A writer and philosopher of the late twentieth century once said, “Space is big”.
You might have noticed by now that I like Tanya Huff’s work quite a bit. This year I have been going back and read some of her older work. One of the titles that kept popping up was the Confederation series – since I like space opera and I like military science fiction with a female lead I picked up the first book. Two weeks later I found myself starting the fourth book before I thought: “Ok enough of this already. I need to read other stuff this year” and then I did not really read anything else…
I really really liked this series. They are fukking good books (yes that is what fuck is called in the series). It is laugh out loud funny and deadly series within the space of a page. It shows all the horrible costs of combat and makes it heroic and interesting at the same time. You curse “the brace” right along with Sergeant Torin Kerr for their heartless decisions but at the same time you understand the risks they choose to take because they do not personally know the soldiers getting killed.
The world building is done in two ways in this series: In big chunks of concentrated info dumps (used here in the nicest possible way) and though causal comments that hints at a much larger universe and a complex society for each of the three main races. I find both very effective. I got the feeling that all of the races had their own complex cultures (yes plural) and that they rubbed of on each other and was changed though the contact the races has had with each other. I liked the way the science was “explained” it made it plausible enough for me not to distract – which is just how I want my space opera. Because you really do need hyper drives to make most effective space opera – because interstellar societies are just fascinating!
The humor in the books tend not to come from the situations but from the characters in it. It is the dark grim sense of humor that people dealing with death a lot seem to tend to develop (I do not personally know anyone in this kind of situation so I have to take fiction’s word on that – though I knew soldiers they tend to focus on the action movie aspects of that they have been though). The book had me laughing out loud on the train! That brings me to the characters because that is something that Huff really excels at. Every book has a new cast and with each new cast we get to know five-fifteen characters rather well within very few pages. Well enough to feel their hurts with them. To fell their losses with them. And to miss the ones that needs to be missed.
Nobody is ever holding the stupid ball. Mistakes are made because of lacking information or exaction of mental and physical resources. Or a time or two because someone is too green to read the situation correctly. Which is something I always appreciate in my fiction. This year there has been focus on military fantasy and science fiction that do a good job with it. I think this is a great example of just that. One of the things I think really works is the group dynamics within the squads and with the outsiders that they have to deal with. That rings true for me. The books are very much about friendship and camaraderie without ever letting you forget that combat is bloody serious and can be bloody horrible and that people will fukking die.
Sergeant Torin Kerr is a great character. She is a female in power and nobody ever gives her shit about that. Do you guys know how rare that is? It is pretty amazing to read. She is very competent at her job – to the great annoyance of her colleges. But she is not perfect and she does not take good care of her self which sometimes bits her in the ass. I really appreciated that Kerr in all the books had pretty casual sex with someone and that it was never a big deal. In the first book it becomes a bit awkward but never once is anyone shaming her for it. It is very much sex positive books – without them having a single explicit sex scene. Do not come here for smut because there aren’t any. But there is romance and flings and people having sex – because they are bloody adults – so of course they are.
Huff does quite scenes extremely well. By that I mean the scenes that does not move the plot anywhere but show you a piece of the characters reality of their everyday life or describe the situation. I think I might enjoy that kind of scenes more than most genre readers but I read at least in part to get a glimpse of other people’s lives – not only in extreme situations but also in the everyday situation. I always love scenes where people are cooking or using some piece of cook tech or are in a bar or playing music – where nothing much happens – the stuff that would never make it on top the postcard the characters would send home. Those are my favourite moments.
I very much recommend reading the series (as you might have guessed). I do however not recommend reading them all in a row. I am pretty sure they get better with something in between because some of the tropes and plot structures are repeated over the series. But so far they have all been worth reading. 4-5 stars for all books.
Published: 2000 by DAW
Read: November 30 to December 03, 2014
Author: Female, white, Canada
The protagonist: Sergeant Torin Kerr, female, heterosexual, middle-aged, sergeant, space marine, able-bodied.