Monday, July 1, 2019

Galaxy's Edge: The Reservist

They promised him one weekend a month. The House or Reason swore the 9th would never leave their gentle homeworld. But after Kublar, things changed for Sergeant Fetch and the Caledonian Reserve Legion Corps. Thrown into a meat grinder conflict in a desperate bid to hold the line, it doesn’t matter whether you’re reserve or active, only that you kill and survive.

The first book in the Galaxy's Edge series, Legionnaire, began as an attempt to bring back a little of that Star Wars magic in a form palatable to modern military science fiction and military veteran sensibilities. What Nick Cole and Jason Anspach delivered was science fiction's version of Black Hawk Down, a classic military science fiction novel worthy of mention alongside Starship Troopers and The Forever War. After completing the main series, Cole and Anspach opened up the Galaxy's Edge universe to their fellow writers with the Order of the Centurion series. While the tone of each novel varies from that set down by the first, Order of the Centurion (reviewed here), each new book delivered competent military science fiction action and heroism by some of the best military science fiction writers in independent science fiction.

Then came J. R. Handley's The Reservist.

Military science fiction--and military fiction in general--tends to fall into competence porn, or, in the case of farce, incompetence porn. Generally, the protagonist's leadership is sure, decisive, and unwavering, as are his troops. Incompetence, leadership failings, and, just as often, gross moral failings are reserved for the inevitable conflict between the protagonist and his risk-adverse superiors. What does not get shown is the forging process by which a newly promoted NCO or officer, often green and squirrelly, matures into a proper leader worthy of his position. That involves a lot of mistakes, counseling, and, more often that not, a "Come to Jesus" meeting or two. In garrison, there's time and space to learn the ropes in relative safety--for the leader and his troops. But on the battlefield, where dead leejs mean instant promotion, the learning process becomes a crucible.

That's the situation the newly-minted Lieutenant "Fetch" Ocampo finds himself in after a mine and an infiltrator leaves the former sergeant as the most senior legionnaire of Rage Company. He has to adapt to his new position as an officer in the middle of the latest Legion meatgrinder fueled by the Mid Core Rebellion's treachery. But the futuristic version of Isandlwana forces Fetch to come to grips with his shortcomings as a leader elevated above his current capabilities, and each growing pain threatens to cost lives.

It's a far different spin on a reservist's duty than the tired-out weekend warrior tropes thrown at the reserves. And Fetch's pain comes raw, from the first shot of whiskey at a legionnaire's dive bar to the slow whittling down of Rage Company on its way to its last stand. Faith is a solace here, a rarity in science fiction, and it is given the same authenticity seen in Civil War battlefield letters. In general, Handley avoids the common war story tropes cemented by decades of World War Two and Vietnam stories, and delivers a story that's personal and authentic, even to the ear of an extremely real-echelon commo puke.

The result is that Handley has given Galaxy's Edge its second entry into the military science fiction canon.

Currently, The Reservist is available only through Audible, or in ebook for Galaxy's Edge Insiders. A paperback version is on its way, as soon as the exclusivity window with Audible passes.

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