The Starship Series:
By Mike Resnick
Published by Audible Frontiers
Read by Jonathan Davis (Foreword by Mike Resnick)
Somehow I missed this entire series when it first came out in print, but I find most of Mister Resnick’s stories easy to read and enjoyable, so when I had a chance to listen to the Starship series, I happily popped it on the old MP3 player and listened to it in the car.
The series is about a career Space Navy officer named Wilson Cole. He has been decorated a fair number of times and before the opening of the first book he has held command positions. Unfortunately for him, his career has been one in which he has never had a lot of respect for stupid orders and even when he has been proven right in his decisions, he has done so in a manner that has made his superiors look bad. Did they deserve to look bad? Well, yes, probably, especially if you believe what Cole has to say himself. But Cole is your classic self-starter and when he sees something needs to be done, he just goes ahead and does it, especially when he realizes that asking first will mean orders to not do whatever it is he thinks needs doing.
So at the start of the first book, Mutiny, Cole has just been assigned as third officer (I think) to the Theodore Rooseveldt. The ship, nick-named the Teddy R, is the classic rust-bucket of a ship, over a century old and has not been updated in living memory. It is the sort of ship into which a navy might pour all its troublemakers – the sorts who have not fit in well elsewhere but who the Navy is not willing to dismiss from service.
Cole is not one to settle in and get to know his new posting. Instead, on his first shift, he orders the ship into action without bothering to wake the captain. I personally though he was skirting a very fine line even then between following the ship’s mission and exceeding his authority, but he turned out to be right and that keeps him out of immediate trouble, so he gets a commendation (as does the whole ship) but no promotion. In another encounter the Captain is killed and the first office, person who might be described as a full-on martinet, gets command. Cole does not get along at all with his new captain and they disagree on just about everything including the interpretation of their orders. Tensions build and when the captain orders the deaths of over three million people on one world, Cole stops her before she can kill another five million on another.
He mutinies, and the crew follows. Being an honorable man, Cole does not try to run for the galactic version of Pitcairn’s Island in a latter day Bounty. Instead he surrenders for trial. One thing leads to another and instead of standing trial, the crew breaks him out of jail and they run for the “Inner Frontier.”
The next three books follow the Teddy R and her captain and crew try their hands at being pirates, mercenaries and finally rebels against the Republic from which they fled. Up to the end of Book Four (Rebel) I really enjoyed the stories and particularly enjoyed the fact that Cole won his battles through strategy and tactics, not brute force. It made the stories interesting even when they tended to be repetitive. Some repetition could not be helped since readers needed a recap at the start of each book, but after a while you realize that Cole is as stubbornly set in his way as the Republic officers he despises. Of course he is always right and that does tend to wear on the reader by the fourth book as well. However, even by the end of the fourth story I still enjoyed the ride.
Then came the conclusion, Flagship. Sorry, this one just did not work for me at all. It starts out well enough. Cole has been kicking over Republican hornets nests in his attempt to keep the Republic out of the Inner Frontier, but then he decides the only way he is going to do that is to take the fight back into the Republic (this after four books of stressing how impossible that is). Through guile and cleverness Cole and his allies manage to reach Deluros VIII (a world that should be familiar to Resnick’s readers from other series) and then, all of a sudden while he is attempting to bully the politicos of the Republic, Deluros VIII is suddenly under attack by a mysterious fleet of ships that have nothing to do with Cole and his fleet.
It gets worse… It turns out the attackers have been nursing a grudge for over five hundred years and somehow managed to attack at the same time Cole was working his own ploy. That is a pretty long coincidence and Mister Resnick does it without having even the grace to use A. Bertram Chandler’s usual dodge by having the lead character shrug and say something like, “There are more coincidences in real life than any decent author would dare to use.”
So Cole suddenly does a big turnaround, decides to trust some of the politicians and agrees to lead the fleet against these new/old enemies. It just did not fit the rest of the series as far as I was concerned. I saw no reason the Republic politicians should have trusted Cole, nor any reason he should have trusted them, and yet they did and everyone lives happily ever after.
So, overall I thought it was a good series, but it fell flat at the conclusion.
Each of the books in the series had a foreword and that’s fine. I write a foreword to almost all my books too, but I really must remember that if I am ever so fortunate to actually sell any of my stories to professional publishers, I must refrain from reading my own forewords on the audio editions. Mike Resnick introduces each of the books in this series and while I cannot point to anything he says that sounds like blatant egotism, somehow it was just annoying to hear him introduce his own work. He has a pleasant enough voice and he doesn’t actually say anything I object to, it just rubbed me the wrong way, so that settles it. Mike can do his own introductions, but I will refrain.
In spite of my reaction to the forewords, I really enjoyed Jonathan Davis’ readings of these stories. He keeps the pace going, delineates the characters well and rarely resorts to what I call “Funny voices” and usually only for non-humans, who, for all I know, might not sound human at all in any case.
So all in all, I recommend reading or listening to the first four books of the series and only move on to the fifth book if you are a rabid fan or believe that if you start a series you really ought to finish it. Well, okay, go ahead read the final book of the series, but don’t say I did not warn you!