce a “sovereign claim” to an open track of space bugged the hell out of me.

Now, having picked at my personal nits here, the book did finish strong. The trial was a good look at the issues around specific orders vs. standing orders along with what to do with vague or contradictory orders. It also dealt with what happens when there is disagreement along the chain of command, and where your duty lies.

So, I really enjoyed the last third of the book, and I had a hard time putting it down. It was just hard to get that far in the first place. As such, I’m still iffy on whether I’m going to give the guy another shot with the second book.

(Note: the link above is to the Amazon paperback version. The e-book which I read came directly from the publisher, Baen.)

Farewell to Old Ships

The USS Enterprise is setting sail for the last time.

Damn. It hurts just to say those words.

But in this case, I’m not talking about one last voyage for Kirk and the crew of good old NCC-1701. No, I’m talking about the final deployment of the United States aircraft carrier Enterprise, CVN-65.

After fifty-one years of service, it is scheduled to be decommissioned in December of this year. The Enterprise was the world’s first nuclear aircraft carrier, and it is a unique design. In some respects, it was a testbed for America’s nuclear navy, and it pointed the way to many improvements found in the successor Nimitz class. Much like the fictional ships to follow her, she set the standard for things to come as well as a number of records that still stand. Seeing her go makes me sad.

But I shouldn’t surprised by that. As an SF fan, I’m used to becoming emotionally attached to ships and stations. I think about the various Star Trek incarnations of the Enterprise, the Millennium Falcon, the Galactica, the Babylon 5 station, Serenity, the Black Pearl, even the old Space Battleship Yamato from anime, and they all give that warm and fuzzy feeling of an old friend, loyal and true to the end. And I think about how much it tore me up inside when some of them met their ends, and I can almost say that I grieved for them.

But why? In addition to be completely made up, they weren’t even people. They were inanimate chucks of metal and wiring. They never had sentience. They never made a decision. Apart from the occasional voice interface, they never even had a line.

They had all the character of plywood and paint.

And yet they were so much more. They did have character. They had quirks and failings, but they also had strength and resolve. The Falcon’s touchy hyperdrive was a pain in the ass, but you always knew she was going to come through for us. The Galactica was old and falling apart, but she held our hopes like precious air. And who didn’t cry at least a little when the Enterprise gave her last full measure of devotion to save her skeleton crew?

I suppose just as we let some of those fictional people into our monkeyspheres, we let their ships in as well. The Enterprise was real to them, and so it became real to us.

So even though I’ve never known anyone aboard the real USS Enterprise, I’ve been attached enough to her fictional successors to feel a little sad seeing her go.

Farewell, faithful friend, farewell.