Phil Parker (tigertoy) wrote,
Phil Parker

Book review: Starship: Flagship

I'm getting farther behind, so I'm going to knock out a few of these.

First for today is Starship: Flagship by Mike Resnick.

This completes the Starship series.  At least, I assume it does; it didn't say so officially, but it seems pretty done.  It won't make too much sense without having read the previous books.

This is of a piece with the rest of the series.  Our conflicted hero wrestles with a moral issue that's been big in the news lately, and doesn't come off very well in my own opinion.  Then, as he's heading toward another troubling conundrum, we get a surprise resolution to the whole series out of left field.  On the one hand it's a fun place for the story to go; on the other hand, it would have been more compelling if it could have concluded without the deus ex machina.  It is still Resnick's fast-paced, lighthearted, and mostly believable writing, but it didn't click for me as fully as usual.  I suspect some of the fault is the mood I'm in.

6 out of 10.

Some mild spoilery comments now.

First, we spend some time wrestling with the issue of torture.  We need some information, the people who have it aren't going to talk, and there's a deadline.  It's never going to be an easy question.  If the commanding officer decides to torture, and some of his subordinates refuse, though, treating them as if they are conventionally insubordinate undermines the commander's integrity, arguably as much as choosing to torture in the first place.  And claiming that it wasn't really torture because the subjects didn't suffer major permanent physical harm is no more acceptable in a novel than it is in real life.  I lost a lot of respect for Capt. Cole over this.

Second, we have the issue that we mostly ducked with the deus ex machina.  Capt. Cole is setting out to overthrow the corrupt Republic.  He wants to take out the top leadership.  But how is he going to ensure that their successors aren't equally corrupt?  He doesn't want the job himself (good for him), but if he doesn't actually take over (or even if he does) how can he keep the system from corrupting the next guy?  A completely unexpected external threat to shake up everyone's thinking is nice if you can have one, but it's awfully unlikely to pin your hopes on.

****  PLOT SUMMARY  --  SPOILERS  ****

Singapore Station defeated a small Republic fleet in the last book, so the Republic is sending a slightly larger one.  Since it's clear that if they defeated this one, the Republic would just send a bigger one until they did lose, Cole goes ahead with his initial plan to leave Singapore -- believing that if he leaves, the Navy will just take shore leave -- and infiltrate the Republic to converge on the capital.  One of his agents captures a big Navy ship with no engines.  He wants to capture another ship by stealth, so that he can take its insignia.  The Octopus tries to take on more than he can handle, in a stupid move, and gets himself captured.  His whole crew is going to be taken off for a show trial and execution.  Cole captures a Navy guy who knows where they are hiding and decides to torture him to get him to tell.  The torture works, and Cole consoles himself that it wasn't really torture because they didn't do permanent damage.  Two of his security guys refused to follow his orders to rough the guy up and he tossed them in the brig.  Then Cole's plan comes together, as the hero's plans must, and they succeed in infiltrating the palace of the one guy who is apparently personally in charge of the Republic and taking him prisoner.  He's defiant, he won't cooperate, and we're just starting to get into the question of what Cole will replace him with, when an alien fleet attacks.  Seems that there's an unstable wormhole into the Deluros system, that only opens up for a couple of days every 17 years, that the alien pilot's race knew about but never told anyone else.  On the other side is a race that the Republic smacked for no good reason hundreds of years ago.  They blow up the Navy's flagship and the Navy is headless, with no one in charge, and they beg Cole to take over.  Cole does, and repels the invaders, and gets the Republic and the Teroni and everybody to agree to constitute a new galactic government, a benign Democracy, and we all live happily ever after.
Tags: book review, mike resnick, sf
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