Midshipman's Hope Book Review
by David Feintuch
$5.99; 391 pages
The cover blurb says this book is
In the triumphant tradition of Starship Troopers and Ender's Game
I disagree. Midshipman's Hope is nothing like either of those books, other than being military science fiction. What Midshipman's Hope is really like is Mr. Midshipman Hornblower or Master and Commander. Each of these works is about the Napoleonic British navy, and tell the tale of a young lad who grows to the fullness of command through daring and luck.
Feintuch's favorite period is apparently the Victorian, however. Whereas the Napoleonic navy offered plentiful opportunities for glory and treasure, the Victorians bestrode the world like a colossus, and consequently their navy had glorious traditions, but little to do other than swab the deck one more time. Enter Nicholas Seafort, first middy of the Hibernia. Space travel manages to be even slower than sail, with voyages of up to 18 months between worlds. This provides ample time to polish the bulkheads and study regulations.
The United Nations world government is a firm ally of the Yahwehist Reunification Church, a rather toothless low church version of the Church of England. While blasphemy is officially a capital offense, it is rarely invoked. In fact, the Reunion Church is broadly tolerant, not only of other sects, but also of every sexual vice and hedonistic practice imaginable, with the exception of carelessly procreating and smoking tobacco. Is is refreshing to see a reminder in fiction that theocratic societies aren't uniformly grim and repressive, but in fact can run the gamut from laxity to strictness.
The central psychological drama comes from Seafort's own rather Puritan upbringing. He is grim, loyal to a fault, and incapable of breaking an oath. This makes him simultaneously fascinating, and a bit depressing. Through a series of misadventures, Nick finds himself in command of the Hibernia, and he manages to do more right than wrong as Captain. But he cannot forgive himself for his failures, or sometimes even for his successes. Nick has no greater critic than himself, and in space, you have far too much time inside your own head.
There are not quite as many books in this series as either Hornblower or the Aubrey-Maturin collections, but 7 books should be enough to keep most people occupied for a while, if you can stand Nick Seafort.