Thursday, February 12, 2009

Review: JAG in Space novels

Another eminently readable John G. Hemry science fiction series, this one is composed of four novels so far: A Just Determination, Burden of Proof, Rule of Evidence, and Against All Enemies. All four novels revolve around the naval career of Paul Sinclair, who starts the series as an Ensign in the United States Space Navy. All of them introduce an interesting legal situation, resulting in a court martial that then gets tied up at the end of each novel, thereby ensuring that each novel is readable independently and without reading the others. There are recurring characters, however, so you will learn the characters better if you read them in order.

What I enjoy about these novels is the use of Hemry's experience. The depiction of life aboard a naval warship is as realistic as one would want, including the requisite dressing down by the skipper or senior officers. There's also references to age old naval traditions Hemry speculates will probably never be abandoned (and probably rightly so). Yet none of it is confusing --- even the ticing of hammocks is explained, though not in a fashion that's annoyingly pedantic (Hemry has clearly mastered what Jo Walton calls "in-cluing", providing information in-line with the character's experience without extensive explanation).

A Just Determination examines the role of the Captain and his orders on the ship. Paul Sinclair, as the ship's collateral legal officer finds himself testifying in a court martial when a routine patrol results in an international incident. The procedures of a court martial are provided and followed to the letter, and the legal procedure both interesting and educational. We also get insight to a certain style of leadership --- one where junior officers are provided guidance without explicit direction. It's the kind of leadership that works when recruits are of extremely high caliber and can respond to little clues, but falls apart when hiring standards drop. What's interesting to me is that the navy Hemry portrays has commanders and senior officers capable of discerning what type of officer Sinclair is and adjust their leadership style correspondingly. My experience in military organizations (and civilian organizations as well) is that such senior officers are rare.

Burden of Proof revolves around a ship-board accident and a certain kind of officer that one frequently encounters --- the man who can do no wrong from his superior officers' point of view. When a fire occurs on a naval ship, an initial investigation finds Paul Sinclair at fault. He leads an investigation which leads to the court martial of what turned out to be something more sinister. What's interesting about this plot is that Sinclair has a personal stake and while he rises to the occasion, he is not at all rewarded for his performance. Again, this is extremely realistic --- we are reminded that the navy is a large organization which does not always results in justice being done.

Rules of Evidence gets even more personal --- Sinclair's girlfriend is accused of sabotaging a navy ship, causing the death of hundreds in a massive explosion. This is where the series starts to sag, as while the investigation is interesting and logical (Hemry provides all the correct clues in the right places), one has a hard time understanding how the court martial process could be so screwed up that major pieces of evidence could be left out. Then again, knowing about government procurement procedues perhaps this is not too surprising. Nonetheless, with the format not being fresh any more, this rates as a less interesting read than the first two.

Against All Enemies shows a clearly different approach. Rather than leading the investigation, Sinclair is roped into an investigation by internal intelligence officers, and then involved in the court martial only peripherally. His role being only to be manipulated into doing the right thing. This is the weakest of the novels, though it does introduce the complication of having civilian lawyers in a court martial (a rare occurance).

Rather than being a who-done-it in classic fashion, these novels explicate navy life, leadership lessons, and how there's the wrong way, the right way, and the navy way. Eminently readable and short, these are perhaps as perfect as it gets for airplane novels or for surface intervals between dives. Recommended as such. And the price at $30 for 7 novels is not bad at all, in DRM-free form.
Post a Comment