In general, I enjoyed the Starship series. The (Birthright) Universe in which these stories are set is well developed and covers over twenty thousand years of human history. These are not hard science fiction novels, the last of which was published in 2009, but are generally Space Opera in good form. (The exception is the last book, which has some major problems.) The average book was 300-330 pages with an average of 260 words per page, which equates to about 78,000 to 86,000 words (on the short side of SciFi novels). They’re light and easy reading. But, as the series progresses, my enjoyment diminished until finally I was insulted.
The high-level summary of the series is:
A Navy hero, who refuses to follow stupid orders, embarks on a life outside the Navy when he is court marshaled for mutiny (the mutiny prevents his captain from killing five million citizens of the government the Navy is sworn to protect.) Once he realizes he’s not going to get a fair trial because of media influence, he steals a military ship (a hundred year old Navy cruiser) and heads out to the Frontier to become a Pirate. After a (quick) year spent in piracy (where he only pirates one ship, and runs afoul of one pirate), our hero decides that piracy is not for him or his crew. Deciding next to become mercenaries, they ply the spaceways getting into one nasty scrape after another for a year, before they realize there has got to be a better way. It’s at this point that the hero decides they need to stop taking mercenary contracts where they’ll be required to fight. (Who needs all that noise?) and then proceed to get caught up with some Republic rebels who want them to help overthrow the Republic they once served. In the end, Cole wins against the Republic and rides off into the sunset (or flies off in to deep space, if you prefer.)
There are lots of spoilers below. You have been warned. You can click on any of the book images to be taken to their Amazon page, in case you want to learn more (or buy a copy).
A fun space opera about a navy hero who’s a busted down a rank and sent to a “penal ship” (a military ship where all the troublemakers are sent, and then the ship is sent to some backwaters location where it will stay out of the Navy’s way.
- Act I. Wilson Cole arrives, takes his place as the 3rd officer of the ship. Identifying an enemy vessel on a friendly planet, he heads down to investigate. Once there, he incites the enemies in to making a few mistakes and when the cavalry arrive they destroy the enemy, save Cole, and are forced to give him a medal of courage for his trouble.
- Act II. Sent to a still farther backwater location with two other ships to keep watch on Cole and his ship, our hero finds himself confronting a powerful enemy starship that appears to be guarding a remote and strategically useless world. Deducing that some high-ranking enemy agent is on the planet for a secret meeting, Cole talks the captain in to launching an attack against the planet. After bombing the planet, the Captain is killed but Cole and crew escape. The Navy is again required to give the crew medals.
- Act III. Cole and crew are sent to guard two fuel depots under the command of the former Second Officer , now made Captain. When the enemy show up to try to appropriate the fuel, the Captain fires on one fuel depot, rendering the planet a radioactive wasteland and killing three million citizens. When the Captain tries to repeat the performance on the second fuel depot, Cole mutinies and prevents the death of five million more citizens (all humans), allowing the enemy to appropriate the fuel.
- Epilogue/Denouement. Cole is tried for mutiny. The Captain who was deposed is hand-slapped and sent back to duty as Second Officer of some unnamed ship. Between this injustice and the media blitz painting Cole as a racist (saving a planet of 5M humans but not saving the planet of 3M aliens) Cole decides he’s done serving the Navy. His crew break him out of jail and head for the Inner Frontier. Maybe they should be pirates…
The Space Opera continues with the Wilson Cole, Forrice (Four Eyes) and the crew of the Teddy R (Theodore Roosevelt) as they pursue a life of piracy.
- Act I. They set their code of pirate ethics: They will only pirate the pirates. They set a trap for and eventually catch their first pirate. After disposing of the pirate attackers, they collect the loot on the pirate ship and set about trying to fence/sell it. We meet David Copperfield, the largest fence in the Inner Frontier. Cole is renamed Steerforth in honor of the “immortal Charles Dickens”, although only David refers to Cole this way.
