Friday, October 21, 2016

Arc of Triumph, Arc of Pain

The arc of any man's life must always include some courage, some fear, some pettiness and some generosity, some defeat and some triumph. In an exceptional man's life, these arcs are world- or even universe-spanning.

The seven novels of the Seafort Saga by David Feintuch (Midshipman's Hope, Challenger's Hope, Prisoner's Hope, Fisherman's Hope, Voices of Hope, Patriarch's Hope, and Children of Hope) detail these arcs of life for a very exceptional man indeed. I re-read the saga every few years, often just the first two novels. It is enough to recall the entire heroic arc of Nikky, raw young officer, cocky and confident, to aging colonial leader Seafort, full of self-doubt, yet still compelled to be the hero.

Midshipman's Hope

Nicholas Ewing Seafort's arc begins when he is the first midshipman, a minor officer in the heirarchical line of command on a starship whose society is patterned after 18th-century naval life. He struggles with his position in that heirarchy, with the skills he needs to acquire to do his job, and especially with his own conscience. Nikky Seafort is a man by decree and by burden, but a lonely adolescent by age.

In a single disaster, Midshipman Seafort becomes the senior officer aboard UNNS Hibernia. Seafort is a teenager in command of a ship that includes passengers, ordinary sailors and other officers, one of whom is older than Seafort, but not senior in the line of command.

To add to his troubles, the passengers don't understand why the Chief Engineer, an older, much more experienced sailor, or the Pilot, another more-experienced man, cannot take command - especially when there is an alien life form outside the ship, one that appears to have "killed" another vessel, and may have also killed the senior officers of Hibernia.

Seafort must determine where his duty lies, resolve to do that duty, and contend with a host of others - including the ship's "glitched" computer - to see it done. 

The action is well-laid out and the aliens are truly strange (something one cannot always say about science fiction aliens). Seafort's internal dialog contributes immensely to the tale; many of his burdens are self-imposed, and that dialog is the only way we know how heavy those burdens are for the youngster.

The novel can stand on its own, but read as the opening to the entire saga, it is outstanding.

Challenger's Hope

Too young to be confirmed as Captain in his own right, the still-teenaged Nicholas Ewing Seafort is given Commander rank, and placed in command of the UNNS Challenger, which is part of a fleet of ships under the command of Admiral Tremaine. Their goal is to find and confront the aliens Seafort's former ship, UNNS Hibernia, confronted in the space around Hope Nation.

At the outset, Admiral Tremaine is opposed to the young commander: he starts by moving his flag (and flag captain) to Seafort's ship, transferring Commander Seafort to the smaller UNNS Portia. Then he organizes the fleet to make short hops - seven or more - between Earth and Hope Nation, with Seafort's somewhat faster ship preceding the rest of the fleet and then remaining in place until all the others have passed.

What none of them know is that the Fuse drive they use is calling the alien "fish"; Seafort's ship will be exposed more than any of the others.

Further complicating the command he has been given is the crowd of "trannies"; transient street people or transpops, that have been loaded on to his ship. These ill-educated children, none of them out of their teens, are expected to bunk six to a cabin. Even worse, the regular passengers object to sharing a dining room with them.

Seafort's wife and infant son are along. He also has the entire chain of command in which he has been placed in loco parentis. Seafort, whose own childhood was disturbingly lonely and without demonstrations of paternal love, must find a way to be father, commander and pastor to his entire crew - especially after they are all transferred back to the hopelessly damaged UNNS Challenger and abandoned to the fish.

Book 2 of the Seafort Saga is a thrilling blend of action and internal struggle, triumph over despair, and refusal to surrender even in the face of overwhelming odds. Its ending, which leaves Commander Seafort further burdened with his own grief and self-recrimination, sets the reader up for the next novel, but read with Midshipman's Hope, the two are complete on their own.