In a few words: swift, deft, lean, and adroit. My copy of this is 192 pages long and there’s not an extraneous scene in it. And in under two hundred pages we get collapsing empires, Galactic Patrols, inter-service rivalries, xenophobia, mysterious planets, castaways, insanity, ancient cities, psychic dictators, street fighting, mind control, lost memories, alien aristocrats, barbarian tribesmen, impersonating deities, space dogfights, battle, and survival. And democratic government.
(And that’s basically the plot.)
Most books these days would pick one or two of these and then just stick with it….and they’d still be about three times as long and nowhere as well-done. For ex: they’d go with the xenophobia angle, double and triple and quadruple-down on it–where here, it’s treated seriously but always within the context of the driving plot. Regular Patrolmen have a disdain for Rangers–that is exacerbated into distrust and fear of the Bemmy Rangers (who happen to be three out of the surviving four.) This means that after the ship crashes, the survivors are that much less likely to listen to their SERE experts. It means that physical attacks get launched and racial slurs get spat while tensions are high and professionalism becomes a thin veneer over pure fear and uncertainty. It means that after the Patrol group encounters another party of civilian refugees, they’re that much easier to split apart–and control.
(It also means that our hero, Kartr–a human–must be in the thick of all of this, because almost no one else will talk to the Bemmys, which is actually a very clever way of involving your POV character and showing your audience what’s going on.) It doesn’t mean: there are racial slurs in every conversation; there are constant denigrations or complaints; there is constant angst and dislike. Because everyone is trying to survive here; emotional validation is unnecessary, and every one of the Patrolmen does know, in his heart, what professionalism is, and who is on his side, and who isn’t. It also means that when push comes to shove, the Patrol sticks to its own.
It doesn’t mean: we get deluged with the nitty details of survival on an alien planet, complete with latrines. It does mean: that the author has thought about what happens to primitive peoples when they get exposed to exotic diseases they have no immunity to….and what they do to people who claim to be gods and yet bring evil spirits into the camp.
It doesn’t mean we get radio chatter (which is a shame, because I love me some good radio chatter. IRL it’s usually “Who was that for?” and the ex-Marine lecturing you for not using “Copy” correctly. Oh, and finding out that you were actually open-miked all along, that one’s always fun.)–but we do get to watch a thrilling space battle–from a distance–and the stakes are great and the suspense is high.
Rated: Terra–Terra of Sol.