Tag Archives: sic-fi books

Book Review: Star Guard by Andre Norton

Andre Norton had many titles conferred on her in life. The one that is best known and oft repeated is “the Grand Dame of Science Fiction.” You regular readers of this blog have perhaps seen posts I have done about some of her other books – three Witch World novels and Star Gate (no relation to the TV series). I have not found many Andre Norton books which I dislike. This novel, Star Guard, is no exception.

The year is 3956 A.D. Man pushed into the stars only to meet with a galactic government – Central Control – which saw something dangerous in them. Deeming the Terrans too bloodthirsty and primitive to be allowed offworld of their own accord, Central Control told them they would only be permitted to leave their planet in a capacity the government assigned to them. Since Central Control had far more power than the Terrans, humanity had no choice but to accept these terms.

Labeling humans “barbarians,” Central Control put all of Terra on a leash. Now the only way offworld is to become a mercenary. Humans can only travel the stars as contract soldiers divided into units called hordes or Mechs. The hordes fight the old-fashioned way, with swords, spears, knives, bows, and other weapons. The Mechs get to use the latest technology in their fighting work.

Kana Karr, Arch Swordsman, Third Class, is a rookie who has just arrived at Prime, the capital city of Terra. An eighteen year old Australian-Malay-Hawaiian “greenie,” Kana overhears startling news on his first day in the city. The modern, up-to-date Mechs have recently lost two Legions – two more to add to the twenty Legions they have already lost over five years!!!! For these units – dispatched to “civilized” worlds – to lose so many contingents signals danger of some kind. And if they have been so badly decimated, then what of the hordes – those corps of human mercenaries sent to “barbarian” worlds? How bad have their losses been?

He finds out just how bad things are for the hordes when his is dispatched to serve on the planet Fronn. Kana soon discovers that someone in Central Control has it in for humanity. Perhaps more than one – the whole government is determined to wipe out the upstart Terrans. The C.C. has been denying Terrans equal citizenship with its other political members since it accepted the humans’ presence in the universe. This is well known.

Central Control claimed that, if humanity were allowed full citizenship in the government at once, their primitive will to fight would drag world after world into an age long war – or series of wars. The only way for humanity to enter the galaxy, they insisted, was as mercenaries. Then, when they had become more civilized, they could become full citizens.

On Fronn, though, Kana and his horde face enemies who have tech that is superior even to that of the Mech units. Fronn, a medieval world, should not have this kind of tech. The only reason this machinery would be on this planet, facing Kana and his unit, is if someone wanted the horde dead.

Through his adventure Kana learns this is just what Central Control is after. They either believe humans will always be barbarians, or they fear them for their growing sophistication. Whatever the specific dread, the alien government has absolutely no intention of allowing humans to enter the galaxy as full citizens. Ever.

Now, trapped on an alien world with the remnants of his horde, Kana Karr must do more than survive this treachery. He has to return to Earth and tell his superiors what is going on. This betrayal cannot be swept under the rug. Humanity has to know what is happening, and soon, before they are once again denied their desire for the stars. Kana is determined that neither he nor the rest of his species will be forced to stay on Terra as slaves. This time, he intends to see that the stars are ours!

Star Guard is a great story. Though Miss Norton is vague on the tech and how it works, the thing is that she never really took a shine to computers and machinery. However, her characterization of Kana, his friends, and his enemies is spectacular. And as always, her description of the aliens and their world is fantastic! I definitely recommend Star Guard to you, readers. This post is skimpy on detail, but that is to whet your appetite. If you want to know what else happened in the book, you will have to read it to find out! 😉

To the stars!

The Mithril Guardian

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Book Review: The Lost Fleet: Victorious

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Hello, Murdock!

How’s the Golf Ball Liberation Army doing?  Oh, it’s the Tennis Ball Liberation Army now.  Uh-huh.  Mm-hm.  Well, let me know how it turns out.

What’s up with me?  So far, it’s all good.  Recently, I read this book called The Lost Fleet: Victorious.  It’s the sixth book in a series written by a man whose pen name is Jack Campbell.

Uh…he might be interested in freeing tennis balls from the horror of the racket.  You’ll have to write him about that yourself, H.M.; sorry.

Right, back to the book.  I liked it for several reasons.  The first was the main character, Admiral John ‘Black Jack’ Geary.

Why did I like him?  That’s a bit of a complicated answer, Murdock.  See, the story goes that Geary was a ship captain at the beginning of this galactic war between two factions: the Syndicate Worlds and the Alliance (he fought for the latter).  In one battle, Geary’s ship was destroyed, and he ended up floating around the star system in a damaged escape pod.  For the next one hundred years.  After that interval, he was picked up by the crew of what later became his flagship in the ‘present’ Alliance fleet, the Dauntless.

Now you’re getting it!  It is a familiar plotline that we’ve heard from the legends of King Arthur on up.  The more recent character he reminded me of was Captain America, who was discovered frozen in ice in suspended animation and thawed out to become the best superhero ever.  Geary and he even have some similar traits (personally, I think Cap is better than him; but I’m biased; you might disagree).

The second element of the story I like relates to a similarity with the early original Star Trek episodes.  In the first eight episodes of Star Trek, Captain Kirk is in a relationship with his yeoman, Janice Rand.

It’s the one BIG flaw in the whole story.  Captains are NOT allowed to date officers or sailors below their rank, and she was at the bottom of the rank list.  In Victorious, we find that Geary has fallen in love with the captain of the Dauntless, Tanya Desjani, throughout the events of the previous books.

However, their own personal honor (as well as their respective ranks) prohibits them both from even saying “I love you.”  Doesn’t matter whether they’re in private or not, neither of them can admit it as long as he’s her commander.  Don’t look for that to change any time soon!

The third element I liked was the aliens (or lack thereof).

No, Murdock, wait – I haven’t even started yet!

Oh, you are crazy.

You’re welcome.  Now, as I was saying, about the aliens.  We never see them, only their ships, so no one has any idea what they truly look like.  I guess it is a bit of a bummer but I’ve seen so many people’s idea of aliens that I don’t think there would be many ways he could do it that would surprise me.

No, it wasn’t the fact that we don’t know what they look like that made me enjoy this element of the story.  The reason I enjoy these aliens so much is that they’re not as smart as they think they are.  Their tech is impressive; they designed and ‘leaked’ these inter-system gates (like the Stargate, at least from what I can gather) called hyper-net gates, to humanity.  They also have these viruses that they downloaded into human computers (called quantum worms in the book) so that they can trace human military movements and befuddle human sensor arrays when the need arises.  And their ships are only a little more maneuverable than human ships.

The kicker is that in Victorious, humanity actually keeps up with these guys and finds a way around these technical advantages of the aliens: they make sure that the hyper-net gates can’t be detonated by the aliens, they find a way to eradicate the worms, and – well, read the book to find out how they deal with the aliens’ greater maneuverability.

Oh, there’s one other thing about the aliens that I almost forgot to mention.  Their command of English is terrible.  Talk about refreshing!  Aliens in sci-fi stories are traditionally more advanced than humanity and get English down pat right away (like the Vulcans or the Borg).  Not this bunch!

These guys aren’t that smart; they’re brilliant but not bright, if you get my drift.  And that was a big selling point for me.

Uh-oh, there’s the whistle.  Time for me to go!

See ya around,

Mithril

P.S. I will definitely fly Air-Murdock the next time I have to get somewhere in a hurry. 😀