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Book Review: The Sagittarius Command by R. M. Meluch

Genre: Science Fiction
ISBN: 0756404576
ISBN-13: 9780756404574
Format: Hardcover, 384pp
Publisher: DAW Books
Pub. Date: November 06, 2007
Series: Tour of the Merrimack Series, #3

John Farragut and the U.S.S. Merrimack are back in The Sagittarius Command, the latest novel from R.M. Meluch. Having forced the Palatine Empire (a neo-Roman space empire) into submission, Farragut must now lead their combined forces against the Hive, a space faring species that eats everything organic in its path. Whole worlds have already been destroyed. When it is discovered that the Hive has reached near space (very close to both Earth and the Roman homeworlds) it is up to Farragut and his crew, along with some reluctant Romans, to ferret out the source of the Hive and destroy it. But there are several complications along the way, not the least of which is the Hive itself.

Meluch has brought together a Star Trek problem solving style and Robert Heinlein grittiness to create The Sagittarius Command. The plot is fast paced and humorous, allowing the reader to read rapidly through the story. The primary character is John Farragut, captain of the U.S.S. Merrimack, but Meluch has created a lot of other interesting characters like TR Steele, Kerry Blue, Augustus the patterner, and Herius Asinius. No one character steals the show, although all are driven to great heights of valor by the perseverance and doggedness of Farragut.

I mentioned the Star Trek problem solving style. By that I mean that Meluch uses a dash of what is known in the twenty-first century mixed with a little hopefulness and forward-looking to create a space faring humanity that has a technology that is believable and creative. In Star Trek, while the tools of the trade were far advanced, the solutions were to problems were often a complex mix of human ingenuity, the tools of the trade, and a fair bit of luck. Scotty cobbled together engineering marvels at the behest of Kirk, just as Farragut�s engineer does for him. In that way, the Merrimack novels will appeal to fans of Star Trek who enjoyed the last minute engineering salvations that were so much a part of the show.

Yet the story has a level of Heinleinian grittiness. Meluch realizes that she is writing about soldiers, particularly American soldiers. (The USA still exists in this future space and is the leader of Earth militarily, as evidenced by the Merrimack�s U.S.S designation). Much like in Robert Heinlein�s novel Starship Troopers, the soldiers of Merrimack are swearing, live by the seat of you pants, brash people, trained to fight and kill without hesitation. This creates an interesting situation when two empires formerly at war (the US and the Palatines) are forced into close contact with one another. Soldiers are not known for their forgiveness. Meluch makes the grunts human, using them as primary characters in the narrative. TR Steele and Kerry Blue provide both comedic relief and significant plot twists. The soldiers depicted by Meluch are the real thing, not caricatures or thrust only into supporting roles. In this way Meluch steps away from Star Trek (where crewman #1 so often is killed when the away team reaches the planet) and adds some of the Heinlein grit by making us invest ourselves in characters whose lives are at stake on daily basis.

But unlike Heinlein, there is no deeper search for meaning, or an attempt to philosophize. Meluch is depicting valor in the face of overwhelming odds, showing bravery in unexpected places, and moving sword and sorcery writing into the far reaches of space. Using short, clipped sentences, Meluch provides a heart pounding thrill ride that is so often claimed but rarely ever delivered. The action is almost non-stop, the interactions but between characters dosed with the right amount of seriousness and levity, and the celebration of valor cosmic.

Some readers may find the clipped sentences annoying. Meluch often drops pronouns or leading words from the beginnings of sentences, sometimes leaving the reader wondering who the sentence is talking about or referring to. However, I think that it adds a lot to the pacing and feel of the story. Some of the subplots are random and crop up in strange places in the story arc. For instance, the subplot of the Heraclid seems an unnecessary (though interesting) addition to the story, which adds no value other than a sense of mystery that already existed in the plot. Some readers may also find the climactic solution a little unsatisfying, and the set up for the next novel a bit obvious and disappointing, especially after what had come before.

Fans of Star Trek and Heinlein alike will enjoy the story. Because Meluch provides enough background without getting too deep into prior novels, a reader can pick up this book without having read the first two, and still enjoy it. This was true for me. I had not read the first two books, but now I�d like to go back and read about the genesis of Farragut and the men and women of the Merrimack, having enjoyed this space epic so much. While you will become invested in the story and the characters, your emotions will not be toyed with, nor will any great philosophy be preached at you. R. M. Meluch tells a great story of space warfare and the triumph of the human spirit against insurmountable odds in The Sagittarius Command.