- Act II. Cole goes solo back in to the Republic to try to fence a bunch of items they recovered from the pirate that attacked them in Act I. The theory is that insurance agents would much rather pay Cole to “recover” things stolen for 1/3rd of the value of the insurance settlement than pay the full insurance settlement to the insured party. Cole meets the cardboard woman-of-many-names who eventually takes the name Cole gives her: Val (for Valkyrie). In exchange for assistance in recovering Val’s ship from a pirate that stole it from her, Val will teach Cole the ropes of piracy.
- Act III. The Hammerhead Shark leads Cole and the Teddy R on a merry chase, but Cole figures that the Shark will eventually have to go to a fence to sell his goods so why not wait for him there? In order to get David Copperfield’s assistance, Cole has to steal an original signed copy of one of Dicken’s classics from another fence, which he does promptly and easily. The Shark shows up, there is a battle, the Shark almost gets away but Cole out-thinks him and Val decides to ditch her ship and stay a member of the Teddy R. Her crew mutinied against her, but Cole’s crew would die for him. Until she can figure out the leadership lessons needed to earn that kind of loyalty, she figures it would be better to be a 3rd officer on a great ship than Captain of a disloyal ship.
- Epilogue: All this business of trying to fence stuff makes Cole feel like an accountant. Displeased with his experiences in piracy, he decides it’s time for a change of pace… They’re a warship, why not take up mercenary work…
- Act I. Three months of hard fighting (between the last book and this one) have worn thin on the crew of the Teddy R. They want to be mercenaries, they just don’t want to be shot at or do any shooting. Reminiscent of the teenage complaint that being forced to work is unfair and that everything should be given to them on a silver platter, Cole decides he needs to rethink the whole strategy on accepting jobs. (More charitably, he decides he’s willing to accept less money for less risk.) We are introduced to the Platinum Duke, owner of Singapore Station. The Duke signs them up to put down “the biggest” Frontier Warlord by the name of Ghengis Khan. In the process, Val gets herself a replacement ship and Cole appropriates most of Khan’s followers for himself (when Khan is off-handedly executed.)
Sadly, Resnick’s writing starts becoming repetitive and the indefensible routine:
Usually battle plans that are months in the making and cover every conceivable detail tend to go wrong, so it was only just and fitting that Cole’s plan, conceived in less than five minutes, ran like clockwork.
- Act II. Wilson Cole rescues an old friend of David Copperfields from a group of aliens who have renamed themselves Thuggees, and renamed their continents after Indian cities. While enjoying some “shore-leave”, Cole meets Jacovic, the admiral who led the fleet in Starship: Mutiny that threatened the Teddy R while trying to steal the nuclear fuel from the Republic. It seems Jacovic is as disillusioned with the Teronis Federation as Cole is with the Republic. Cole welcome Jacovic to join the Teddy R’s crew. This act concludes with Val having accepted mercenary work from “the biggest warlord” in the Frontier (Csonti) to pacify a planet. Cole refuses to allow innocent victims on a medical station (where he has wounded crew) to die and shepherds them in to Republic space. Csonti goes on a drugged/drunken rampage in the Signapore Station casino and is stopped by Cole, thereby causing Csonti to want to destroy Singapore station.
- Act III. The crew of the Teddy R worry about Csonti’s impending attack (and Val is still siding with the warlord). Then Cole realizes that the station has thousands of (mostly unarmed) ships, but if even a fraction of the seventeen thousand ships have weapons and shields, they’re more than a match for Csonti’s (nearly) forty ships. Csonti backs down.
- Epilogue/Denouement. Csonti makes a final appearance to attempt to assassinate Cole but the attempt is thwarted by Val. With the defections from Csonti’s fleet, Cole’s mercenary forces now total twenty-seven ships.
