osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,

Review: Orphan's Legacy Series by Robert Buettner

Finished Robert Buettner's 3rd and final book in the Orphan Legacy series, Balance Point. The series is the sequel to his first SF series, 5 books about Jason Wander and the Slug War.

Possible mild spoliers bellow . . . .

On the whole, both series are fairly good and smart military SF. They are character driven rather than hardware driven. Reviewers invariably make comparison to Heinlien, but I find that Buettner sits somewhere between Heinlien and Halderman in a number of ways such as attitudes about military force, the morality of war, and the nature of the soldier's perspective (like both heinlien and Halderman, Buettner was also a veteran. Unlike both, in addition to seeing combat, Buettner did a stint at NSA and did time in D.C. as part of his military career.)
I recommend the series and won't get into spoilers. The first book of the Jason Wander series starts as a very straightforward "the unknown and unknowable enemy attacks us for no reason!" The first book is highly enjoyable on the mindless entertainment front as an intelligent action adventure. It also has a lot of insight into what it is like for a soldier to volunteer and go through basic training. (I had the first book at Pennsic one year and it was *very* popular with the verterans camping with us. One of them told me that he totally identified with Jason's self-doubt through basic and subsequent mission training and found all the soldier characters very human and believable.)
As the books go on, the series evolves into something much more. Buettner consciously models his first series on WWII and his second on the Cold War. His first series gets into the ethics of U.S. policy of establishing forward military bases on Islands with much more primitive cultures and what the aftermath of that looks like. Buettner sets up good questions and avoids easy answers, in part by emphasizing the need to live with ambiguity.
The second series is only 3 books and deals with an entirely different set of aliens. it picks up about 30+ years after the end of the previous series. Known space now consists of about 500 human colonized planets.    Earth is the only planet with interstellar rockets (a legacy of the Slug War). It offers neutral travel to all worlds, but keeps the technology for itself. While other worlds are grateful, they are also resentful as Earth plays the role of the U.S. post WWII. Our Soviet Union analog is a planet called Yavet. Yavet, as the author notes, is what Earth might have become without space travel and the jump up in tech from the Slug War. Technologically advanced, but the planet Yavet supports 11 billion people. Thy have destroyed their environment and reverted to a dictatorship where a minority of the population absorb the bulk of the resources. Unlicensed reproduction is illegal, and illegally born children have a bounty on their heads that grows every day to incentivize bounty hunters. (As one character observers: 'two of my poli sci professors almost got into a fist fight one day arguing whether Yavet was the ultimate evolution of capitalism run amok or the ultimate evolution of socialism run amok.)
Again, it is an enjoyable series. Among other talents, Buettner is a historian familiar with the period as well as having lived through the Cold War as an NSA employee. His view is nicely nuanced and balanced. He does not stint on what made "ugly American" a popular phrase in the 1950s and 60s, but he is sympathetic to the "True Born" (as Earthers are called) who find themselves thrust on the galactic stage by virtue of winning the last war.
My chief complaint with the last book, which wraps up the remaining loose ends from the first series, is that in the third book the author commits the cardinal sin of having the characters behave incredibly stupidly at one point for the purpose of getting the plot rolling in a particular direction. It's like the story stalled at a critical point and the author thought: 'damn, I'm stuck. I'll stick this total cliche thing in here, even though it is totally against the nature of the characters I have spent so much time so thoroughly developing, just so I can get past this point. I'll go back and stick something good in later when I have the rest of the book finished." But then he never got around to re-writing the awful part.
Happily, the awful part if really just ten pages out of an excellently written series. Treat if like a burp and move on.

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