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Restless Lightning by Richard Baker

Published by Tor Books on October 23, 2018

Restless Lightning is the second book in Richard Baker’s Breaker of Empires series. The books mix military science fiction with the politics and diplomacy that a reader will find in many of C.J. Cherryh’s books. It is a good mix.

After his valiant but disobedient actions in Valiant Dust, Sikander North has been posted to Tamabuqq Prime in the Tzoru Dominion, a remote location where Sikander will presumably not upset the military applecart. Of course, there would be no book if trouble did not follow Sikander. A faction of the Tzoru have concluded that humans are unwelcome on Tamabuqq Prime, and Sikander spends the first part of the novel escaping the consequences of civil unrest.

On the ship to which he is assigned, Sikander is in charge of Intelligence. His rivals accuse him of an intelligence failure because he did not predict that the upstart Tzoru would try to seize a diplomatic quarter on Tamabuqq Prime that houses humans. Sikander’s ship leads a rescue attempt. Battles ensue between human warships and their allies against warships that are allied with the Tzoru. Eventually, Sikander must do something daring to save the humans — and to save his career.

The military sf aspects of the novel are represented in combat on the ground and in more interesting battles in space, where considerable attention is given to strategy and tactics that might attend the equivalent of naval battles with no water and huge distances separating warring vessels. Almost as much attention is given to North’s analysis of the political and cultural forces surrounding the battles. His instinct for diplomacy is not shared by everyone on his ship, leading to rivalries that give the story additional substantive dimensions.

I like the way these novels mix action with intelligent thought. Alien cultural traditions are imagined with care. Sikander benefits from stronger characterization than is common in military sf. He even finds time for a brief romance. The action scenes generate excitement and the novel resolves multiple plot threads neatly, but I admire most the sophistication with which the story is told. Sikander is educated, thoughtful, and not obsessed with how powerful his weapons are, how efficiently he can kill aliens in hand-to-hand combat, or the superiority of humans to other sentient life forms. I’ve enjoyed both entries in this series and I recommend them to fans of military sf who are looking for books that rise above the genre’s clichés.


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