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Book Review: Orphan’s Destiny by Robert Buettner

# Genre: Military SF
# Mass Market Paperback: 320 pages
# Publisher: Orbit
# Publication Date: April 1, 2008
# ISBN-10: 0316019135
# ISBN-13: 978-0316019132
# Author Website: Robert Buettner.com

Robert Buettner follows up his action-packed debut novel Orphanage with the much of the same great storytelling in Orphan’s Destiny.

Buettner continues the tale of Jason Wander, reluctant recruit to the space forces in their war against the slugs in a very near future. Having won the battle at Ganymede (at great loss of life) the former grunt now acting general brings his ragtag army home to an Earth much changed in philosophy. The powers of Earth deny a continuing threat from the slugs and have returned to their pacifistic ways. But the Earth is much scarred by the damage the bombs of the slugs inflicted, with many major cities of the word now craters, and the skies above a sickly grey. Wander is stunned at what he finds and when he is roped into becoming a PR guy for the army, he finds that telling the truth is no what politics is all about.

Buettner continues to use his knowledge of military history to continue his tribute to the works of Robert Heinlein and Joe Haldeman. But while Buettner acknowledges his predecessors of the twentieth century, he is aware of the change in the world’s perception of the military in the twenty-first. This is military SF for post-911 sensibilities. Unlike the popular military SF of Haldeman and Heinlein, which was born of knowledge of wars like Korea and Vietnam and, it can be argued, was anti-military, Buettner is quite the opposite. In the author’s note contained in Orphan’s Destiny Buettner himself states “Orphanage and Orphan’s Destiny aren’t anti-communist and anti-war like their predecessors. They are just pro-foot soldier.”

That is not to say that Buettner uses his novel to glorify war. As he stated above, the books are “pro-foot soldier”. War is seen as a dirty business, both in its commission, and in its aftermath. Jason Wander learns quite rapidly that the politics of war is even more difficult than the fighting of it.

The story moves rapidly. I was able to read it in its entirety in the space of a day. Buettner is careful never to let his characters to sit still long. This is not because he is hiding deficiencies in character development. Buettner understands that in the face of adversity characters change the most. Wander encounters situations quite out of his scope of knowledge for most of the narrative, all the while learning the skills of leadership in peacetime. By the end of the novel, Wander gets to return to his true gift as a military strategist when the shortsightedness of the politicians leads to grave consequences. But throughout the novel, the character of Jason wander is developed, and in the secondary characters Buettner provides a glimpse into the many ways that soldiers deal with coming home from war. Fans of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War or David Weber’s Honor Harrington series will enjoy the grunt-to-general aspect of the stories of Jason Wander. Those who read Elizabeth Moon will enjoy Buettner’s look at the grunt’s perspective in these stories.

If the story has any shortcomings, it might be in its unrealistic view of mankind actually coming to a true political peace worldwide before the advent of the Slug War and the end of most terrorism. This is especially idealistic when Buettner continues to have the poor and Third World nations as well as the religions of earth still in existence. While it is perhaps a necessary contrivance in order to make the story work, it is just that, a contrivance, not based on reality. Near-future SF should take into account the realities of the recent past, and world peace with the end of terrorism in the span of twenty-five years (at the time of the book’s writing) stretches even my suspension of disbelief.

Buettner really packs a lot of great storytelling into a 302 page mass market paperback. Having begun the story, I couldn’t put it down, staying up late into the night to see how it all ended. Of course, it was satisfyingly heroic, as any book that is “pro-foot soldier” would have to be. But the ending is not tired or trite. It is uplifting, making you want to find a soldier and thank him or her for their service. To shake a hand, to pat a back, to listen to their story, the real story of the soldier.

Orphanage is Buettner’s Starship Troopers but Orphan’s Destiny goes where Heinlein did not, and uses fiction to examine the aftermath of war. I am eager to return to the Jason Wander series and am glad that there are three more books available.

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