BOOK REVIEW: Scornful Stars, by Richard Baker

Hold up, this is a sequel! You can find my review of the previous book by clicking this link.

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Series: Breaker of Empires (#3)

Publisher: Tor

Genre: Military SF

Pages: 459

Publication Date: 2019

Verdict: 3/5

 

Sikander Singh North’s naval career is on the rise, and now he has a ship of his own to command. But even that may not be enough to face a system crawling with pirates, or the enemies as yet hidden from him . . .

Military SF often feels like a very American genre. The pro-military angle much of the genre takes makes perfect sense when you look at the number of authors based in the United States. Whether it’s tooted in reality or just the result of constant media exposure, the good old US of A and gung-ho military adventures go hand-in-hand. They have done for a long time, and I suspect they will for a long while yet. But while military SF may have a reputation of being the genre for white, conservative readers, there’s more to it than critics give it credit for. And the Breaker of Empires trilogy is one of the more diverse series out there. Now, it’s worth pointing out that Richard Baker is a white author, but that doesn’t mean his characters are. If anything, it’s good to see authors writing about characters of different ethnicity to their own. Yes, we definitely should have more diverse authors, but we shouldn’t expect people to only write about people who happen to look like the author.

Being rather firmly Welsh, I can’t speak to how accurate Baker’s non-Eurocentric worldbuilding is. What I can say is that it’s among the more original futures out there. The major power is the Terran Caliphate, while Sikhism and Quebec also play important roles in the series. This is military SF with a heavy dash of Great Game space opera about it. The major players all have subsidiary nations in their clutches, and the desire for independence is a theme running through Scornful Stars from start to finish. Space is full of navies, pirates, and privateers, and there’s always a political consideration between every decision. The emphasis is on action, but the background of culture clash and the wax and wane of empires is just as fascinating. In fact, I spent a lot of the book wishing we could see more of that aspect. Good as the action is, I was hoping for something a bit bigger in this final book of the trilogy.

As I’ve said before, the best military SF is written by those with military experience. Jack Campbell and Michael Mammay are two great examples of turning personal experience into compelling narratives. Military service adds a level of realism that I don’t think a  civilian could ever match with second-hand research alone. Baker has a military background, but his work hearkens back to an older age of military action. Like the two great Davids of military SF (David Drake and David Weber), the Golden Age of Sail is a clear influence. This is the Great Game I mentioned above, but it goes deeper than just the worldbuilding. As ships flit from world to world, it doesn’t feel like an act of technology. Oh, we’ve hot warp drives, and they’re actually very well explained. But every journey feels like a voyage. Things take time, and there’s a formality and routine to shipboard life that’s almost quaint. This isn’t the cutting edge of military advancement. It’s tried and trusted technology being thrown together by master tacticians. These ships feel old. they feel lived-in. And that is what truly separates Breaker of Empires from the more clinical, squeaky-clean military SF that I generally read.

Though it doesn’t feel like the end of a story so much as another instalment of one, Scornful Stars is an enjoyable and at times oddly peaceful adventure from an underappreciated writer of military SF.

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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