Sunday, November 14, 2010

BOOKS: The Truth of Valor by Tanya Huff

I would lump Tanya Huff in with Charles Stross as authors who have managed to totally engross me with at least one of their series and who also write material that I can't get into at all. You can browse through my reviews to see in how high a regard I hold Stross' Merchant Prince series. But I haven't enjoyed anything else he's written fiction-wise, even the award-winning Palimpset. Huff does Stross one better, having written the Vicky Nelson books, as well as the Confederation series. But that's it for me as far as Huff is concerned.

That said, the surprising appearance of The Truth of Valor this month is a very good surprise. Huff's fifth entry in the Confederation saga, starring Torin Kerr, is one more twisty-turny story in what started out as a pretty solid military SF series. Back then, Gunnery Sargeant Kerr led her squad through two pretty good examples of the genre before the third book turned out to be a Big Dumb Object story with a twist. (BDO's are often the subject of Arthur C. Clarke books, which is pretty nice company to be in). And the fourth was escaping an inescapable prison book. So what did Huff do for this fifth book?

It's actually hard to explain. First, Kerr is now EX-Gunnery Sargeant Kerr, having 'retired' to the life of a salvager with Craig Ryder, who she met at Big Yellow, the aforementioned BDO. Married in all but law, Kerr and Ryder do the visiting family thing, with Ryder providing a whole space station of 'family,' belying his orphan status in reality. A few chapters later, a different writer might have had the duo walk down the aisle. Naturally, Huff immediately splits them up. And turnabout fair maiden play, it's Ryder that becomes the hostage for his lady-love to come save.

There's a bit of Edgar Rice Burroughs in this book as we get the two obvious view-points, plus those of the two real bad guys in the book. Captain Cho and Big Bill are basically beyond redemption, but like all cornered rats, they have a sort of innate cunning that does have you fear for captive Ryder and then for Kerr and her newly created band of mercenaries. That band, of course, is made up of mustered out members of her unit, including the best of the best Corporals, Werst. Ressk means she has a brace of Krai to protect against the Grr Brothers and the rest of the nasties, while Mashona is along as chief conscience cop. Even still, both Ryder and Kerr leave a lot of bodily fluid and parts in the forgotten--but operational--Vrijheid Station. And there might have been more, if not for the timely rescue by Presit a Tur durValintrisy, normally the bane of Kerr's existence. The Vid newshound gets there just in time to haul their butts away from an explosive situation.

Huff does two things really well and one not so well. She creates great aliens, from Presit's feline Katrien to the big-toothed midget Krai to the sex-all-the-time diTaykan. Each are well-defined and their ability to interact with each other is a fraught-prone as any all human situation. Huff also has an ear for language and the alien speak and the odd future human slang are well done. What isn't well-done, and the only thing that ruins this story, is the excessive swearing, much of which is veiled in future slang by the simple expedience of removing the 'C' from a particular sobriquet we call the F-Bomb these days ... in polite circles. I UNDERSTAND this level of swearing will be forever common. It's just that I don't think Huff as a 'common' writer. 

She's better than that. So is most of this book.

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