There’s a definite downside to reading a page turner.
Before you even have a chance to get acquainted with the setting, people, places, and conflict, the book has slipped away as the hours you’ve spent reading seemingly dissolved into nothing.
This was the case with the first of Nick Webb’s trilogy of books on the Legacy Fleet; however, the book’s brevity is also one of its downsides.
Tim Granger is the captain of the Constitution, one of the remaining starships from the Legacy Fleet. The fleet was made up of a number of vessels and they were all sculpted from tungsten-laced asteroids making them impenetrable blocks of metal.
These ships also helped Earth survive an alien invasion with their 10 metre thick hulls and nuclear arsenals, but they’re obsolete compared to the modern starships of today.
The Constitution, or the Old Bird as it’s affectionately known, is one of the last holdouts from the past, but it’s being decommissioned in a few weeks. Those plans are put on hold when the Swarm decides to reappear forcing the captain to get the Constitution back into the fray.
Tim Granger is your typical old man in space. He’s old and grizzled, and he has a crew to complement his sour demeanour. The doctor on the crew is ethical beyond belief threatening to take the captain off the bridge if his medical condition worsens, the chief engineer is in love with her engines and weeps when they’re set to explode, the marine captain aboard is as hard as nails, and the second in command in gruff alcoholic.
There’s also the new blood enters onto the ship in the form of Shelby Proctor who has been ordered to oversee the decommissioning of the ship and its refit into a museum that kids can explore. While everyone starts off hating her, Proctor – who was a scientist in a past career – she steps up to the plate with some insight into the Swarm that helps in the 11th hour and gains her some respect.
There are some definite nods to the kind of archetypical characters you see in shows like Star Trek, but Webb manages to circumvent some of the normal traits with some swerves. The characters are fun and realistic, but there are a lot of them and it can be difficult to keep track of them all. Characters also die, so don’t get attached to them as the book’s pages start to dwindle.
Back to the story.
Granger and the Constitution are from a time long gone, and it’s been over 75 years since the Swarm invaded Earth. There are also plans to pull back on the military spending that developed huge fleets to counter future invasions, and some people don’t agree with that.
The Vice-President of the United States is among those who wish Earth to continue spending money on the military, but he’s also in the pocket of the Russians who have vowed to give his supports and detractors the push they need to make him the President.
It’s a story of espionage by sneaky Russians, problems created by a bureaucratic United States, and one old man’s desire to show everyone that he was right and that the aliens on their way to Earth.
While the book definitely has a strong pace, I felt it was a little rushed. We start off with barely an introduction to Tim Granger and the Constitution, and then we’re thrust into the conflict with the Swarm. We don’t even get a clear description of what their ships look like and before we know it they’re on Earth’s doorstep with the Russians to blame.
From what we know the Swarm appeared over 70 years ago and threatened Earth with extinction. No one knows what they look like because their bodies are liquified when they’re killed (or are they??) and their technology is far beyond humanity’s. What we do know is that the Russians have found a way to control the evil aliens to do their bidding making them into a perfect weapon to help see President Avery out of office.
So when threatened with war, the current president who has created a committee to reduce military spending is put up against her vice president who is urging Earth to bolster its defenses, who would you pick?
It’s a plot that makes a bit of sense; however, like most things done in collusion with the forces of evil things don’t go quite right.
The aliens are seemingly out of control and are headed to Earth, so there might not be all too much to rule when all is said and done.
Which also brings me to this point.
In the book, the Russians own a large swath of territory out in space and they have their own fleet of ships at their command. They also circumvent Earth’s authority in developing new weapons, technology, and ships. Tim Granger repeated refers to an incident in space where he exposed a military build up from the Russians much like how journalists exposed the military build ups from Russian before the invasions of Georgia and Ukraine.
