After the trudge that was Juvenal’s Sixteen Satires I was looking for something in a much lighter vein, and came across March Upcountry by David Weber and John Ringo. I have to admit I bought it because of the very comic cover. It has a team of people, some riding what looks to be a dinosaur firing at what looks to be a different but goofy looking dinosaur (on the back cover) that seems to me to have a very silly look on his face. The team shooting has one person firing what appears to be a long rifle (it turns out to be a rifle) while the others have advanced weapons of various types. One character looks like she is dancing. Just what I was looking for.
I have a special place in my heart for corny, tongue in cheek books such as this one appeared to be. I hoped it would be in the vein of favorites (many from my youth) like the late Brian Daley’s Alacrity FitzHugh & Hobart Floyd books such as Requiem for a Ruler of Worlds. Or Toby Frost’s Isambard Smith series starting with Space Captain Smith.
At face value it certainly looked to belong to this family. Its boilerplate says “Prince Roger MacClintock is a spoiled young princeling hardly worth the space he takes up. Now he must become a man, or the entire galaxy will suffer arrested adolescence.” It seems that I have read a number of books like this. A youth born with a silver spoon, schooled in life by a group of hardened veterans. You know the type, ones that can make a quip while shooting over their shoulder and taking a gnats eye out at 1,000 yards. This type of story appears in Sci-Fi, fantasy and most likely in comics and graphic novels as well.
It did not pan out that way. It is really more a coming of age book. The immaturity of Prince Roger quickly dissipates as the journey goes on, and when the reasons for his immaturity are shown it is both surprising and very believable. He has depth of character that develops over time. So do all of the other supporting characters starting with the Marines, both officers and enlisted men but also including a number of aliens. While there was humor it is not ever present, and sometimes it is just a clever aside such as referring to an Admiral as “The Dark Lord of the Sixth.” Nice way to sneak a Star Wars reference in!
March Upcountry is the first in a series called The Empire of Man. This book relates the experience of the price and his bodyguards, an elite unit of Marines called the Bronze Battalion, as their ship is sabotaged, forcing them to land on a hostile planet and fight their way across, in this book an island and later an ocean to get a starship to head home. They have to deal with dangerous flora and fauna as well as both friendly and immiscible non-human native tribes. It is no cake walk and even with a huge advantage in firepower the group takes major losses.
The book was a very enjoyable and fast read. It is very straight forward, no space opera such as Peter F. Hamilton’s Pandora’s Star and others in his Commonwealth Saga series. That is just fine with me. I enjoyed Pandora’s Star and I enjoyed March Upcountry, both very good in their very different ways. It was defiantly a great change of pace from The Sixteen Satires.