Sunday 10 March 2019

Fleet of Knives: Pacifism Gets Its Due

Overt pacifism is often given short shrift in science fiction, so it is refreshing to see it represented by
(Image Via
the House of Reclamation that is the central focus of Gareth Powell’s novel Embers of War and its recently released sequel Fleet of Knives.

The House of Reclamation, which operates like a benevolent version of the French Foreign Legion, accepts all those who wish to leave their pasts behind them in order to serve the greater good. The organization operates a network of rescue ships, and dispatches them to various crises with a humanitarian mission to save lives and provide medical support.

This mission and set-up provide an excellent framework in which to tell engaging and personal stories about characters who are atoning for past crimes. One could imagine Powell continuing to mine this premise for numerous novels, much as James White did with his superb Sector General novels.

Much like the Sector General novels, this series seems to be building and strengthening over time.

One of the aspects of the first book that we enjoyed was the way that the universe bled off the edge of the pages. Only those portions of the world that were directly important to the story were fully explained, but there was clearly enough thought given to the setting that there was room in this universe for many stories.

Many have praised Embers of War and its sequel by comparing them to Firefly. However, we think it’s more apt to compare these novels to a different cult television classic: Babylon 5, Much like J. Michael Straczynski’s masterpiece, these novels are set in the wake of a galaxy wide conflict, explore
"Some time ago, Keffer saw or
thought he saw something in hyperspace,
 a ship of some kind." — Lt. Ivanova
(Image via 
how peace is achieved, and feature elder races and ancient interstellar mysteries. In Fleet of Knives, Powell invites this comparison by directly quoting Babylon 5’s tagline “The Last Best Chance For Peace.”

If the first novel was comparable to the first season of B5, then Fleet of Knives offers the narrative bridge of the second and third seasons in which the premise is reinvented, and true dangers are revealed.

There are shadows in hyperspace, and tensions between more established and newer Human settlements. There’s also the question of who created the Marble Armada and what happened to them. Several of those tantalizing hints receive more focus in Fleet of Knives — though to say too much about this would spoil half of the fun.

The character of Trouble Dog — a sentient warship that resigned from the military — continues to be one of the real highlights of the series. Designed and bred to be efficient and task-focused, Trouble Dog’s personality does not correspond to what we would describe as a neurotypical human, and in this she reminds us somewhat of another recent popular SF creation: Murderbot.

Powell clearly knows the genre inside and out, and this deep knowledge helps the work become more than a sum of its parts.

More problematic is the narrative arc of war criminal turned poet Ona Sudak, which almost serves to undermine her character development in the previous novel. The inconsistency of Sudak’s reform and lack of self-awareness did not sit well with us. She might have better served readers if her story had ended.

That being said, the strong narrative arc, the pacing and engaging prose all add up to one heck of an adventure novel. Given our strong penchant for avoiding sequels on our Hugo ballots, we likely won’t have this work on our 2020 nominations list. However, it is almost guaranteed that we’ll be advocating strongly for this to be recognized in the series category in 2021.

No comments:

Post a Comment