Using contemporary international politics is a way to pull readers into the story, but it feels a bit hackneyed when the Russians are simply portrayed as being cartoonish space overlords. I’m sure future books will elaborate a bit more on the Russians’ role in the trilogy’s conflicts, but as it stands right now it feels like a way to appeal to readers who are aware of only the most surface of facts when it comes to Russia and how the country deals with the rest of the world.
It’s also a bit of a forced metaphor making the “Constitution” or one of America’s founding documents the instrument that is ultimately able to take the brunt of the aliens who seek to destroy Earth’s way of life. I don’t want to read about Vladimir Putin in space! It also feels like a plot more out of the cold war literature than contemporary science fiction.
Which brings me to this point: I don’t want to read about our world! I want to read about the future!
I don’t give a damn about mirroring the conflicts we have on Earth today in the convenient setting of the future where anything is possible. I want to read about exploring space and meeting new alien races, not the slightly racist tone many of the characters have with the Russians.
And cool technology is often a big thing for me, but in this case the technology was clearly based on a realistic understanding of space.
Throughout the book, I had a pretty good handle on what was happening in most conflicts. Ships have to power up, power down, speed up, and slow down with actual physics being accounted for throughout most battles. This technical details is one of the appeals of the books; however, it also slows things up a little in the heat of a battle.
The engines seem to be a focal point that don’t often make a lot of sense. It’s really difficult for someone to imagine how fast going 3 gs would be or how far of a distance 5,000 kilometres is in our imagination, so you could imagine how confusing it was for me. Most other science fiction authors seem to do away with these details to focus more on characters and settings rather than every minute detail of the journey.
And if I had to read another, “We have to do a full burn and then a half reverse burn, plus a 180 degree turn and then another full burn for 20 seconds to reach 3 gs in order to make it to Earth on time” it would be too damn soon.
There’s also the matter of Quantum Jumping or Q Jumps. Using a futuristic dohicky, starships are able to jump from place to place using science. There’s really no other explanation for it, so it’s just a convenient “let’s get there fast” option that the Constitution has at its disposal, or had at its disposal.
And what’s up with the Smart Steel? In Star Trek, there’s often a science fiction convention that helps the crew regain the ship’s armour when it’s threatened by a sneaky attacker. The Enterprise’s “shield frequency” was once discovered by a Klingon duo who is trying to destroy the ship. The first thing anyone thought to do was change the shield frequency.
The same convention exists in this book in the smart steel, a material controlled by the ship’s central computer that hardens upon impact. The Vice-President of the United States gives the Russians the smart steel’s frequency and codes making the ships built out of the material vulnerable.
So across the fleet, the same codes and frequencies are used for the Smart Steel and no one thinks it might be a good idea to change the codes? The book takes place over the course of a few days, but there had to be someone who thought that changing the codes might have been a good idea.
I also find it really hard to believe that all of the other ships with their modern weaponry and starbases with their nuclear warheads could be so easily defeated by the alien invasion force. The Constitution is built up to be a really tough starship, but it constantly runs out of ammunition, power, and manpower compared to other ships.
It’s simply a ship that had a lot of armour and a crew that had a lot of luck
This was the first of Nick Webb’s books I’ve read and I’m definitely looking forward to reading the next books in the trilogy. There are definitely some areas where the story could be improved, but that’s what a trilogy is all about. It builds from the bottom up giving us more details as it continues on.
I hope Shelby Proctor also gets a bit of a bigger role now that she’s in Granger’s trust; however, I don’t think his new ship the Warrior is going to last very long in the grand scheme of things considering the book’s names seem to be rotating through the Legacy Fleet.
There’s also the matter of the Russians and how they’re portrayed in the books. I’m guessing that the swerve in the story is that the entire fleet is being controlled by the Swarm and that they’re not really evil… but that’s just a good guess. As it stands now, the book’s tone is a little strange with the Russians seemingly reprising their Cold War roles where they were the biggest threat in the entire world.
It’s an ok book for someone looking for a more realistic depiction of space combat, but for the type who likes more adventurous novels about exploring new, alien vistas you might look elsewhere.