Robert Bedford said it best:
As I noted in my review of Starship Pirate, here once again Wilson Cole manages to make everything work and this is growing slightly wearying. Every plan he enacts succeeds, every challenge he faces is surpassed. A minor exception to this rule occurs at the end of the novel, but overall there is little doubt or suspension of disbelief whether or not Cole will succeed. Despite that, I’m still enjoying this series and am interested to see where Resnick is going to take the Teddy R. and its crew. So the bottom line is this: if you’ve enjoyed the first two Starship novels, there is no reason not to continue on with the story.
By the fourth book, I’m slogging through them because I purchased books 4-5 before I’d finished reading book 3. I enjoyed books 1-2 (I overlooked the flaws). But, by the time I finished book 3, if I had not already purchased books 4-5, I wouldn’t have.
- Act I. This book’s second chapter takes it’s first six paragraphs (really paragraphs 2-7) almost verbatim from the second book, Starship: Pirate, when the Theodore Roosevelt first makes its way to Singapore Station. Is it plagarism when you copy work from yourself?
As Starship: Rebel continues, Cole starts sliding from mercenary to rebel: he stops requiring payment for every engagement. He rescues a random kid who is being set upon by the Republic Navy. The kid turns out to be the son of Octopus, “the biggest warlord” in the Inner Frontier. (After the third time I’ve heard this, each time the warlord being bigger than the last, I lose my ability to believe Resnick’s narration… Resnick, not the character.) Octopus wants Cole to join him in ruling the Inner Frontier. Cole says no. Forrice is tortured and killed, Cole gets revenge and kills Forrice’s killers. This concludes Act I. When Cole refuses to kill a Navy ambulance ship from rescuing survivors from the ship Cole destroyed the Navy learns of Cole’s actions.
- Act II. They send a punishment party and an Inner Frontier world is destroyed. The death almost entirely happens off screen. While Cole’s reaction to Forrice’s death is believable, the death of millions is more or less an afterthought. A random act intended to launch the actions of Act II. We’re led to believe that Cole would have let Forrice’s death go simply with getting revenge, but because the Navy committed genocide against a planet full of innocents, he’s now going to destroy every Navy ship in the Frontier. After many pinpricks, the Navy decides to send a punishment party against Singapore Station. This causes Octopus to throw in with Cole, as his subordinate. Then, to get more information, Cole decides to infiltrate a Navy base to steal classified information. He meets Lafferty, a Republic Rebel, who pledges another few hundred ships to Cole’s fleet.
While I do like Resnick’s writing style, there are things I don’t like. The following example epitomizes everything I dislike about Resnick’s writing style: On his way back from a solo mission in Republic space, where he infiltrated a Navy base to steal classified information, Wilson Cole is stopped by ships from his growing Inner Frontier fleet. They don’t recognize him or the Republic ship he’s stolen and because of that they almost kill him.
“This is Wilson Cole. I have captured the Republic ship known as Raging Tiger. My code word is Four Eyes. May I have an escort to Singapore Station, please?”
“This is Miguel Flores, Captain of the Golden Dawn,” came reply. “I am not aware of any code word. Also, I’ve met Captain Cole, and you’re not him.”
“What the hell are you talking about? The code is Four Eyes.”
“Nobody gave me any code word,” said Flores.
“Let me guess. You just joined this week.”
“Before you do something rash,” said Cold, “contact the Theodore Roosevelt. They will confirm my current appearance and my code word.”
“They’d better,” said Flores. A minute later his image was back, “All right, Captain Cole. You’ve got an escort.”
His image vanished.
“What if they’d shot first?” asked Dozhin.
“You’d be past worrying about it by now,” answered Cole.
“Is that all you’ve got to say?” demanded the alien.
“What do you want me to say?” responded Cole. “I’m the one who declared open season on Republic ships once they enter the Frontier. I can hardly get mad at anyone for carrying out my orders”
“I have come to the conclusion that you are not a military hero after all,” said Dozhin after some consideration.
