No. 22 – 2013 October – Elizabeth Moon, Military Science Fiction, and Female Leads

Elizabeth Moon Portrait 1
Elizabeth Moon

Elizabeth Moon is alive! As I usually review Science Fiction writers who aren’t—alive that is—I’m pretty thrilled about this. So no … this is not a reenactment from Shelley’s Modern Prometheus. No reanimated monsters to follow. No mad scientists as the main character. But if you like military science fiction, raise the alarm, beat your drum to send all hands to general quarters, and light up your sensors for deep scan. Ms. Moon has several series you won’t want to miss.

Ms. Moon finished up her first degree, in history, at Rice University in 1968. She began negotiations with several armed forces recruiters before enlisting with the Marines. After Basic School and OCS (Officer’s Candidate School), she was assigned to work on computers. She finished up her active duty as a First Lieutenant, but while in inactive status, was promoted to Captain.

Ms. Moon’s letters are as fast paced as her stories. Although brief, she didn’t hesitate to engage in a discussion about mercenaries, the nature of mercy, the rules of engagement, and Eric Prince, the head of Blackwater, a mercenary outfit. She believes giving a private mercenary outfit access to our nation’s spy satellites, to do collection and analysis, is not a great idea. I agree: it’s not a good policy; and I have to question the motivations and justification that approved that decision. She makes a clear distinction between what is good in real life and what is good in fiction.

While most TV and feature film actors usually want to be a general or an admiral, we all know that generals and admirals aren’t supposed to command from the hatch of a tank or leap out of landing craft to lead the beachhead assault. (I always thought that’s what lieutenants and captains were for.) Some writers apparently believe that only a four-star general rightly knows how to throw a punch and only a fleet admiral knows how to load and fire a side arm. Fortunately, Elizabeth Moon’s heroine in Vatta’s War is assigned a more modest, and more realistic, rank in starting her life as a heroic action role model.

Let me assure you that Ms. Moon is a master of space opera.

The first book of Moon’s I ever read was Trading in Danger. Fortunately, I bought Marque and Reprisal at the same time. I wanted to race through this series, but ended up biting my nails as I waited for Victory Conditions to be released. This fast-paced series is known as Vatta’s War.

In Trading in Danger, Kylara Vatta—an honor cadet in high standing—is booted out of her planet’s space force academy. She returns home in apparent disgrace. Her family, who owns and operates an interstellar shipping company, decides it’s best to send her off planet—to hide from the media. As captain of a ship headed for the scrap yard, Kylara just can’t bring herself to scrap the ship. She wheels and deals, trying to raise the funds for the ship’s refit to modern standards. This leads her into trouble with pirates, mercenaries, and mutineers.

In Marque and Reprisal, her family’s company is ruthlessly attacked. The family’s home is bombed, the company’s ships are blown out of space, family members are assassinated, and her home planet’s government disavows any association with the Vatta clan. Kylara determines to revive the family fortune. Isolated on an old tramp freighter, in a distant starport, Kylara contemplates her bleak future when a mysterious Letter of Marque arrives with a shipment of mines. Is it real? She’s uncertain, but knows she must exploit every advantage to survive. Survival becomes a personal, in-your-face issue when she must confront Osman Vatta, a long lost family member responsible for engineering the attacks and assassinations against the Vatta family. What can Kylara’s unarmed trader do against this heavily armed menace?

Moon's Vatta War Group Image
Moon’s Vatta War Series

Engaging the Enemy reveals a larger conspiracy, one with greater intent than just destroying Kylara’s family. A growing pirate menace has an ambitious plan that seems nothing less than the creation of its own evil empire. Although Kylara has expanded Vatta Transport into two ships, she struggles with her cousin Stella in rebuilding their company. It seems wherever Stella puts into port, Kylara has already alienated the locals. Stella decides to confront Kylara about family priorities. First, however, they must sort out the company’s financial accounts and when Kylara’s identity is called into question, Stella discovers a shocking secret. Will Vatta Transport be destroyed before it can rebuild?

As Command Decision begins, Vatta Transport has restructured a new corporate HQ and Kylara has restructured her ship upon military lines. With the pirate menace growing, Kylara’s first attempt at an alliance fails. Pirates attack the budding, privateer fleet and only Kylara’s tactics manage to save her ship and two other privateers from destruction. Her continuing determination attracts allies and with Kylara now in command, her small fleet claims some victories. But fate conspires to intervene. Can her small fleet survive a major confrontation with mercenaries, well-organized pirates and a large corporate fleet that’s hunting her down like a common criminal?

In Victory Conditions, Kylara’s perseverance finally pays off. Planetary systems now realize how dangerous the pirates truly are and decide to support Kylara, placing a fleet of privateers under her command. Kylara attempts to intercept a pirate fleet from acquiring modern warships, but the wear and repair of constant combat is overtaking Vanguard, her flagship. When her flagship is destroyed, the pirates head for the central planets, certain of victory over the beleaguered populations who supported Kylara’s privateer fleet.

Heris Serrano-omnibus
Heris Serrano-omnibus

She has two other series worth mentioning. The Heris Serrano series consists of Hunting Party, Sporting Chance, and Winning Colors (now in omnibus and recommended). These works precede the Esmay Suiza series. Two works in the Suiza series, Once a Hero and Rules of Engagement, are now in an omnibus edition entitled The Serrano Connection. These are followed up with Change of Command and Against the Odds, but Suiza’s appearance in them is much reduced. These are rich in characters out of the Familias Regnant construct and encompass broader categories of society than just shipboard life.

The Serano Connection omnibus
The Serano Connection omnibus

Those of you who are searching for stories that showcase strong female leads need look no further. Ms. Moon’s novels are peppered with strong female leads. Her protagonist characters often have conflicts with other strong willed female characters. I think this enriches her storylines immensely.

I happen to like the Esmay Suiza character, in part, because this heroine follows a traditional Joseph Campbell, Heroes of a Thousand Faces approach; that is, Suiza is a reluctant hero who surprises herself with her natural born combat abilities.

But mostly, her books are entertaining. You’ll find yourself rushing through the pages to the end. The occasional tongue-in-cheek remarks are balanced with more serious moments, so you’ll may be rolling your eyes one moment and chuckling the next.

Moon's The Deed of Paksennarion
Moon’s The Deed of Paksennarion

I don’t usually review fantasy, but if you like these books, then you’ll want to check out Ms. Moon’s The Deed of Paksenarrion and The Legacy of Gird series. The military elements are excellent and the storylines engaging.

Ms. Moon also has a considerable number of short fiction works and her novel The Speed of Dark was a recipient of a Nebula Award.

Moon's The Speed of Dark
Moon’s Nebual Award winning book: The Speed of Dark

I asked her if she has any other military science fiction stories in the works and she gave me a cryptic “Maybe.”

Well, maybe I’ll get to read it.

Not like I’ll have much choice. After all, readers of military science fiction have a duty to stand their watches and the watch words are eternal vigilance.

Elizabeth Moon Portrait 2
Elizabeth Moon
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