PrintE-mail Written by Andrew Marshall


The first in a new trilogy of military sci-fi, Virtues of War follows the investigation by Earth’s Astral Force into unrest in its interstellar colonies and attempting to diffuse the situation by a combination of coercion and diplomacy. When this fails and a full-scale war breaks out, everyone must do what they need to in order to simply survive.

Military sci-fi can have a wide spectrum of realism, from the professionally probable to the sublimely ridiculous, and this is more comparable to the hierarchical regimen of Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet than the overblown machismo of Andy Remic’s Combat K. Like Campbell, Coles’ navy background is evident from his writing style, from the intrinsic understanding of the various units that make up a single force to the authentic portrayal of life aboard a ship where hundreds of people spend their every waking moment together. However, while the regular military jargon is clearly born of an ingrained comprehension of it, it’s a little jarring for the layperson to extract relevant information from.

While the technical side of things is expertly portrayed (we even get a crash course in multi-dimensional physics) the same cannot be said of the characters. Alternately following stoic strike officer Katja, charismatic pilot Jack, ambitious ship commander Thomas and manipulative intelligence officer Breeze, as viewpoint characters they are distinct individuals, but they don’t get much in the way of development as the story progresses, and each ends the book largely unchanged from how they began it. While they are soldiers, they are also human beings and as such are just as prone to making errors of judgement as the rest of us, only theirs can have far-reaching ramifications. In fact, Katja spends a large amount of the war unsure whether or not a particular bad call on her part was what kicked off the conflict in the first place.

As you would expect from the subgenre, there is a considerable volume of action, and none of it disappoints. The ship-to-ship space battles are fast and intense, often having little more than a sensor blip vanishing to signify the destruction of an entire ship and the instant loss of countless lives. Complementing this, the ground fighting perfectly captures the frenetic chaos of armed combat, where soldiers are only aware of what’s going on right in front of them and even taking a moment to consider anything beyond could mean their death. There are no statements of morality made about the war, with neither side portrayed as being wholly in the right or wrong, but merely two sides of a conflict battling it out while commanders away from the combat zones dictate what entails victory or defeat. While many characters judge each other for the choices they make, the book doesn’t dictate opinions to the reader, and allows us to make up our own mind about what we think of them.



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