I’m sure we all know that being a reader means you have piles of books sitting around that you’ve been meaning to get to. Which, of course, doesn’t mean that you stop getting books. The pile just keeps getting bigger, and you, being the avid reader, just keep grabbing more books. Why am I talking about this? Well, because it was the only reason I had for picking up Joshua Dalzelle’s Warship when I had Monster Hunter International and The Martian already sitting on my kindle. For whatever reason, I decided to pick up a novel by a guy I’d never heard of instead of reading the stuff I already had.
Well, actually. I guess I know the reason. I like spaceships blowing crap up. I was the child that watched The Wrath of Khan the way normal children watch Disney movies. Over and over and over again. To this day, owning the Director’s Cut is a weird experience. Certain scenes last half a beat longer than the version I memorized as a five year old. Anyways, moving on.
Warship is the first novel in Dalzelle’s Black Fleet Trilogy. It follows one Jackson Wolfe, the Captain of the destroyer Blue Jacket. Humanity has spread out to the stars, and after centuries of expansion, have yet to encounter any sentient alien races. War is a thing of the past, and the fleet is being increasingly seen as a relic of a bygone age. Wolfe himself is something of an embarrassment: during humanity’s initial expansion, the best and the brightest were repeatedly skimmed off of Earth to settle the new colonies. As a result, Earth is viewed as a slum, and anyone coming from Earth has to fight generations of prejudice about the character and intelligence of Earthers. Wolfe has essentially pulled himself up by his own bootstraps, but try telling that to the superiors who view him as a token, a bone thrown to appease people by proving that the fleet isn’t racist.
Unsurprisingly, the Blue Jacket isn’t the fleet’s finest warship, and its crew are not the finest examples of naval men that have ever lived. Wolfe’s been given an aging destroyer, near to being decommissioned, had his previous XO transferred out from under him and replaced with a new officer who had her hopes set higher than serving under an Earther. To top it all off, the Blue Jacket is stuck ferrying an obnoxious senator’s aide with a set of secret orders. And of course, something weird is going on out at the frontier…. (Because it’s the frontier. Why would anything be normal out there?) Several colony worlds have gone dark, with no explanation.
It’s hardly a spoiler to mention that it’s an unknown alien race picking off colonies. In a story of this sort, what else would it be? It’s also probably not a surprise that the aliens (Book two calls them the “Phage”) are far more advanced than humanity. Again, it’s par for the course. Warship isn’t a terribly surprising novel; there aren’t a lot of twists and turns to it. Which isn’t to say that I was never surprised by what happened, but the plot twists are more along the lines of “Of course the Fleet screwed us over like that.” They’re not the kind of plot twists that lead to an hour long discussion about their implications over a beer. Warship is a story about a captain on an aging ship in an era of rampant budget cuts, fighting an enemy he can’t hope to overcome. In that regard, it reminds me a bit of the reboot of Battlestar Galactica.
Calling to mind other works is probably the weakest point of Warship. I remember reading a book on writing science fiction by Orson Scott Card years ago. I couldn’t tell you what book it was, or anything else about the book, but one thing stuck with me: Never, ever name your FTL a warp drive, because people will automatically assume you’re copying Star Trek. I wish Dalzelle had read that book, too, because every time he mentioned going to warp, part of my brain screamed “fanfic!” It’s not, near as I can tell, but the vibe can be hard to shake from time to time. (To be fair, the prologue in the next book mentions that the creators of the drive, Tsuyo Corporation, wanted to call it the T-Drive, and the public wouldn’t stop calling it warp. Also, to be fair, it’s based on the Alcubierre warp. I suppose we can’t blame Mr. Dalzelle that reality seems to want to write a Star Trek fanfic.)
The prose is nothing to write home about. It’s straight forward. Workmanlike. This isn’t a book with literary aspirations; it is, again, a story about blowing up bad guys.
What I’ve said so far might lead one to believe the book’s not worth picking up, which is regrettable. I actually really enjoyed the book. It’s no Hyperion or Dune, but there’s something to be said for a story that knows what it is and runs with it. And that’s exactly what Dalzelle does with Warship: it’s a book telling the kind of story where officers stare tensely at bridge viewscreens, fighting against all odds to save the human race.
Sometimes, you go to a restaurant that offers a BLT made with freshly baked artisanal bread, locally sourced lettuce and tomatoes, spiced and candied bacon and a house made aioli. And y’know what? It’s pretty good. Other times, you buy a loaf of bread, some tomatoes and lettuce, splurge on the thick cut name brand bacon, and slather the darn thing with Hellmans. And y’know what? It’s still pretty good, because you didn’t burn the bacon. It might not be fancy, the bread might not be freshly made, but you didn’t burn the bacon. It’s still a darn good BLT.
That’s what Warship is. It’s not particularly new or innovative, but it’s a perfectly good novel, and it’s $3.99 for the ebook. If you need a quick fix of exploding spaceships, Dalzelle won’t burn your bacon.