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    Review of COMMAND DECISION by Elizabeth Moon (see her website)


    Del Rey, February 2007

    The pirates who destroyed much of the Vatta family, and put the instantaneous communications system run by the ICS monopoly out of action are now bent on conquering entire systems. Yet the planetary governments seem hopeless to combat piracy on this scale. Ky Vatta, now in command of a small fleet of converted freighters and privateers, dreams of becoming the nucleus for a an interplanetary fleet, but her last attempt was brutally savaged and she barely escaped. Her cousin, Stella, is trying to make ends meet re-creating the Vatta trading empire, but the loss of communications makes trading difficult--and Ky's financial needs are huge. Then there's the mysterious Rafe--returned now to Nexus II, the planet where ICS is headquartered. Something very wrong is happening within the ICS--so much so that Rafe has to wonder whether ICS is a part of the solution or even in bed with the pirates.

    Author Elizabeth Moon (see more reviews of novels by Moon) continues her Vatta's War series with the pirates seemingly in control, but with Ky and Stella's grandmother taking charge of Slotter's Key, Stella's young ward inventing extentions to the 'ansible' technology that makes instantaneous communications possible, and Rafe's contacts on Nexus II, it seems possible that the antipiracy forces may finally have at least a chance. Of course, that assumes that Rafe and the others manage to stay alive--not at all a sure thing.

    With the three primary characters (Ky, Stella and Rafe) separated and pursuing their own agenda, some of the chemistry that drove the earlier volumes is missing. Moon makes up for this by a lot of conflict for Rafe as he tries to safe his family and discover what went wrong with ICS. Stella, in particular, fades to the background, which is unfortunate as she is an interesting and potentially powerful character.

    I did have some quibbles with this story. The entire patent issue struck me as wrong. Certainly the future patent system could be different from our own, but it seems hard for me to believe that Stella could patent technologies developed by ICS, and then force ICS to pay to use them. Our current system recognizes 'trade secrets' as an option. I don't think I could patent Coke's formula, for example, even though Coke has refused to patent it itself. Second, Ky's belief that she could create a fleet large enough to take on the pirates is noble, but the economics seem challenging and she really doesn't seem to spend any energy actually approaching systems and seeking the kind of funding a standing multisystem force would require. It's great that her small fleet is well-trained, but if they can't afford an air-lock replacement, they aren't going to be a long-lasting force.

    Quibbles aside, if you're looking for good old-fashioned space opera, with spaceships battling, business tycoons plotting, and government officials engaged in skull-duggery, there's a lot to like in COMMAND DECISION.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 3/27/07

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