David Drake &
Bill Fawcett, editors,
The Fleet
(Ace, 1988; 2002)

A PR man is looking through the history of the allied planets, looking for heroes and tales grand enough to drum up public support for a tax increase for the military. What he finds are stories of brilliant planning, failed convictions, new alliances, unauthorized courage and everything but the photogenic heroes he's searching for. Readers find an intimate history of The Fleet and an epic, intergalactic war told by some of the genre's finest writers.

The worlds of the allied planets span multiple cultures. There's the medieval oppressive planet of Eire, where the descendants of the Irish have decided to create their very own oppressed class. An idealized view of the United States drives the dangerously independent world of "Freeborn" as they attempt to do what the whole Fleet can't: defend their planet from the Khalia. We're even given a hint of threats beyond the Khalia, as we spy on the birdlike assassins of "Contrapuntal."

The Khalia are the villains of The Fleet, and they're good at the job. Reptilian weasel-like creatures who don't -- at least in these stories -- ruin their image by hint of kindness or sympathy. Slavers and ghouls, the Khalia hold the Allied worlds in understandable terror. We are allowed to witness the start of this war, by "The Two That It Took," and at least gain some insight into how the Khalia's alien values work.

There's enough action here for a summer blockbuster, but the best stories in The Fleet avoid combat. Robert Sheckley's "Klaxon" calls a young soldier to her first encounter with an unmet alien race, without jarring her out of her quest for fine young men. The emerging alliance with a very alien mind is simply fun to watch, especially in its missteps. And the most brilliant leadership in this set of histories doesn't belong to the victorious leaders of the Freeborn ship, or any of the Fleet's proud battle hardened commanders, but to Bill Fawcett's quartermaster in "Tradition." Confronted with a potential new alien enemy, armed only with decorating supplies, he pulls off the grandest feet of strategy in the Fleet's history.

Sadly, it's not a photogenic victory. The history behind The Fleet is rather a disappointment for the Alliance's PR office. But for readers looking for war beyond the propaganda and a real unknown universe to explore, the files of The Fleet are a pure reward.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 26 April 2003

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