Kylara Vatta is back with a vengeance, continuing her attempts to form a paramilitary fleet of space ships to battle the evil Gammis Turek and his cadre of pirates, who are determined to conquer the universe one galaxy at a time. Elizabeth Moon, with her latest book in the Vatta Wars series, Command Decision, proves she is the reigning queen of military science fiction.
Gammis Turek and his fellow marauders have orchestrated a galaxy-wide failure of the communications network owned by the ISC corporation based on something known as “ansibles.” You might think people today are obsessed with cell phones and the desire to reach out and touch someone, but in the era Ky Vatta lives in, the ability to communicate from system to system and ship to ship is of vital importance to the lives, safety, economy, and military needs of billions of people. Many, including Ky, even have skull implants to make reaching out to touch someone a bit easier.
Ky is aided by Stella Vatta, the daughter of the black sheep of the family, Osman Vatta (himself a pirate and killed by Ky in Marque and Reprisal). She has taken over as the CEO of Vatta Transports. Stella’s cousin Toby, who lives with her while attending school on the planet Cascadia Station in the Moscoe Confederation, is a wunderkind with electronics. Rafael Dunbarger (Rafe), the son of the CEO of ISC who has been kidnapped (along with Rafe’s mother and one of his sisters), has shown Toby in the book before this one (Engaging the Enemy) some of the inner workings of ansibles. Toby is able to perfect a way to make ansibles that can communicate from ship to ship in real time, with no time delays or lags. Communications and their importance to warfare in the future plays a crucial and major role in the main plot and all of the subplots of Command Decision.
A book involving communications systems of the future? That doesn’t sound as if it’d be all that interesting or hold a reader’s attention well. That’s actually the farthest thing from the truth, as Moon weaves hard science together with gripping accounts of battle against the space pirates. Also, there are the terse and suspenseful chapters involving Rafe’s attempts at hiring a company headed by someone from his past, Gary, to rescue his family from Lew Parmina’s henchmen. Parmina is the current acting CEO of ISC while Garston Dunbarger, Rafe’s father, is out of the picture.
Ky is no longer a privateer. She understands that going against Gammis Turek and his fleet will require an efficient and organized force of her own, well equipped with both ship-to-ship ansibles like (or better than) the ones the pirates already have, more medical personnel, and lots more weapons. A big problem, though, is that an expanding space force also means an expansion of the inherent costs of building and maintaining one. The Vatta family is a wealthy one, but still, the expenses are huge.
That’s why, when some comical but very wealthy wanna-be pirate-chasers headed by Captain Theodore Driscoll Ransome ask to join up with her and the two other ships who have agreed to be a part of her force, she allows them to - if for no other reason than that they can act as both cannon fodder and the financial backing she sorely needs. She hopes that eventually she’ll get backing from world governments, once they realize how important it is to defend themselves against the threat the pirates present. Until then, she’ll put up with the flamboyant Ransome and his overly romanticized notions of warfare.
Command Decision is well-written and can stand on its own and be enjoyed, but read the previous books in Moon’s Vatta Wars series. You won’t be disappointed, and they’ll help you better understand some of Ky’s motivations. I would have liked to have had Ky’s Aunt Grace have a bigger role in this book - she was great in Engaging the Enemy - but I suppose one can’t have everything. Still, for anyone who loves their science fiction with to have a military bent, Command Decision is sure to please. If you like David Weber, Lois McMaster Bujold, and John Ringo, this latest book by the Nebula Award-winning Moon should be right down your alley.