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    BAEN, January 2002

    When a storm hits an English fleet on its way to France, aliens swoop down and pick up a small army of archers and men at arms. Based on the Roman experience, human warriors are highly valued by the guilds that control known space--guilds forbidden to use high technology to control natives but fully able to use human mercenaries. English archers from the campaigns of Edward III are among the deadliest soldiers in history and cut a swath of destruction through their guilds' enemies.

    Baron George Wincaster sees no alternative but to follow the orders of his 'Commander.' The alien's technology prevents any effective attack and he is brutally willing to punish even the slightest infraction of the rules. Still, George knows that the arrangement is only temporary. If he doesn't do something, his army, and eventually the entire human population of earth, will be subject to alien rule--or destruction.

    Set in the universe of David Drake's RANKS OF BRONZE (see our review), author David Weber's THE EXCALIBUR ALTERNATIVE further develops the idea of a largely stagnant, rulebound, but horribly powerful alien civilization whose rules will eventually compell it to destroy Earth. Weber (see also our other reviews of novels by this author) does a fine job depicting Wincaster's frustrations with the alien leadership and his attempts to set his people free.

    THE EXCALIBUR ALTERNATIVE suffers from one of the same faults as Drake's RANKS OF BRONZE--its battle sequences, while interesting, are fundamentally unimportant to the character goals and to the novel's arc. What is important is that Wincaster escape the aliens in time to create a credible alternative to Earth's destruction. Yet most of the book consists of Wincaster being flown from one pointless battle to the next. Fans of medieval warfare may enjoy quibbling with Weber's description of the power of the English longbow but even they are likely to share the frustration.

    Weber does as well as he can with a story which leaves out the most interesting part of the story--Wincaster's struggles to create a new society that can survive the inevitable alien counterattack. I, for one, wish that he'd spent more time on this critical area and spared us a few pointless battles.

    Two Stars

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