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Entries in Richard Baker (2)


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.



Valiant Dust by Richard Baker

Published by Tor Books on November 7, 2017

Valiant Dust is a military space opera. It does nothing unexpected, so it suffers from a lack of freshness, but it also generates excitement as it tells an entertaining, albeit familiar, story.

Sikander North joined the Commonwealth Naval Academy earlier than expected because his father wants no other family members to remain in the Kashmir system, where they are subject to attack. Rather than assuming his duties as the son of a prince on his homeworld of Jaipur, Sikander is now a lieutenant in Aquila’s Navy, an alliance having been formed between the Aquilans and the Kashmiri. So we have a young officer from a royal family who needs to prove himself despite his aristocratic background, a fairly standard character in military/adventure fiction.

Ranya Meriam el-Nasir is a princess on Gadira, a planet founded by the Terran Caliphate that takes a temperate view of the teachings of the Quran. Gadira is troubled by isolationist groups that resent the sultanate’s growing dependency on offworld trade. The Gadirans are allied with the Republic of Montreal, which supplies military aid to the sultanate to assist its battle against tribal chieftains and urban radicals, particularly the tribes that would like to close Gadira’s spaceports to all contact with non-Islamic powers.

Salem al-Fasi, an old family friend of the Sultan, introduces Ranya to Otto Bleindel, a businessman from Dremark whose employer purports to have an interest in suppressing unrest on Gadira. What Ranya does not know is that Bleindel is an intelligence agent who is providing arms to opponents of the Sultan. But how, the reader asks, will Bleindel benefit from overthrowing the Sultan? The answer to that question is predictable but satisfying.

Sikander and his ship travel to Gadira to protect Aquilans in the midst of all the chaos. Conflict ensues, both on the ground and in orbit (more or less) as the Aquilan ship takes on a couple of Dremel ships. The battle scenes are familiar but they are well executed.

Some parts of Valiant Dust are unbearably predictable. Our valiant hero challenges another officer to a fight over a point of honor and, although the unlikable officer is a three-time kickboxing champion, Sikander defeats him. Gosh, did you see that coming? Of course you did, because that scene has been done countless times. Our valiant hero also meets Ranya, and it is a rule of romance novels that two attractive people with royal blood must commence a romance regardless of the drama that surrounds them. Romance novel rules shouldn’t apply to science fiction novels, but predictably enough, it does. And our valiant hero must disobey orders, more or less, in order to do the right thing. Pretty much every fictional military officer in history has done that.

The one thing that struck me as being different about Valiant Dust is the spread of Islam by the Terran Caliphate before its decline. The Islamic religion is still fractured in its varying interpretations of the Quran, both in terms of conflict on planets dominated by Islam and planets that take varying approaches to Islam. There otherwise doesn’t seem to be much religious conflict among the non-Islamic powers. Of course, the absence of conflict changes during the course of the novel, which may establish the background for the next novel.

Although the plot and characters don’t stand out, I did like the novel’s pace and its detailed creation of the framework in which the story is told. Coupled with the story’s ability to build excitement, I have to recommend Valiant Dust to science fiction fans, and particularly to fans of military sf. It’s doesn’t do anything new, but it does old things pretty well.