Recently I’ve indulged my passion for cheesy sci-fi novels by buying two more Wing Commander novels: End Run and Action Stations both of which I read in less than twenty-four hours because I simply couldn’t put them down. They are, of course, based on the game series called Wing Commander and one would expect them therefore to be badly written children’s books but actually they’re really good. There’s no swearing, no direct mentions of sex although it’s quite clear that two of the characters spend most of the trip out to a planet that the confederation is assaulting essentially locked in his cabin screwing each other.
The other thing about them is how much death and gore there is. They’re almost “every body ends up dead” kind of books. People get burned alive in cockpits, shredded by bullets, torn to bits by shrapnel and it’s all pretty graphic and horrific, but very well written and with interesting characters. Naturally lots of heroic stuff gets done, the confederation is always outnumbered and outgunned by the Kilrathi so near suicidal, if not actually suicidal, stuff is de rigeur.
Most impressive though is that the Kilrathi actually have an interesting culture and a theme of the books is this kind of meeting or clash of cultures. Baron Jukaga, like his father, is just about the only Kilrathi who takes any interest in human culture and he looks at how his race is fighting the war and see’s that the Kilrathi are totally culturally incompetent. The Kilrathi, being descended basically from something akin to lions and having the psychology of top predators view humanity as not worthy of study. The confederation on the other hand invests a lot of time and energy really understanding Kilrathi psychology and culture and numerous times uses this understanding to defeat the Kilrathi.
Kilrathi culture is believable, partly because the books are essentially the pacific war in space with the Kilrathi as the Japanese and so in large part the Kilrathi see the world as Japanese of that era did, but on speed. They are hunters and predators and their whole culture is shaped by their evolutionary history. There’s even a bit where a young Jukaga is sent to a captured planet to meet humans because his father wants him to understand the enemy that they’re fighting and a guy called Abram points out just how linked culture and evolutionary biology are.
Also there’s a nice political edge to the book: the war is started, and nearly lost, because the government failed to invest in the armed forces and it’s nearly lost again when the Kilrathi ask for a truce to buy time to rebuild their fleet, during which the government basically mothballs the fleet. Both times the navy manages to fight the Kilrathi to a standstill, but only at massive cost and with suicidal tactics.
So I read though two books in about forty-eight hours and then reached that point where you realise that a good thing has come to an end while not being satisfied, so I ordered Freedom Flight but that’ll take at least two weeks to get here from America. I think at this point I’ll probably end up buying the whole series.