“That’s what I’ve been telling you all along.”
“What you are,” continued Dozhin, “is a madman with a death wish!”
“If you say so.”
“Hah! You don’t deny it?”
“Would it do any good?” said Cole. “Your mind’s made up. But don’t forget that this madman kept you alive when Lafferty’s ship was stopped, and again just now.”
“The intelligent don’t depend on luck,” said Cole. “And the dumb don’t understand how it works.”
This superficial conflict is common throughout Resnick’s stories. People rarely die (unless they’re the bad guy), are never injured in any way that is permanently debilitating, and almost all conflicts are resolved with words (despite the fact that millions of ships in the Republic Navy have been in a century or longer war with the neighboring Federation.)
On the other hand, moments later as Dozhin and Cole part ways (never to see each other again), Dozhin is trying to wheedle money out of Cole. Cole gives him a ten dollar bill and tries to set him up with a job, but our curmudgeon Dozhin doesn’t want a job. In response Cole quips:
“Suit yourself. I hope you and the ten dollars have a long and happy life together.” …
The series is filled with these darlings. For Space Opera, you really can’t ask for more.
- Act III. With help from Cole’s mercenary fleet, volunteers from around the Inner Frontier, Rebels from inside the Republic, and the Octopus’ armed starships, the Inner Frontier is able to defeat a Navy punishment fleet. They defeat them by sacrificing four ships for every Navy ship destroyed.
- Epilogue/Denouement. Cole decides
At this point, I’ve given up trying to write a review… This whole book makes me want to go back and do a Reasoning With Vampires treatment to this series, picking at the plot holes, continuity errors (and admittedly infrequent grammar error.) Here are a few choice quotations to show you what you’re facing if you read this book. YMMV.
“Our side has a redhead who wants to attack all three million Republic ships at once, an egomaniacal criminal kingpin with eight hands, a platinum cyborg who’s only willing to go to war as long as no one shoots back, and an alien who thinks he’s David Copperfield,” replied Cole with a wry grimace. “How can we lose?”
The above gem is found on Page 21. I think that pretty much defines the book. A little later, we’re presented with:
“You have fifty-three people on this ship, and you’re going to find reasons why fifty-two of them can’t possibly lead the boarding party, am I right?”
“You’re complicating the issue unnecessarily,” complained Cole.
“And you’re showboating,” she said. “If you heard of any other Captain doing this, you’d call it egomania.”
You waited until book five to bring this up?
And then, 81 pages in to the book, Wilson Cole stumbles upon a brilliant plan that gets the enemy to defeat themselves. He sends a message:
“This is Wilson Cole, speaking to you from the bridge of the Theodore Roosevelt. If you have any doubt of my identity, run a voice-print.” He paused to give them the opportunity to do just that. “Four years ago you imprisoned me for an action that saved file million human lives. That is a disagreement between you and me, and I was content to live out my life on the Inner Frontier, well beyond your jurisdiction. But your pursuit of me has enlarged our disagreement to include literally billions of men, women, and aliens. You have committed genocide, you have practiced torture, and you have proven yourself totally unworthy of the trust of the citizens of the Republic have placed in you. You have one Standard day in which to resign your position. If you do not, then be assured that you will be forcibly removed from it. This is not an idle threat, and I’m not grandstanding: if you have not resigned within one Standard day, we shall be at hazard. And this time I won’t be running from you, but toward you.”
This treat results in an non-proportional response:
Cole’s message had an immediate and deleterious effect. Not on the Teddy R, which was a third of the galaxy away from Deluros VIII, but on almost anything that moved and didn’t bear the insignia of the Republic.
Wait, what? And as if that wasn’t enough, chapter seven continues:
A convoy of eleven ships, carrying ore from the mining worlds of the Frontier to the shipbuilding world of Spica II, didn’t identify itself quickly enough and was obliterated.
