1991; 323 pages. New Author? : Yes and No. Book #1 (out of 7 or so) of the series “The General”. Genre : Science Fiction; Space Opera. Overall Rating : 8½*/10.
Raj Whitehall is the Chosen One; the Avatar. His task : to reunite the planet Bellevue, and reverse the downward trend of its civilization. The odds are staggering. The enemy has a bigger and better army than Raj’s ragtag crew. And jealous colleagues – both military and political – wouldn’t be too unhappy to see Raj fail.
But he’s been chosen by God. Well, actually it was a computer that wormed into his head. And although it can crunch data and spit out probabilities with dazzling speed, it too has its limitations. Good luck to you, Raj. Here’s hoping your head doesn’t end up on a pole.
What’s To Like...
The setting is on a foreign planet, after the collapse of a pan-galactic federation. The level of arms is roughly Civil War era – swords and cannons; rifles and knives. Instead of horses, there are giant dogs to ride into battle.
According to Wikipedia, David Drake developed the outline for the story, and S.M. Stirling fleshed it out. The Forge certainly has a Stirling “feel” to it. The action is fast-paced, and the warfare is downright brutal. There is blood and gore, rape and child molestation, and plentiful cussing. And this was all by the good guys. War is hell.
The computer-in-Raj’s-head is nicely done. Raj’s thoughts are in Italics, input from the computer in Bold. This makes it easy for the reader to follow. The enemy general, Tewfik, is a formidable foe; one might even say that he’s a more-skilled commander than Raj. And Suzette, Raj’s wife, will make you wonder who’s side she's on, and if the smartest one in Raj’s own household is female.
I had mixed feelings about the treatment of religions. The worship of the computer is ingenious, but the other religions found here are “real world” – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The first two have only cameo roles; but the bad guys here are all stereotyped Islamic fanatics. Given the prevalence of anti-Arab hatred in the world today, one wonders why Stirling felt compelled to “fan the flames” instead of inventing some otherworldly religions.
Kewlest New Word...
Loggia (n.) : a gallery or room with one or more open sides, esp. one that forms part of a house and has one side open to the garden.
Excerpts...The trees left a narrow slit of moonlight down the crown of the dirt road; the men of the 5th advanced up the sides by sections, alternating right and left. There was surprisingly little noise, but then these were hunters, after all; part of a boy’s training back home was to be sent out with a rifle and one round, with a beating and no supper if he came back without game. (pg. 104)
“They’ve got better engineers, we’ve got better mechanics . . . I’m glad it’s Jamal in charge, though.”
“Why?” Gerrin asked, glancing up from a whispered consultation with Kaltin Gruder.
“Tewfik’s a saber general, feint, feint, off with your head. Jamal . . . I’ve studied his campaigns in the east, and down against the Zanj. He uses the hammer-hammer method; walk up to someone and start whipping on them with your hammer. If it breaks, you send back to stores for a bigger hammer.” (pg. 265)
“Revenge tastes better as dessert than appetizer.” (pg. 273)
The two main battles are sketched out via maps in the back of the book. If you’re into war-gaming (moving a thousand little individually-painted figures around a giant battleground arrayed upon a table), then you’ll love the maps. I didn’t need them – Stirling’s recounting of the battles is clear and well-done. And I’m not a war-gamer, although I have stood and watched the activity at my local D&D store.
There is one major weakness to The Forge - the proofreading. It is atrocious, and that’s putting it nicely. I thought I was reading a self-published Kindle effort. Lead/Led; rein/reign; compell/compel; excell/excel; (Spellcheck is fighting me on these); plauge/plague; spurrs/spurs; weasles/weasels; panneled/paneled; anymore/any more; seige/siege; troup/troupe; survivers/survivors; lept/leapt; spunged/sponged; “cleanly” used as an adjective. And the biggest one of all, the planet Bellevue misspelled as “Bellview” on the back cover. Holy Slop-Job, Baen Books. I thought being picked up by a publishing company meant professional editing.
8½ Stars. Subtract two stars if the horrors of war offend you; add one-half star if, unlike me, you’re not a grammar Nazi.