Book Review: Jag in Space - A Just Determination

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Review: Jag in Space - A Just Determination / Author: Jack Campbell / Format: Paperback / Publisher: Titan Books

Jag in Space: A Just Determination by Jack Campbell introduces Paul Sinclair, a nervous, likeable, newly recruited legal officer aboard the U.S.S Michaelson, a warship which handles the United States’ interests in space. We follow Sinclair’s induction into the navy, and before he can find his feet in his legal role, the captain of the U.S.S Michaelson is accused of destroying a civilian research vessel. Sinclair must now testify at the hearing of his captain and decide whose side to fight for.

A Just Determination has its enjoyable moments with some excellent descriptions that create atmosphere and add dynamic between the characters to compliment the overall story. The strongest example of excellent description comes as Sinclair enters the U.S.S Michaelson and he realises the claustrophobic atmosphere; referring to the corridors’ ability to handle only two people walking side by side stirs up feelings of the claustrophobia in the film Alien and helps deepen the whodunit mystery later in the novel. I also enjoyed the sailor mentality created within the atmosphere on board the U.S.S Michaelson; Jack Campbell, a retired US naval officer, transfers vivid detail of a life at sea and its curses, that same sense of isolation, workmanship and that ironically desperate need for a drink, to life in space wonderfully.

Where Campbell is also successful, is establishing Sinclair’s relationship with the people around him; this helps with the change in the dynamic within the final third of the book. Jan Tweed, the Lieutenant who works alongside Sinclair, is given this workshy attitude deliberately and (as you would expect) you think, “oooo! she could be wrong’un!” which makes their relationship nice in many respects because you want to like the character just as much.

However, where there are vivid descriptions and wonderful dynamics created between characters, Campbell gets it very wrong in some of these areas. Some of the characters are extremely clichéd (and not in a good way!). For example when Sinclair meets the character Herdez, his senior female officer, for the first time, from the given description you immediately think that this character was written with Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley from Alien in mind, however, in contrast to Ripley, I found it difficult to empathise with her as I couldn’t see her as a unique character, only one that has borrowed from other pop culture. The same can be said for Garcia, who is Sinclair’s other superior, who again I couldn’t empathise with or have an opinion of, other than to compare him with Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Man; you can almost hear him, as he gives Sinclair a dressing down saying “you can’t handle the truth!”. This is an example of poor writing as it seems (whether intentional or not) that the writer has expected the reader to make direct comparisons with other characters in other media in order to carry the story forward. This attitude extends to the detail that is disappointingly missing in later chapters after such a brilliant start of creating an intense atmosphere; there is little other detail about the U.S.S Michaelson and it’s as if we're just to fill in the blanks using our own knowledge of what a space ship should look like from other science ficiton.

Overall, Jag in Space: A Just Determination has so much potential as a novel, I’ve never heard of military legal sci-fi and Campbell has shown it can work if the right atmosphere and character dynamic is created. However, I felt incredibly short-changed as a lot of the book relied on me as a reader to incorporate what a space-ship looks like or how a particular character acts from other sci-fi, instead of creating his own universe and characters.

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