November 3rd, 2002

The Sunday Morning "Two For the Price Of One" Reviews: Valor's Choice and The Better Part Of Valor

Military SF isn't always jingoistic space opera. Sometimes it's a careful analysis of confused issues, of people under stress in complex situations - of the real horror behind war and conflict. Tanya Huff's series of novels about Torin Kerr, an NCO in a far future confederation of many races. Humanity has been brought in to galactic civilisation purely for its military skills, when the Confederation is attacked by the mysterious "Others". Two volumes have been published so far: Valor's Choice and The Better Part Of Valor.

The first volume, Valor's Choice, puts Torin Kerr on a diplomatic mission to a possible new Confederation member, the reptilian Silsviss. While her squad is ostensibly an honour guard, both the Confederation and the Silviss have different ideas. It's time for a test, to see how the multi-racial Confederation forces will impress the Silsviss. Dropping Torin's squad in the middle of thousands of vicious juvenile Silviss is just the way to do this... While this may be a retelling of the Battle of Rourke's Drift, it's a retelling from the viewpoint of the NCO - an individual with a close connection to the men and women who die for her. At its heart this is a sad tale, a tale where comrades are lost for the sake of a possible alliance.

The Better Part Of Valor is a different story. After calling her general a bastard at the end of Valor's Choice, Torin finds herself given a new task. It's to escort a team of scientists who'll be exploring a recently discovered alien hulk. But she's got to do it with an office who's a war hero to the rest of the Confederation, and an embarrasment to the military. Keeping him and the scientists alive is going to be a complex task, especially when the alien ship turns out to be much more than it seems. With her squad and her charges lost in the bowels of a possbly hostile artifact, and a squad of the Other's troops harrying them from corridor to corridor, this isn't a cushy assignment for Torin.

Tanya Huff is giving us an interesting take on military SF here. While you could read the Valor books as typical David Drake-style military SF, there's something more complex going on here. Torin is a tortured heroine, struggling with the loss of comrades and the decisions she needs to make. She's also trapped by the politics of the Confederation, a pacifist civilisation confronted by a war it never wanted. The books are well written, and make a quick read. More than mind candy, less than great literature, the Valor novels make an interesting diversion from run of the mill militarism. Worth reading if you enjoyed Elizabeth Moon's Serrano stories.
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