The starship Theodore Roosevelt is fighting on the far outskirts of a galactic war, its crew made up of retreads and raw recruits. A new first officer reports, Wilson Cole, a man with a reputation for exceeding his orders (but getting results). He’s been banished to the Teddy R. for his actions, but once there he again ignores his orders and again comes away triumphant.
It is when the captain of the ship stubbornly follows orders that Cole knows are wrong that he takes command of the ship and wins a major battle. But victorious or not, the service cannot condone a mutiny, even a bloodless one, and he is brought back to stand trial. But Wilson Cole realizes that a guilty verdict is a foregone conclusion…
This is the first of five proposed novels about the starship Theodore Roosevelt. The next four will be, in order, Pirate, Mercenary, Rebel, and Flagship.
The description of the book (from Goodreads) is actually misleading, because the story doesn’t happen that way. It would be more accurate to depict the story thusly:
The starship Theodore Roosevelt is patrolling the far outskirts of the Republic during a galactic war, its crew the unwanted and untrustworthy, at least from the Navy’s perspective. Wilson Cole joins the ships crew, as a new officer, recently demoted, with a reputation for disregarding his orders (but getting results). Though Cole was banished to the Teddy R., he refuses bad orders and once again comes away triumphant.
When the captain of the ship, stubbornly following orders, does something that Cole knows is wrong, he takes command of the ship to avert the death of millions. But, victorious or not, the service cannot condone a mutiny, even a bloodless one, and he’s brought back to stand on trial. Wilson Cole soon realizes that a guilty verdict is a foregone conclusion…
And you’ve pretty much summarized the book. It’s a fun romp, almost a space opera. The story is really the inciting event for the five-part story; the life of the Teddy R. (and it’s crew.)
Read further only if you don’t mind spoilers.
There is a lot to like in the first book of the Starship series, and I’ll list a few of the things I like. The writing is great (with a few notable exceptions), the humor is enough to make me smile more than once, a lot of the antics in the book are exploited to world build for readers who are not familiar with Resnick’s Birthright Universe (i.e., me). When you reach the end of the book, you get treated to several appendices, one of which is a timeline of his universe (somewhere in the area of eighteen thousand years 72 stories of indeterminate length.) The richness of the universe and its history really comes through in Resnick’s writing, and you can really see the degradation of the Republic’s government towards a government where the will of the people (stupid as they often are) becomes more important than the will of the representatives who are voted in to power.
Which segways nicely in to some of the things that were wrong with the book. Wilson Cole is the consummate hero, but he is also the consummate cynic. His history, and how he got demoted to the Teddy R., is presented in dialogue and narrative description. It’s history, and Resnick is unapologetic in skipping over the inciting events that lead Cole to the titular Starship. Furthermore, there are some fairly gaping holes in the plot and a few obvious failures in rendering natural dialogue. (If you don’t think about them, everything reads smoothly, but once you do it’s jarring.)
- The Bortellites (the bad guys in Act I) are on the planet to obtain power to fuel their ships. Geothermal energy. The natural question is, since most planets should have a geothermal core, why are they in Republic space (enemy space) collecting geothermic energy from this planet? The answer we’re given is that the planet is geothermically active, and with unstated exclamation points. The energy they can get from this planet is greater than any available in their own territory (because if it wasn’t, why would they enter enemy space to steal it?) Considering the fact that this is some three to four thousand years forward in time, it seems a marked lack of imagination on Resnick’s part. Why couldn’t they just build giant solar panel planets in space and collect all the excess heat and photonic energy that every star (closer to the enemies’ home territory) produces rather than going to where Wilson Cole is located?
- In Act II, the pilot of the Teddy R states “I’ve put some ground between us and them,” except that (you guessed it) they’re in space. The use of this archaic term aboard a vessel which, we are told, never sets down on planets (and the crew haven’t seen shore leave in a very long time, and the pilot who makes the comment is plugged in to the navigation systems, permanently.) The anachronism is jarring.
- In Act III, Cole’s military counselor says, “You didn’t make your captain walk the plank, or whatever they do these days.” Ok, first the military lawyer demonstrates an intimate familiarity with common practices aboard navel vessels four thousand years prior to the present (in the book), and then he displays a complete lack of familiarity with what passes for common practice aboard present day naval vessels. Wait, what?
- In Act III, the political climax of the book, we’re told that everyone is against Cole because he failed to prevent the death of three million Benidottes (but saved five million humans, and his former Captain has been telling the press that he’s bigoted and xenophobic… so the reason he didn’t save the Benidottes is because he hates all other species except humans. This prevents the Navy from finding him innocent.) I’m struggling (like the characters in the book) to understand how the entire civilization is so firmly under the control of the mass media that no one is capable of thinking for themselves.
- In Act III, after Cole accepts defeat so that his service mates are not sacrificed to politics along with him (but he’s planning to attempt an escape from prison), Resnick narrates “… Cole lay down on his narrow, uncomfortable cot, dwelling on the realization that he’d spent his entire adult life in the unquestioning service of a military that could do this to him.” (Emphasis mine). Except that the whole point of his history is that he’s never, ever served unquestioningly. The very reason he was sent to the Teddy R. in the first place is because he questioned (and disobeyed) orders, and he’s been questioning (and disobeying) orders throughout the last 245 pages.
Lastly, the climax of the book is political where the first and second Acts of the novel are both action. The result is to cause the quick pacing of the story to grind to a near halt while the protagonists “rot in jai.” Since this is the start of a series, and there are more books to come, I’m willing to forgive. I like Resnick’s voice (as a writer) and Wilson Cole is fun to spend time with.