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Victory Conditions
Elizabeth Moon
Del Rey, 416 pages

Victory Conditions
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: Moon Flights
SF Site Review: Command Decision
SF Site Review: Command Decision
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

The bad news is that this book would be a tough place for new readers to begin, as it is the final installment of the chronicles of Vatta's War. Every major thread begins pretty much in medias res, pulling a long train of story investment along with it.

The good news is that this is a smashing finish to an excellent series.

We open with Kylara Vatta and her fleet captains in battle conference. After a career as an academy reject, a hunted scion of a family ruined by attack and smeared by carefully placed enemies, Ky has made her way to command of a motley fleet formed mostly of privateers and merchants, plus three young adventurers called Romantics. Her fleet is battle-hardened now; they are also trying to deal with the tactical and strategic changes forced upon them by new communications tech that the bad guys have, and they only partially possess.

Her enemy is a pirate named Gammis Turek, whose plans were long in the making. Turek has secured the new ansible technology that permits ship-to-ship contact over light years, has planted spies not only on Slotter Key, which was the base of Vatta Transport, but in ISC, which long managed the old ansible technology.

The result has not just been the disruption of trade and communications, but destruction of high level families, planetary outposts, and cities. Ky is going after Turek. She is going to defend the star systems threatened by the pirates -- and she is going to get paybacks for the murder of her family.

Turek and his force have their own escalation efforts under way -- including still active moles among target governments and high level corporate leaders. When a spy ring linked to ISC is exposed, there is an unexpected discovery that gives a glimpse into Turek's complex, world-spanning plot.

The discovery makes it clear that action must be taken now.

Ky races to scramble an alliance out of the target worlds. She worries about whether they will acknowledge her rank, which was not awarded by any governmental authority, and she has to think ahead how to mesh her fleet with other military entities while still fighting Turek on the run. A tough but indecisive battle with the pirates leaves Ky wounded, but even that fact she manages to use as they desperately brace for the final confrontation, Ky once again using what she has learned to fashion a battle plan. No one else can do it, because no one has her experience.

Elizabeth Moon balances, with consummate skill, between realistic military detail extrapolated into space and the emotional conflicts of the human beings behind the high tech guns and fast ships. Genetic modification -- family dynamics -- above all, the cost of power, meaning responsibility for the lives of others, are explored. Moon does not stint on the heavy stress of command, when one's word has resulted not just in the deaths of one's enemy, but of one's allies and friends.

Kylara has earned her rank as an admiral, and everyone knows it, but the toll on her physical and emotional health is realistic. We cheer her brilliance and skill all the more for knowledge of the struggle she endures with her host of bloody ghosts. Stella, Ky's beautiful cousin, is also present, dealing with her own set of problems, from family background to the difficulties in becoming a CEO of a business nearly wiped out by pirates. Stella is rebuilding almost from scratch -- while trying to raise a teenage boy who isn't hers. A brilliant teenage boy who has just discovered girls. We also find out more about the mysterious and elusive Rafe Dunbarger, whose background at last becomes clear.

All the main characters gain depth and complexity despite the headlong pace of events. With adroit sketches, Moon also gives us ordinary people who don't always have a clear sight of the main action, which resonates with real life. One of the best parts of this book is the nested story of the Swords of the Spaceways club, a bunch of dockside workers who find themselves brushed by the corona of the hot sun of history. Moon makes you care for characters you know for the space of a few pages.

Moon binds the action and emotional reaction to threads established in the previous books. The pacing is necessarily broken up as the arc of the story has broadened out to include a numerous cast of characters on a number of worlds. This book could easily have been twice as long; especially in the second half we skim fast across the peaks of events toward the final confrontation, switching rapidly back and forth between various sets of characters.

Despite my determination to slow my reading down I ended up gulping the last third of the book in one late-night reading. But that's okay, because I just pulled out the first one again. The final sign of a well-written book or series is when one can go back to the beginning and reread with knowledge of events, which then take on an entirely new slant. Moon's series is just as satisfying the second time.

Copyright © 2008 Sherwood Smith

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

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