All right, I was rather harsh on Space Operas last week. Just to show I’m not a complete Grinch, here’s a review of a series I consider the best of the genre: The Helmsman Saga. So now you know it’s going to be a five-star review, you could save yourself the time of reading it and just go buy the book. For those who are a bit more skeptical, please read on.
The Helmsman Saga has a plot line found in many genres. Wilf Brim, a boy from the wrong side of the tracks (in this case, the wrong planet) is trying to make good in a strictly segregated society. His exceptional skill as a spaceship Helmsman is his ticket to success, and his rough charisma is his path to romance and ultimate emotional quandary.
In “Galactic Convoy,” Brim and his crewmates are boosted by their success in “The Helmsman” (Book 1 of the series) to crew a new class of spaceship: Defiant, a light cruiser that is bigger, faster, and better armed than their previous ship. But the forces of Nergol Triannic of the League of Dark Stars have a couple of tricks up their sleeves, so the Defiant and her crew are sent out to beat the enemy at their own game: subterfuge.
In the meantime, the love of Brim’s life, Princess Margot Effer’wyck, finally marries her arranged regal partner, and our hero’s romantic future looks very dim and increasingly complicated.
Since this is a Space Opera, there are a few givens. There will be a certain lack of subtlety in the characters. The good guys are very good, the bad guys are very bad, and anyone in between is just not worth the ink. There will be a lot of wonderful technical jargon. The nice thing about this jargon – and there is a ton of it – is that these books were written in the eighties, and Baldwin was creating the jargon, not just following other writers of the genre blindly. We don’t just get a list of fancy gadgets. This writer actually thinks through his technical operations and writes them as if they were truly happening. Think of a description of how to start and drive a car, for someone who had no idea what a car was.
It is also notable that Baldwin has done his research on naval battles, especially convoy duties in the North Atlantic in WWII, in preparation for this book. This lends a veracity to the writing.
Of course there is a great blend of action in the story, but it is blended nicely, Conflict shifts back and forth smoothly between intergalactic warfare, the Defiant’s assignments, and Brim’s complicated emotional struggles. There is also a great deal of fascinating descriptive writing with a richness of fine detail, both of the technological marvels of the age and of the wonderful scenery on the far-flung planets and civilizations that Brim visits. A but much for this reader’s taste, but I can recognize excellent writing when I skip through it.
Typical of the genre, there is a lot of tension-breaking humour and old-fashioned camaraderie, all accomplished without the juvenile slant that many action books lean towards.
In all, this book is not quite as good as “The Helmsman.” The individual actions are not as enthralling, possibly because this time there is no nasty “hero” from the enemy side to inflict pain on Brim and his friends.
But in all, a great read. Highly recommended for fans of the genre, plus anyone who likes good action stories. Five stars out of five.(5 / 5)