Mike Shepherd,
Kris Longknife: Mutineer
(Ace, 2004)

Some books are written to teach us truths, or make us reconsider them. Some books are written to twist our hearts. And some are simply meant to while away a lazy afternoon. All of these goals are important and worthwhile.

Kris Longknife: Mutineer aims for the latter but, unfortunately, fails miserably. The inconsistencies, plot holes and thin characters in Mike Shepherd's futuristic military tale cause too much distraction; all the pleasure the reader can get is leached away by irritation.

Shepherd's premise is simple. Rich kid/politician's daughter Kris Longknife turns her back on "cotillions and teas" to prove her worth in the military. She does so with gusto: on her first mission, she saves the kidnapped daughter of another planet's head of state; on her second, she singlehandedly overhauls a failing humanitarian mission. The only clouds on Longknife's sky are how to make her shipmates accept her and how to keep her mother and father from forcing her back to their home planet.

But something is definitely rotten in Denmark. In this universe, humanity has expanded from Earth to a widening circle of colonies that extends, presumably, outside of the galaxy. All are bound together, Star Trek Federation style, in a governmental organization called the Society of Humanity. The outer territories, one of which Longknife's father governs, are unhappy about trade imbalances between Earth and her "seven #itches" and the hardworking planets on the edges of the frontier. As tensions rise, strange things start happening to Kris on her missions -- hardware glitches, misinformation -- and she finds herself narrowly missing death too many times for coincidence. When she discovers a conspiracy to break up the Society of Humanity, she must find a way to save her life and preserve the Society she loves.

This book should be an easy, entertaining read, but Shepherd is not up to the task. Take, for example, all the quotes above. Shepherd's story takes place in a distant, spacefaring future on another planet, which makes his terminology -- some of which is already dated in today's world -- jarring to a reader, especially one accustomed to much greater imagination in speculative fiction. In tandem with this is a simplistic plot and much more blow-by-blow, detailed military action than anyone less than Colin Powell can absorb.

Also, Shepherd's character development is embarassingly stock. The worst of this, unfortunately, is his leading lady, a woman in dire need of a sex change. Kris Longknife is the most unintentionally "man-in-a-woman's-body" woman I have ever encountered in a book; I know several women from the military and I've read plenty of military novels, and none of these people or characters ever called their antagonists "bad guys" or said "that's a damned ___" in every possible situation. Shepherd's attempts to give Kris psychological complexity, by way of a childhood trauma, are laughable and awkwardly placed. And her sexual chemistry with her male counterpart is so non-existent Shepherd could make a wormhole from the vacuum.

People who enjoy detailed military dramas might find a few hours amusement in Kris Longknife: Mutineer, as long as they are prepared for the thin plot, thin characters and excruciating details. Let's hope that Shepherd -- a first-time writer -- learns quickly on the job and improves with the forthcoming sequel to this book.

- Rambles
written by Tracie Vida
published 15 May 2004

Buy it from Amazon.com.