A Few Good Men
I was a fan of Darkship Thieves when it came out, and when I was (fortunately) stranded in a local bookstore (Book People in Austin is great), I saw that the second book in the series – Darkship Renegades was out.
I was understandably excited. If you’re a fan of Heinlein’s work, and you’re looking for something in the way of a rollicking space adventure, then Darkship Thieves is a pretty good read. I’d recommend that one for older teens, because it’s been a while since I read it, and I’m trying to remember how much in the way of “content of a prurient nature” it might have. I don’t think it’s a lot – nothing graphic, at any rate.
But this review is about neither Darkship books. It’s a spinoff book, which according to the author looks to be one of several such, set in the same universe and at around the same time as the Darkship books, dealing with events surrounding and influenced by the moving and shaking of Darkship’s protagonist, Athena Hera SInistra.
tl;dr version of the review – A Few Good Men is a good read for older teens, but I felt it was a little… disconnected from the struggle going on. Also, the protagonist is gay. Some people are going to be put off by that, which I understand, but I would encourage parents who might be worried about that to read the book and discuss the issues involved with their families. And not just that issue – there’s a lot in here about freedom, responsibility, and some parallels to the American Revolution. 4 out of 5 stars. Sooo… MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD, Y’ALL.
This particular book (again, A Few Good Men) is a fascinating if somewhat removed look at the struggle for freedom that ensues as people become more aware of just what’s been going on for the past three hundred years or so as Darkship begins. (And it’s not good. There’s cloning, genetic manipulation, brain transplants, all kinds of ooey-gooey horrible stuff being done by the Powers That Be – the Good Men.)
The story opens as the protagonist, Lucius Dante Maximillian Keeva – or “Luce”, is pining away in a hidden jail called “The NeverNever”. There’s more than a little bit of Count of Monte Cristo here, as Luce has been working out a lot, and someone has been feeding him books, mostly history books. But Luce isn’t in prison because he was some poor guy who got taken advantage of by Napoleon.
No. Luce is in prison because he’s gay. And his Dad is one of the Good Men.
AGAIN, SPOILERS! Here’s the big “secret” spoiler for Darkship Thieves. You see, the people who run the “seacities” which are the remnants of the civilized world – the Good Men – were genetically engineered Back In The Day to be different kinds of things – spies, assassins, bureaucrats, etc. And because the human race didn’t want the genome “contaminated” with mods, they were all engineered in such a way as to be functionally sterile. And they were all men.
So, our boy Luce is actually a clone of dad who, once he reached a certain age, was supposed to go into space with his old man to do a tour of the power-generating satellites. At which point Luce would be sedated, his brain would be swapped with Dad’s, Luce’s brain would get disposed of, and voilà! A tragic death of “his father” results in “Luce” becoming the new Good Man for his area. Except… Luce is gay. And at this point, it’s still a little fuzzy as to whether homosexuality has a genetic component. And because Daddy is a homophobe and doesn’t want to have to deal with the potential ramifications of possibly activated genes, he has another clone made up – Luce’s little brother Max – and when the time comes, Luce and his boyfriend both get sent to prison. Where the boyfriend is tortured, and Luce takes advantage of a chance opportunity to end the torture… by putting the guy out of his misery. At which point he gets sent to the NeverNever.
Heavy stuff. Almost all of which takes place before this book starts. THIS book starts with the NeverNever Jailbreak which gets Luce OUT of prison after being incarcerated for fourteen years. The book starts with an almost literal bang as a group of rebels blow their way into the NeverNever, and Luce has to escape the rising seawater.
Oh yes. Because the NeverNever is at least partially underwater.
Once he’s out, he heads for civilization – someplace AWAY from Dear Old Dad – and as he’s looking through the newspaper, he sees that the Good Man Keeva has been murdered.
Except it wasn’t his dad that died. It was his little brother Max.
Now Luce has to go home, fend off the attacks of the other Good Men, and because someone has been feeding him a lot of history, he has to decide if he’s willing to make some changes in the way things are run. Changes that the other Good Men will not appreciate.
Which is all fine and good, but instead of showing Luce making those changes and dealing with the consequences of those actions, most of the book is Luce dealing with such things very much at an arm’s remove. By the end of the book, Luce has deferred most of the actual adjustments and running of his own seacity to his dad’s majordomo – the same man who was feeding him books while in prison. There’s a revolution going on, armed conflict, battles, etc., but Luce is too valuable to actually participate in any of those – he’s far too valuable as a propaganda tool and figurehead. So he winds up making a lot of inspirational videos and while he does eventually begin to assert himself in that role, it’s not exactly the kind of action I wanted from this particular book. Again, it’s not bad, just not really what I was anticipating.
And let’s talk for just a second about the protagonist’s sexual orientation. He’s gay. The book makes no bones about it, doesn’t glamorize it, doesn’t romanticize it. It’s just the way he is. Some readers might be put off by that. I’ve got to admit, I spent a lot of the book wondering to myself am I reacting to this correctly? and feeling vaguely uncomfortable. After finishing the book, I’ve come to the conclusion that my discomfort isn’t due to any latent or overt homophobia on my part as a reader. I just think the whole culture is hyper-sensitive on this issue. And if you don’t have the right reaction or the right position or the right viewpoint, then you’re a hatey-hatey-mc-haterson who hates. So I spent some time thinking about what the right reaction would be.
And there is no right reaction. I liked the character. I wanted him to be a little less passive, and by the end of the book he was moving in that direction, so that was fine. And while there was a love interest in the story, and I could kind of see things developing a little that way, it wasn’t the gender orientation that had me raising my eyebrows so much as it was the age difference between the two characters. But that’s just me.
And, again, if you liked the classroom discussion sections of Starship Troopers, you’ll get a lot of the same kind of thing here, and that’s something that I usually enjoy. (It’s one of the reasons I’m a fan of David Gerrold’s War Against the Chtorr books, although I don’t know how much I can reasonably recommend them.)
At the end of the day, I did enjoy the book. It was well written, and a quick read. I’d recommend it for anyone fourteen and up, and it’s the kind of thing I think my Mom would enjoy. Not completely without issues for me as a reader, due to its clash with the cultural zeitgeist and a lot of the exciting explodey action parts happening off-stage. I’m looking forward to reading the next actual Darkship book – Darkship Renegades.
A Few Good Men is available from Baen’s online e-book store, Amazon, BN.com, and presumably wherever else quality e-books are sold. And for those who may be interested, the author’s blog can be found at: accordingtohoyt.com
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