|I'll begin by saying that whoever J.D.Austin is,
i would guess that he or she has seen military service, and probably in the
Navy, at that. About half of the important human characters in this book
are Navy vets, and, to this Navy vet at least, they ring true -- written
by someone who knows whereof they speak.
That aside, this is a cheerful romp through some of the same territory that
my brother Dave's "Apocalypse Troll" covered a lot more seriously.
The storytelling is neatly divided between a current action story set on
Earth and a series of flashbacks set on Planet Thradon, beginning two years
ago as the latest in a series of wars between the planet's two largest nations
has go badly indeed for the larger of the two.
To begin: General Ket Mhulhar has been on diplomatic duty, and consequently
is not in her home country when the big coup goes down; as senior surviving
military officer, she is suddenly Premier. But it's not safe for her to stay.
The Space Force is going to send her away to a distant planet, which only
one ship on the whole world can reach. Knowing she is safe, they can base
a Resistance movement on that fact.
But, she has to be disguised surgically to match the inhabitants of her new
foster world. Which is, of course, Earth. Working from pictures, the doctors
do as well as they can.
Possibly too well.
As the one Thradonian who has actually *been* to Earth looks at the unconscious
form lying on the table, he bemoans the fact that with those looks, keeping
a low profile on Earth may be difficult -- "Terran males" he explains "go
to sleep hoping they'll dream about girls who look like that!" On
the other hand, he allows, she is headed for the one place on Earth
where beauty and oddity hand-in-hand are taken for granted -- Los Angeles.
But it's too late to change -- into the ship and off she goes, arriving two
years later on Earth, where she is taken under the wing of a retired couple.
A retired couple whose son is a successful independent film
writer/producer/director (think Tarentino, from the plot descriptions of
his films). A film maker whose script girl has just quit.
Thradonians, by the way, have yet to invent anything
like films -- they have theatre, and it is immensely popular, but it's live
only, they don't make a visual record of the performances to watch again
And "Kathy" goes to work for Bobby, soon talking him into letting her try
wearing the "Producer" hat on this film so that he can concentrate on directing.
And she tries to decide just what she will do when the Bad Guys manage to
follow her here.
Meanwhile, back on Thradon, the military of Dalyi, Ket's home nation, are
organising a Resistance.
The two stories alternate neatly, the Thadon story skipping closer anf closer
to Present Day, and Kathy and her Terran friends get ready for the Arrival...
Though much of the story is played lightly, there are darker underpinnings,
and some fairly serious thoughts about war and peace and patriotism and
chauvinism, not to mention the responsibilities of honor and friendship.
The characters, human and Thradonian alike, though mostly lightly sketched
are still acceptably plausible -- one of them is a retired Master Chief Petty
Officer who was a Seaman Apprentice aboard the Forrestal off the coast of
Viet Nam the day a missile on deck cooked off and started one of the most
terrifying fires ever to strike a ship that didn't eventually sink, and he
*absolutely* reads like the real thing. The brief mention here reminds
me of what people i knew who were serving on the "Forrest Fire" that day
mostly said -- it was beyond mere description.
Also, Bobby and Ket make a visit to the USS Arizona monument at Pearl
Harbor; for the duration of that the jokes stop. Mention is made of
sailors' arranging to have their ashes scattered on the water
there, thereby joining their old shipmates again at last.
Both sides in the conflict on Thradon learn lessons that we haven't yet learnt
fully and properly here on Earth, and it is obvious that the aftermath is
going to poison Thradonian society and politics for a long time to come,
even after the "Good Guys" win a (comparatively) near-bloodless victory.
But it all comes out in the end more or less for the best.
And Bobby makes a Really Great SF film about a revolution and war on an alien
planet that seems as realistic as if he'd actually seen it...
One Thing More Dept: If Austin writes any more books -- either sequels
to this one or independent settings -- i hope he takes us back to "The Stupid
Elf", one of the more amusing sleazy bars i've run across in fiction, comics
or film, at least since i dropped in at Noonan's Sleazy Bar in the Cauldron
for the first time. I'd like to know more about the "Elf" and Buzz, the
unflappable ex-cop bartender.