Two men– one high on whiskey, one high on drugs– got into a fight on Bishawn IV. Weapons were drawn, a single pulse blast was fired, it went wild and hit a bystander, more guns and shots were fired, and [sic] bartender sent out a distress signal that people were shooting at each other, the Navy picked it up, and a moment later the tavern and all seventy-one of its customers and employees were vaporized.
Every ship, whether business or pleasure, was inspected, released, then inspected again in the next system, and the system after that. Anyone who didn’t give the Navy the answers they wanted, or who didn’t give them fast enough, or clearly enough, or often enough, was incarcerated without appeal.
Loyal alien worlds, longtime members of the Republic, were suddenly viewed with suspicion. Terrified Ambassadors– Cole’s messages had passed through channels and had leaked within an hour– insisted on Navy escorts. Private ships became convinced that other private ships were in the employ of the notorious Wilson Cole, and begun firing on each other.
Yea, right. That’s believable. (Better put on your waders, the sarcasm and BS is getting thick around here.)
“Just tell me that you really have a plan.”
“I really have a plan,” replied Cole. “Plus about ten contingency plans, since nothing is guaranteed against an enemy of this magnitude and with its resources.”
“But you have a plan?” repeated the Octopus.
“I have a plan.”
“Fucking well better!” growled the Octopus.
“Now, if you’re through with your little fit of pique, let’s see what we can do about getting your people the hell off the ship before we can’t stand the sight of you and vice versa.”
“If you’re that damned anxious to get rid of us, set us down on the next oxygen world.”
Wait, what? What’s the plan? (When have you ever had a plan?)
“Don’t make me play guessing games,” said the Octopus. “Just tell me what were going to do about my situation.”
This gem happens towards the conclusion of the scene in which the previous quote was taken. Sometimes, even the characters know what’s best for the plot… Cole’s brilliant proposal is to capture Cargo ships, so that they can land…
“But we’ll still be in an unarmed ship,” said the Octopus.
“Initially,” Cole agreed. “Before long you’ll be in a dozen unarmed cargo ships.” Cole paused. “The advantage is that you can land. Choose a planet that has a major Republic presence, maybe the capital world of one of the galactic sectors, and harass and disrupt it on the ground. They’ll be looking for an attack from space, by the Teddy R or some Teroni ship. You’ll actually have an easier time of it with a ground attack.”
Yes, that makes perfect sense! Eighty rebels against the security forces of a capital world is the perfect plan! Let’s look at those numbers: hundreds of millions, possibly billions of citizens, with even 2% of the citizenry being dedicated to law enforcement– and that’s discounting the military population stationed there– if we assume the world has half of Earth’s population, at 2% that’s still over sixty million law enforcement personnel. Sixty-million to 80. mmm… I love me some odds like that. (Someone must be proposing the needle in a haystack approach to evading law enforcement.)
Later, Cole and his girlfriend (the Security Officer on his ship) talk:
“Do you have a plan?”
“I wouldn’t call it that,” said Cole. “There are too many variables.”
“But you know what you want to do.”
“I want to win the war.”
“You know, sometimes you can be very annoying to
talk to read. I think the Octopus had a point.“
(That strike-through is my contribution to the dialogue.)
Cole goes on to run a war of propaganda against the Republic, bombing abandoned worlds and claiming that the Teronis Federation has been making deep strikes in to the Republic. Then, in a final gambit, he plots an infiltration to force the republic government to re-elect better representatives (hoping to clean up the government through a semi-coup)… but he plans to head back to the core, and as one of the elected officials mentions, the Republic voted all these officials in the first time– what makes Cole think that they wouldn’t vote them in again?
The conclusion of the story has an indefensible deus ex machina: an alien race that has never been mentioned in the story prior to the climax appears out of nowhere, forcing the Republic’s government to capitulate to Cole’s demands and in a single line, Resnick sends Cole to “ride in to the sunset” (so to speak.)