Tor, 2002 (2001)
Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
usan Shwartz is one of the rare authors who can write both fantasy and hard science fiction well. In
, she gives us military science fiction, with two main characters. One of them is a
type - an idealistic soldier, Jim, who spends his life attempting to atone for a single act of cowardice at a critical juncture. The other, Cam Marlow, is an older comrade of his, now '
the worlds' oldest shipsicle
'. She just spent twenty years in deep freeze, whose effects have derailed her career.
n a sense, the title applies to the worlds in which the tale is set as much as to the characters who live in them. A war between Alliance and Secess' worlds has just ended, peace being made '
because they couldn't afford to go on killing and being killed, and force humanity to retreat to planet-bound barbarism.
' The military, in particular Fleet, is unpopular with civs which makes Jim's tour of duty on the
particularly difficult. Then Jim's dreams of heroics and glory are sabotaged by a baser instinct for survival.
fter his trial, Jim plays out a death wish on different worlds and Foreign Legion-like outposts in space. Each time he does hazardous duty until his past catches up with him and he flees once more. Cam leaves Fleet but obtains a Captain's position in the Relief Service (from which she rescues Jim on several occasions) and tries to hold her health together. Then comes the offer of a role for Jim that will give him back his self respect and allow a degree of rehabilitation, if only in his own eyes.
has a brilliant beginning and the author has set it in a fascinating and complex universe. While I found Jim's self-hatred became a little tiresome towards the end, Cam's character continued to engage my sympathy and made the book a very satisfying read.
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