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Command Decision
Elizabeth Moon
Del Rey, 400 pages

Command Decision
Elizabeth Moon
Elizabeth Moon grew up in south Texas, 250 miles south of San Antonio and eight miles from the Mexican border. She attended Rice University and joined the US Marines in 1968. With a second degree in biology, she entertained thoughts about going to med school after her husband, but circumstances intervened.

Elizabeth Moon Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Engaging the Enemy
SF Site Review: Marque and Reprisal
SF Site Review: Trading in Danger
SF Site Review: Speed of Dark
SF Site Review: Once A Hero
SF Site Review: Rules of Engagement
SF Site Review: Remnant Population

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sherwood Smith

This is the fourth novel in Elizabeth Moon's Vatta's War series. I believe new readers could pick up fairly quickly who everyone is and what's going on -- Moon is skillful at sketching in salient background data -- but I strongly recommend beginning with the first or second book. The reader investment in character and situation would be more intense, making the ending here a better payoff.

Following is a quick summary of the first three books:

In the first novel, Trading in Danger, Ky Vatta got kicked out of the Slotter's Key system military academy. She took a job in her family's interstellar trading firm, commanding an older merchant vessel on what was to be its final run. But what ought to have been an uneventful, by-the-books first command turned out to be a fortuitous stroke of luck: Ky was not in reach when the interstellar communications network was sabotaged by pirates who then took out influential families and governments, thereby separating systems used to interstellar communication by ansible. Ky's family on Slotter Key was hit especially hard.

In the subsequent books, Marque and Reprisal and Engaging the Enemy, we learn along with Ky what happened to local systems; between Ky's high-stakes adventures and discoveries, the narrator shifts the reader to Slotter Key, where Ky's supposedly dotty old Aunt Grace steps out of her crabby old bat role to take over as a lethally effective covert ops agent, winnowing out the rot in the government that permitted that attack to take place. Meanwhile Ky encounters family members who also escaped the attack, which is both bad and good. The good are cousins: the beautiful Stella, who shows a real flare for trade, and fourteen-year-old Toby, who displays a brilliance for new tech. Meeting the bad ones drives a lot of the subsequent action.

Ky discovers a mysterious letter of marque, enabling her to embark as a privateer. Trade is all but ruined by the destruction of the ansibles, whose communications, while instantaneous, are planet-bound. Ky discovers how the pirates coordinate their attacks, and why they have the tech edge -- therefore the military advantage.

In this book, Ky has decided that what the systems need is a space force to fight these pirates. Since no one else is starting one, she will. Moon is so good at personal moments -- when Ky and her captains are discussing possible names for their force, everyone is against Space Patrol, a scene that had me laughing out loud.

So. Ky is looking for support for her nascent fleet; Stella is recovering from the shock of a nasty revelation by burying herself in business. She is aided by Toby's inspired help. There is a third storyline, hinted at through the last couple of books and now taking its own place parallel to Ky's: the mysterious, rather charismatic covert ops guy, Rafe, who is somehow connected to ISC, has gone off on his own. At last we find out his secrets in a splendid series of action-packed, character-intensive scenes.

Meanwhile Aunt Grace is steadily working at rebuilding Slotter Key, so when communications are reestablished at last, and everyone catches up with everyone else, we see vividly demonstrated just what these differences in tech mean for ordinary life. Moon doesn't stop there: she shows how brand new tech can be overlooked in battle because no one has had time to drill with it, much less see all its ramifications, echoing back to the early days of WW II when radio was underused for the same reason.

Moon has begun to braid together the threads she developed over the past three books, which accelerates the tension. In a pulse-pounding finish, two sets of good guys are racing mistakenly for one another as everyone scrambles to communicate. But just as things seem likely to resolve...

Moon is so good with details, not just the realities of building a space force out of a bunch of civilians, traders, tech-nerds, and gung-ho adventure nuts (there are three swashbuckling Musketeer types who stride into this story with instant appeal and unexpected results) being molded into military thought, but she illustrates how new tech causes rethinking of just about everything. She shows the realities of degraded weaponry and the wear-and-tear of space battle (successful space battle, meaning you survived without much damage) on the structural integrity of ships. And she makes it interesting, even vital. She shows how the older generation has to deal with handing off power to the younger generation when circumstances radically change. And above all, she gives us a cast of complex, interesting people as they cope with, and learn from, experience. I found it almost impossible to put this book down, and am seriously disgruntled that the next is not in the immediate future. Like tomorrow. So I guess it's time to reread them all again.

Copyright © 2007 Sherwood Smith

Sherwood Smith is a writer by vocation and reader by avocation. Her webpage is at

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