Uncategorized: 4 stars book review exploring ethics krista d. ball military science fiction science fiction thriller
by J.A. Beard
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“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”
Personal self-defense is normally an easy concept to understand and justify. Though the particulars vary, it’s a rare society or group that insists a person passively accept death or harm. Self-defense of a society is a trickier thing. Societies also defend themselves, but part of that is defending the values and ideologies of the society. Even defensive war, by its nature, is still organized mass killing. The various ethical and moral considerations involved in warfare have been debated throughout the entirety of human history. At what point, though, does self-defense trump all other considerations?
Krista D. Ball’s military science fiction thriller Road To Hell explores such ethical conundrums through one Captain Katherine Francis, a military officer in a democratic and pluralistic interstellar society, the Union of Planets. The Union is hard pressed by a vicious invading enemy, and the only hope is to somehow involve the neutral Alliance. Unfortunately, the Union’s restrictive Ethics Laws may mean that Captain Francis will have to sacrifice herself to save the Union.
Ethical issues may not, on the surface, sound like the most exciting subject for a military science fiction novel, but the book’s intense focus on character provides more than enough drama to sustain interest. In addition, the actual ethical dilemmas are explored nicely through their consequences on Captain Francis and those around her. While a somewhat more morally nuanced enemy may have heightened the overall complexity of the main ethics question, the progression in what Captain Francis is willing to do, and who she’s willing to harm, is interesting.
The psychological portrait of Captain Francis is well-rendered. The brisk pacing doesn’t always leave time for full exploration of everyone who is introduced, but all the characters still come off as realistic people with realistic motivations. I particularly enjoyed the presentation of a shadowy expatriate whose motivation and loyalties remain teasingly unclear throughout.
The setting is unobtrusively developed. The future painted he story isn’t particularly exotic. All the factions are human, and the technologies and cultures a reasonable extrapolation from the present for the most part. This is effective in highlighting that this is fundamentally a story about an age-old human problem.
The plot unfolds briskly and at a satisfying pace. My only real quibble is that the book is on the shorter side, and I would have liked to have had a bit more time to see the effects of everything implemented. Though I suppose that really just means I’m asking for a sequel.
Uncategorized: 4 stars aboriginal Australia george hamilton historical fiction secrets from the dust
by J.A. Beard
Whether or not humanity will overcome ethnic and racial conflict remains to be seen. In many ways and in many countries, we’ve slowly improved things and relations even if perfection is still far off. It’s easy to decry violent behavior motivated by hatred, but many questionable behaviors in the past weren’t motivated by violent hatred.
In several countries the practice of taking children from an ethnic group judged to have an “unacceptable” culture was presented as an act of love and generosity toward the child. If the child could only learn the “proper” speech, the proper ways, the proper religion, so it was said, then they would be made better than their backwards. While certainly not the only example, such was the case in the recent past with some Aboriginal children in Australia.
George Hamilton’s Secrets From the Dust follows the life of a young half-Aboriginal girl, Margaret, who is taken from her family in the late sixties as part of government-sponsored policies to “improve” her. She is sent through various parts of a system that are at times seemingly equally devoted to devaluing her as person as it is to helping her.
Although thematic, political, and moral issues are obviously in the forefront of this story, it is, more than anything, a character-driven tale about a girl, and then a woman, trying to answer the fundamental question of personal identity. It’s a difficult enough thing for adolescents to figure out even without all the added racial assimilation baggage. Margaret’s struggle is presented with depth. She’s a bright young woman who isn’t driven by ideology or political struggle but the simple and fundamental desire to find a place she belongs. Though the story is firmly focused on Margaret but also allows an exploration of late-sixties and early seventies’ Australian racial politics.
A careful, detail-focused writing style highlights Margaret’s struggles and growth. In particular, the author does a good job of communicating her mental processes without being overwhelming. Admittedly, there were a few occasions where the story might have been served by a somewhat more swift pace, but overall, it had good flow. The shifts in emotion and motivation enhance character development well.
In this kind of story, it’d be far too easy, and perhaps even lazy, to present it as a simple struggle of evil racist white people disliking Margaret. While there are certainly more than a few characters in the story who disdain Margaret just for being born part-Aboriginal, the full-range of moral attitudes and relative kindness among both white and aboriginal characters provides a more realistic and nuanced exploration of racial themes.
Secrets From the Dust is a fascinating, if occasionally depressing, view into relatively recent Australian history.