The Better Part of Valor
published in 2002
Once I had finished Valor’s Choice, I knew I was going to have to go back to the bookstore I’d found it in and get the other two Tanya Huff books I’d saw there too. To be honest, I hadn’t even taken me as long as finishing the first two chapters to decide this. I’m always on the lookout for good, intelligent military science fiction and Valor’s Choice was just that, which meant I had to get the sequels too. What I especially liked was the absence of the sort of nasty rightwing politics souring me on so many other mil-sf writers.
The Better Part of Valor starts with staff sergeant Torin Kerr just back from her mission in Valor’s Choice. Having had words with general Morris, who was responsible for said mission, she is immediately sent out on another one by him, without her own platoon even. Whether this is punishment or reward she isn’t sure, but it turns out she will join a new marine platoon put together from scratch to protect a scientific expedition to an “unidentified alien vessel drifting dead in space”. She hopes it will be an uneventful recon mission, but after the last one she was sent on by general Morris, she isn’t hopeful.
And since we wouldn’t have a story if her pessimism was unjustified, she turns to be right. The reason why her new platoon was put together from individual specialists was to help avoid the media, but they turn up at the shipwreck anyway, the first of things that go wrong. Then, when Kerr, her platoon and the scientific specialists and journalists actually enter the alien ship, things go worse as an attempt to drill through part of a wall leads to an explosion, the loss of the airlock and attached shuttle, with the surviving members of the expedition having to find another way off the ship. The ship in the meanwhile isn’t as dead as it first seemed and starts to throw “tests” at Kerr and her people and turns out to be capable of influencing events outside itself as well, as it takes over the expedition’s own ship. Then, to top it all off, the enemy shows up, racing towards the same airlock Kerr and her people need to reach…
In the Valor series universe humans are one of three races that perform military services for the Confederacy, a loose gathering of intelligent species who never needed any military support until they ran into the Others, the first species that listen to reason but wanted to conquer the entire Confederacy. Which were humans and the two other “primitive” races, the Taykan and Krai, came in, offered membership in return for their military services. The way Huff writes these aliens there’s little difference between them and the human marines, all are more marine than alien. There are just a few stock traits each has: the Taykan are perpetually horny and their pheremones can inflame human passions too, while the Krai are true omnivores always talking about how good their teammates might taste, who are as flexible with their feet as with their arms, sometimes to the disgust of their team mates.
The news crew that shows up is more alien, being Katrien, small, furry, very cute, somewhat on the obnoxious side, either a racial trait or just a consequence of being a reporter. Unfortunately, Katrien being the Dutch name of Daisy Duck, I kept imagine them as just that, as aliens in pantless sailor outfits…
The plot reminded me of the those old Spacequest/Spacehulk boardgames, where you have to get a load of spacemarines out of a similar situation while coming up against various alien menaces. It’s not a novel story by any measure, but well told, even if it could’ve been a bit more claustrophobic for my liking. On the whole Tanya Huff turned out to be a writer who is very good at making you want to read on and on; I finished this in less than a day again.