SIXTEENTH WATCH / AUTHOR: MYKE COLE / PUBLISHER: ANGRY ROBOT / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 10TH
Military science fiction is a bit of broad church. Sometimes it just means ‘shooty death in space’, other times it’s actually about how real-world-style military operations would work in a space-faring society. Sixteenth Watch is an example of the latter type; a relatively hard-nosed look what happens when you take the USA’s Coast Guard (a military service) and apply its principles and methods to the Moon.
Set in the near future, the US is experiencing a cold war of sorts with its closest lunar rival, the Chinese. Both nations are mining for Helium3, an element vital to power generation. Our hero is Jane Oliver, a decorated and experienced ‘coastie’ who is nearing retirement when she’s called to serve on the Moon. She has a complicated past; her previous assignment on the Moon ended in tragedy, changing both the face of US lunar operations and Oliver’s own life forever.
As the novel opens, tensions between the US and China are rising, in part to the different ways the two nations handle their lunar operations. Matters are getting steadily worse, partially because the US Navy lack the subtle touch of the US Coast Guard when it comes to border patrol. Alas, public perception wants the Navy to handle things, making war almost inevitable. A plan is hatched; Jane comes out of semi-retirement to train the next generation of Lunar Coasties. The catch is that it’s all tied into a reality TV show. Turns out that watching young, physically fit people go through military training and compete against other military types makes good TV in the future. Jane’s job is to win the TV show with her new team, and thus get the public support the Coast Guard desperately needs.
Cole’s writing is highly detailed; you can tell that the author has intimate knowledge of the US Coast Guard. This does make the story a little dry in places as the reader gets a lesson in US Military process. There are bits of this novel where it almost salutes at you (and it’s a crisp and perfectly executed salute). However, the central premise is a lot of fun and the actual story is suitably nuts, so you keep reading. The characters are well drawn; Wen, Jane’s closest ally, is especially fun. It’s also nice to see the Navy as ‘sort-of’ villains here.
Sixteenth Watch is one of those novels that you really want to see turned into a Netflix series so you can binge it and pour the whole thing into your brain. It’s fun, if a little dry.