by Mike Moscoe



325pp/$5.99/January 1999

The First Casualty
Cover by Duane O. Myers

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Mike Moscoe's The First Casualty lets you know it is a fast-paced space opera from practically the first page. Moscoe drops the reader into the middle of the action with the rookie defenders preparing for the imminent onslaught of veteran troops. By the time the action slows, about sixty pages later, the reader is left breathless from the activities and wondering who Moscoe's characters are, who and what they are fighting for, and why any of it should matter.

The action does not really give Moscoe time to adequately introduce his characters or their causes. It is difficult to follow which side some of the minor characters belong to and the reader has little indication of why they should be rooting for one side or the other. In fact, there is little difference between the two sides. While this sort of anarchy and ambiguity may realistically depict war, in a novel it only adds to the murkiness of the situation.

What is clear, as Moscoe's war progresses, is a general contempt for authority and experience, both of which seem to be taken as euphemisms for corruption and incompetence. This may be cause be Moscoe's reliance on the grunts rather than the commanders, but even in scenes which are set in the inner sanctums of the powerful, they appear to be concerned only with the bottom line, not with doing good for their society. Although President Urm, for instance, believes that if "You fail the will of the people, you owe them your blood," it is clear that "the will of the people" is synonymous with "President Urm."

Eventually, Moscoe does manage to make his characters stand out from each other from the drafted defenders of Earth who manage to survive by ignoring the wisdom of their military superiors to the career soldier Ray Longknife, who is fighting both the Earth and the Unity party to which he belongs in order to protect his ideals and his men. While these characters are likable, it would be easier to cheer for them if they weren't up against such obvious cynicism and corruption.

The First Casualty provides rousing space opera and plenty of military action. The revelation of what is happening and who the characters are is a little too slow, but eventually they manage to sort themselves out. The only question is whether the reader will care enough about either to work through all the mayhem and carnage that appears before the reader gets any answers.

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