Friday, 12 February 2010

‘Starship: Flagship’ – Mike Resnick (Pyr)

When I first read ‘Starship: Mercenary’, back in January 2008, I have to admit that I’d never heard of Mike Resnick (not being into sci-fi as much as fantasy). These days, not only do I know who Mike Resnick is (the guy is prolific to say the least and is well loaded with awards) but I can’t imagine the genre without his ‘pulp Golden Age’ sci-fi sat firmly in the middle of it. For those of us who prefer space opera over hard sci-fi Resnick’s work is the perfect tonic, the ‘Starship’ series in particular.
I came in midway through the series but didn’t let this put me off and have enjoyed the two books I’ve read so far. It took me a while to get round to the final book in the series (so many books, so little time unfortunately...) but I knew that when I did it would be worth the wait.
As it turned out, I wasn’t all that far off the mark. There were a couple of things that didn’t quite convince me but, on the whole, ‘Starship: Flagship’ was an entertaining end to a very entertaining set of books.

Wilson Cole has successfully fought off elements of the Republic Navy, at Singapore Station, in his first full scale confrontation with them. It’s by no means over yet though as the Republic Navy numbers some three million ships, many thousands of times the number that Cole commands. Cat and mouse tactics will only last so long when you’re up against an enemy that builds spacecraft faster than you can destroy them; the only option is an risky assault on the capital world of the Republic, a final throw of the dice where everything is at stake.
And just when you thought that everything had finally settled down, a new player in the game makes their move...

Mike Resnick writes the kind of science fiction that you used to act out with Star Wars figures in your back garden. Or was that just me? No, I’m sure you know what I mean! ‘Starship: Flagship’ is a gloriously pulpy mix of deep space combat, stand offs with laser pistols, daring rescues and cunning plans meticulously executed. All of this is injected with a hefty dose of adrenaline, shaken vigorously and then thrown at the page. What you get as a result is a story that rockets along, as fast as the spacecraft that it’s describing, with plenty going on and lots of spectacles to catch the eye.

Unfortunately though, and in the best traditions of those aforementioned Star Wars games, what you also get are moments that leave you thinking... why did that just happen? Having read the last two books I already knew that certain main characters are never really in any danger and will make it to the end of the book. The plot can sometimes feel like it’s designed specifically to ease Cole through sticky situations with nary a fuss which can leave the reader wondering what the point of the plot is if the outcome is assured. I can let this one go because the plot is pretty much secondary to the whole point of the book (and series). What ‘Starship: Flagship’ is all about is not only the hero winning through but winning through in style. That’s what the book sets out to deliver and, to be fair, it delivers this in style. I like the way that Cole’s plans come together in the way they do, even if they’re a little contrived now and then.

Resnick can push this approach to an extreme though and that’s what eventually got me. Without giving too much away, just as things are coming to a conclusion Resnick conjures an alien race out of thin air to create an emergency that will give Cole command of the Republic Navy. Things were in the process of ending naturally and had been handled very well up until that point. What the reader then gets is an ending that comes across as horribly contrived and drags the ending out much further than it needed to go. The pacing is shot to pieces and I was left wondering just what the point of it all was.

The thing is though, I had such a great time reading ‘Starship: Flagship’ that it more than balanced out the ending (although it was a definite issue). Like I said, there is plenty going on (albeit linear) and the cast of characters are fun to spend time with as always. There’s plenty of time for humour between battles and Resnick supplies this through the interactions between Cole, Val and David Copperfield. I wasn’t laughing out loud but it was all worthy of a chuckle at the very least.
Resnick also finds time to get serious as well with his examination of the use of torture to gain intelligence in wartime. I’m not sure that I’d agree with the outcome but what I did have a lot of time for was the way that Resnick set the argument out, paying equal attention to both sides and considering his subject carefully.

‘Starship: Flagship’ isn’t a book that will get you thinking about how the universe is put together. What it is though is a book where you will have a lot of fun watching bits of the universe get blown up! It’s contrived but it’s contrived to be entertaining, I can live with that! :o)

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

1 comment: said...

I had a chance to talk to Mike Resnick (who has won more awards for science fiction short stories than anyone, ever) about Flagship. A really interesting guy. He told me, in all honesty, that he's a lot less concerned with the weaponry and the blood than he is with the brains and motivation behind them. (If you're interested, you can read the interview for free on )