No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Sunday, December 01, 1996

Midshipman's Hope -- David Feintuch

The cover of Midshipman's Hope - the first in ‘The Seafort Saga' - lauds it as reading 'like a collaboration between Heinlein and C. S. Forester'. This is a remarkably accurate assessment.

Nick Seafort is a well-behaved, law-abiding - and regulation-quoting - midshipman on the USS Hibernia, out of Earth on a seventeen-month voyage to the colony of Hope Nation. Naval officers have to start young, to reduce their risk of contracting melanoma; thus, as in days of old, the midshipmen are teenagers, and Nick, the senior midshipman, has his hands full trying to keep them under control. It would, of course, be unthinkable for him to join in with their foolery. His career is too important to throw away.

The Navy of 2195 is remarkably like the British Navy of three centuries before; the same rule-bound life aboard, the same mild contempt for civilians, and the same respect for the traditions of the service. Of course there are differences; the grand, Heinleinian scale of the interstellar 'ocean', Nick's familiarity with Amanda (a young, female colonist travelling alone) - but, if anything, this Navy is more God- and regulation-fearing than Nelson's.

Tragedy strikes just when it's too late to turn back to Earth, and Nick unwillingly finds himself in command of the ship - a position that he's the first to admit he is unsuited for. Nevertheless, the rules cannot be broken. Nick must do his best to hold the crew together, cope with an onboard computer whose increasing paranoia makes Clarke's HAL look positively benevolent, and maintain the trust of the colonists - oh, and win the heart of the fair Amanda, of course.

This is a rite-of-passage novel, from Nick's fisticuffs with the quarrelsome Vax who subsequently respects him, to his acceptance that he can never be as perfect as his father would have wished, and his realisation that sometimes rules have to broken and that he needs the courage of his convictions. Another four novels in 'The Seafort Saga' have already been published in the US; it'll be interesting to see if, by the end of the last, Nick Seafort has grown up. Meanwhile, the scenery is interesting, the alien is suitably incomprehensible, and while Feintuch's characters tend towards the two-dimensional, there are flashes of wit and some thoughtful exchanges.

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