The ZONE genre worldwide books movies
the science fiction
fantasy horror &
mystery website
 
 
home  articles  profiles  interviews  essays  books  movies  competitions  guidelines  issues  links  archives  contributors  email

Conventions Of War
Walter Jon Williams
Simon and Schuster paperback £10.99

review by Simeon Shoul

The ancient empire of the Shaa is falling to pieces. After the last of the Shaa died (in The Praxis), their subject races quickly came to blows. A badly bungled coup d'etat has blown up into a brutal civil war, and by the end of book two, The Sundering, Walter Jon Williams' heroes were both deeply involved in very different kinds of military campaign.

Lord Gareth Martinez was commanding a warship on an extended raid deep into enemy space, the final act of which had been to blow up the orbital ring around a resisting planet, killing millions, and dooming billions to a slow death from nuclear winter. Lady Caroline Sula, leading a resistance cell on the Imperial Capital world, Zanshaa, had seen almost all her colleagues killed (through incompetence mainly), but was rolling with the punch and beginning to develop a fine line in insurgency technique (hint, you start by blowing up police). Conventions Of War continues with these situations and themes and it does not disappoint, except in one regard, which I'll get to later.

So, Lord Gareth and his squadron continue to blast their way through enemy space. He has to tackle the enemy within as well as the enemy without, and there's some very neat detective work to be done as things begin to go awry on his ship. Fortunately he is not called upon to participate in mass murder on quite the same scale as in book two.

Lady Caroline starts out as virtually a one-woman revolution, but she's a born organiser, with plenty of street-smarts and rapidly builds up a large and lethal brigade of co-conspirators who manage to keep the capital city roiling with bomb blasts, sniper attacks and so forth. I won't spoil the denouement of this plot line for you, but suffice it to say that Lady Caroline does not suffer from a limited imagination or fail to 'think big'. Both characters, to a degree, pine after each other, though their romance, previously scuppered by Caroline's murky past, has now been greatly complicated by the fact that Gareth is married (a political marriage, but nonetheless a serious one). Both also, and more so as the novel progresses, have to contend with the relentless onslaught of incompetent, moronic superiors. Though many of these were killed off in book two, the Dread Empire seems to have an inexhaustible supply of high ranking potentates and military officers whose sole ambition is to lead their followers to a swift, but ideologically acceptable death. Innovations, experimental tactics, even thinking cleverly, are all frowned upon, if not actually criminal.

It is Sula who kicks against this inconvenient situation most energetically and, by page 400 or so, she's hardened enough to simply eliminate, very bloodily, superior idiots who don't understand the right way to run a war (I mean, ripped to pieces by a rampaging mob? not a nice way to go...) It's at this point that one can't help noticing the failing in the book. Though both characters do, in passing, think about the havoc they have caused (Gareth does so more consciously than Caroline, for her it is the subconscious that revolts), neither of them is greatly inhibited by it. Further, Williams is not willing to look too hard at the actual effects of what his heroes have done. Gareth virtually killed a planet in the previous book. We don't get to visit the results. Caroline arranges terrorist attacks. We don't get to see the innocent bystanders killed in the crossfire. This war is far from bloodless, but the blood, and guts and screaming of the bereaved is carefully tucked away from sight. The book, thus, lacks a strong moral core, distancing itself from the truly ugly facts of what is going on.

That doesn't stop it from being a very good read. Gareth and Caroline have an undeniable charisma. They're smart and attractive people and the reader is swiftly drawn into wanting to know what will happen to them next. Conventions Of War is billed as the conclusion to the series, but that need not be written in stone. The war ends, but the story is clearly not finished. One hopes that Williams revisits this universe and these people, but perhaps next time with a little more determination to acknowledge that heroes buy their heroism with other people's blood and pain.
Conventions of War





Dread Empire's Fall 3





Please support this
website - buy stuff
using these links:
Amazon.co.uk
Amazon.com
Send it
W.H. Smith

home  articles  profiles  interviews  essays  books  movies  competitions  guidelines  issues  links  archives  contributors  email
copyright © 2001 - 2006 Pigasus Press