Review -- Starship: Flagship
STARSHIP: FLAGSHIP is the fifth, and concluding, book in the STARSHIP series, which is an entry in the Birthright Universe. If you are not familiar with Mike Resnick, and his Birthright Universe, we’ll give you a quick lesson. Resnick is as decorated as an author can be with almost 60 published novels, a couple hundred short stories, 30 or so Hugo nominations, and 5 of those which he has won. The guy knows his writing.
The Birthright Universe is a 20,000 year long story that encompasses Man’s rise to Galactic adventures, and his subsequent fall. Ambitious doesn’t even begin to describe the project Mr. Resnick is working on.
The STARSHIP series is a Space Opera about the final phases in the Republic stage of Man’s Galactic experience, and the beginning of the Democracy. Rogue Naval officer, Wilson Cole, and his ship the Theodore Roosevelt, formerly of the Republic’s Galactic Navy, take the stage for the telling of this story. In this final chapter of the STARSHIP series Cole and his extremely small group of revolutionaries square off against a Republic of 60,000+ worlds and a Navy of ships–most of which outclass even the Teddy R–in an attempt to overthrow the government. No small feat…or so one would think.
Our biggest complaint (of only a few candidates to be honest) was that this is an -or should be- impossible feat. Cole’s rogue Navy has 800 ships, against 300+ million, almost all of which are outgunned, so obviously open military action is ruled out. Duh. Well what does that leave? Guerrilla warfare, a propaganda campaign, sabotage, etc., are the usual suspects. There is a problem with that. Cole only has a very small, but dedicated, group of supporters, against the population of the Republic. There’s no way he could pull off a Galaxy-wide propaganda campaign against the most powerful government the Galaxy has seen. Yet, everything enfolds (with one minute, early exception) unbelievably easy. That sound you hear is us groaning every time Cole succeeds in outwitting the Republic. Remember, the Republic has the population of 60,000+ worlds. You mean to tell us that the leaders couldn’t find JUST ONE PERSON who could see through Wilson Cole’s deception? Puuuuh-lease! (In case you were curious, Steve did snap his fingers back-and-forth while saying “Puuuuh-lease.” It added quite a bit to the presentation. We promise.)
Now, this isn’t to say there isn’t any tension. There was plenty as we approached the outcome of the series. But in reality, this is more of a testament to Mr. Resnick’s ability to engage the reader with his writing and sweep them along. We really just wanted a disaster or two…but instead we were disappointed every time things slid so easily and effortlessly into place. The ending wasn’t exactly what we expected, but the resolution of the book still came about with really no effort.
Speaking of the ending, the last 1/5th of the book came completely out of nowhere, with no foreshadowing whatsoever. It wasn’t quite Deus Ex, and it was a satisfying read while keeping the pages turning. But, it was still ridiculously convenient, and truthfully, a bit sloppy. It was as if Resnick knew he had written himself into a corner and needed an out.
Another plot-based stumbling block, for us, has to do with the believability of the general population of the Republic, and their reactions to the events in the book. The issue we had, was that Wilson Cole orchestrated events that made the Republic do incredibly terrible things. However, despite Wilson Cole obviously being the source of these events, it made the Republic become a hated entity by the Galaxy. Then, when Cole and his team did the exact same things the Republic did, as far as the general population was concerned anyway, it made people hate the Republic even more, instead of Cole. It made no sense for things to unravel this way.
Resnick seemed to have the most fun with his characters. They are interesting, distinct, and clever. In fact there were more than a few moments we thought to ourselves, “Seriously guys? There is a war on, in case you didn’t notice. Its time to quit with the witty banter.” The dialog in so many places is very entertaining, but boils down to one-liners and quips. Even keeping that in mind, the characters feel…pretty full. This is really an incredible feat since Cole is our only PoV character, and other than him not many of the other characters get much in the way of screen-time.
We love the alien who thinks he is Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, and refers to the Captain as Steerforth. Brilliant idea Mr. Resnick. The Valkyrie is incredibly annoying. Every line she has involves some outburst of how she wants to kill someone, blow something up, fight war, not hide, etc. We got it Mr. Resnick, we got it. Wilson Cole, we think, is a superhero in disguise. Reading about him during this book is like watching a World Champion chess player pitted against a third grader. He manipulates events at every turn, and single-handedly outwits his enemies. (Mr. Resnick must have based his character on Nick…) Though this does come at a price, other than the obvious undermining of the tension. Easily half the chapters end the same way. Cole’s crew trying to keep up with his mastermind plan, trying to guess what is going on, and then Cole having the last sentence in a chapter, and saying the exact opposite of what his crew surmised. Fun, if a bit formulaic and obviously intended for minor cliffhangers.
It should be difficult to review the book without commenting on the ethical/moral questions raised (for Nick anyway, because he loves to debate ethics and play the devil…err, devil’s advocate), but, sadly, it isn’t. The ethical question Mr. Resnick was obviously, and admittedly, trying to raise was about torture. When does harsh interrogation become torture, and is torture crossing the line. However, it was such a small (and like everything else in the book, quickly resolved) plot point in the middle that it was little more than a blip on the radar. We were pretty bummed about this.
Ok, we dealt with the obligatory quirks that we didn’t like. But was there any good? How did we actually like the novel? This book, despite what we think are it’s failings (and what book doesn’t have them?) was actually ridiculously fun to read. Resnick has completely captured our attention and imagination. Give us more Birthright Universe please.
The plot, though requiring a heavy dose of suspension of disbelief (heavier than normal obviously; we ARE talking about SF after all) was very enjoyable. There wasn’t a single boring part, or paragraph we felt like skipping. All of the things that we had a hard time liking, actually serve the book in an awesome way. It makes the book quicker, light, and easily accessed, all while dealing with the expansive universe (which amounts to the single most ambitious project either of us have encountered), ethical concerns, and modern-day allusions. It is a perfect starting place–well, after reading the other 4 books of course–for newcomers to the Space Opera genre.
Should you read the book? It only takes 2-3 hours and is worth much more than that. The STARSHIP series is a fast-paced Space Opera that should be bumped to the top of your reading list if you’re in the mood for some SF. If you’re like us, and really if you’re not get to work on that (because who wouldn’t want to be?), after reading the STARSHIP series you will eagerly be heading to your local bookstore (or Amazon if you want to be more like Steve) and pick up his other works, such as STALKING THE VAMPIRE and STALKING THE DRAGON.
Other awesomeness about the book? Well Picacio did the covers and Pyr published them (with great quality mind you). Enough said.
Recommended Age: 16 and up.
Language: A few F words.
Violence: A discussion of torture, but no actual scenes or description of it. A couple laser blasts to the head, but as is the case with Space Opera, it is clean.
Sex: No scenes or acts, but plenty of references to the main character and his love interest sharing a bed.
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