Thursday, February 1, 2018

Review: Torchship Captain, by Karl Gallagher

Just when I thought that the series could have ended with book two, Karl found a way to throw a heck of a monkey wrench into the ordeal.

I have already reviewed book 1 and two of the Torchship Trilogy, and boy has this been a fun ride.

But now, round three: Torchship Captain.
Michigan Long blackmailed her enemies into joining the war against the AIs. Now the secret she used is leaking out and the Fusion is shattering. Caught in the middle of a civil war, she will have to use any weapon that comes to hand—her wits, her ship, her mate.
And that barely scratches what happens in the first hundred pages.
As the Fusion -- the high-tech Orwellian world that has locked down technology since the AIs went rogue -- falls apart, well, let's just say I was wondering if this was the end of Firefly or the start of Honor Harrington. I was looking for Robert S Pierre along the way. And with good reason. If you ever wonder what a historian designing society looks like, here you go.

But a complaint I often heard lodged against Honor Harrington is her navy is "too perfect." If that's your problem, meet Michigan Long. Long is a Sparrow with Ahab syndrome. This is the book where it looks like it's gonna cost her. There is a reason no one wants to be the Count of Monte Cristo when they grow up. While it always simmered below the surface in Torchship and Pilot, this is where it, and she, goes full tilt.

One of the major threads in this book is the politics of the competing factions -- going from the Fusion Orwellian state of societal manipulation, to the Disconnect Libertarian anarchy, to a new player called "the Harmony," Confucian principles turned to totalitarian state. The politics of it were all handled deftly and in details without becoming too boring ... though it does start to drag around the middle. Someone should probably do a sociology paper on this book.

But as I hinted, there are some problems though. As I noted before, Long is basically a former Sparrow -- a spy who uses sex as a primary weapon in her missions. Unfortunately for her, she's still using it. And yes, she's married. And you can guess how just from the description. The sex scenes are thankfully not explicit, and her husband is Confucian, not Christian, so he's relatively laid back about it ... but not very happy about it. It's complicated and messy, and while it fits with the characters, personally I think it went a step too far. There's a stretch around the middle you will probably want to skim through -- between the politics and the Harmony subplot, there's some drag in the pacing. It seemed a little excessive and slow. I'm not even going to touch on moral / immoral aspects of it. I can't even say it was padding, since the book is just over 350 pages long. While book 1 and 2 fit together like one long novel, this almost feels a little off at times.

Thankfully, the book rallies quickly by the last third. At the end of the day, this wraps up every dangling thread, leaving it all tied in a bow. Everything is resolved, including elements that lead back to book 1. There was so much Fusion-Harmony politics, I half-suspected that the AI solution would happen off screen. It wasn't. It was integrated beautifully back into the overall plot. Karl could have easily made this final part a fourth novel, but he tied it off like a surgeon with a suture in a lovely 30 pages of epic warfare that I did not see coming, though I probably should have.

Hell, the only thing I thought Karl would do and didn't would be with the terraformers. But they already served their purpose in books 1 and 2.

Overall, solid book, good end to the trilogy. If you've bought books one and two, get Torchship Captain here. If you're new, just purchase the whole Torchship Trilogy.

For the record, yes, this is going to be my 2018 Dragon Award pick for Best Novel.

As an aside: Dear David Weber, if you have any problem with continuing or concluding Honor Harrington, I recommend you and Karl have a conversation sometime.

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