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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Fred Patten Reviews Command Decision


Command Decision
Author: Elizabeth Moon
Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine Books
ISBN 10: 0-345-49159-9
ISBN 13: 978-0-345-49159-6

This is the fourth annual novel in Moon’s “Vatta’s War” series, following Trading in Danger, Marque and Reprisal, and Engaging the Enemy. I have been enjoying this series, so I eagerly dove into Command Decision, and I was not disappointed. Yet it begins in mid-story. Mysteriously disgraced Rafe Dunbarger, son of the CEO of ISC (InterStellar Communications), lands on the planet Cascadia in disguise, seeking to learn what has happened to his family; while harried Stella Vatta on an orbiting space station begins rebuilding Vatta Transport, the family’s sabotaged interstellar shipping fleet. Kylara Vatta, the main protagonist who is trying to make three tiny merchant spaceships into the nucleus of an anti-pirate military space fleet, does not appear until chapter three. “Vatta’s War” is a wonderfully exciting, fast-paced galaxy-spanning adventure saga, but readers unfamiliar with it should definitely begin with Trading in Danger, the first novel.

“Vatta’s War” takes place in a galactic society bound together commercially by merchant spaceships, and technologically by “ansibles”, interstellar communication devices that are a monopoly of the powerful ISC. In the previous novels 21-year-old Kylara Vatta, a member of the family that owns one of the largest fleets of merchant spaceships, is unfairly expelled from her homeworld’s Spaceforce Academy. Her father creates a job for her by appointing her captain of an old freighter being flown to a wrecking yard; a ceremonial assignment that Ky tries to make more profitable by signing a contract to deliver cargo to a nearby planet en route. She gets caught in an interplanetary war, attacks by space pirates, a bloody mutiny, and more. While this is going on, the ansibles that provide interstellar communication suddenly go silent, and an unknown enemy kills most members of the Vatta family and destroys their spaceships. Ky, using the skills she learned as a military cadet, gradually finds herself leading a tiny group of armed freighters acting as privateers against the space pirates that take advantage of the breakdown in communication between the worlds.

Command Decision is full of suspense ranging from space battles and commando raids to corporate hostile takeovers. Moon, who served in the U.S. Marines, writes taut military action scenes. This series is in the tradition of the “Heinlein juveniles” that have introduced teens to s-f for over fifty years, with a quietly assured young woman commander who makes these novels good escape reading for girls as well as boys.

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