Monday, November 12, 2012

Nor the Battle to the Strong

**** (4 stars out of 5)
Jake is wishing for a chance to write about Dr. Bashir in action instead of half-listening to the doctor's prattling prowess. The Sisko kid gets his wish when they wind up at a M*A*S*H* unit under Klingon disruptor fire on Ajilon Prime. Or possibly an U*S*H since it's Underground and it's not at all mobile.

The 18-year-old writer is overwhelmed by the terrible glut of casualties, but gives it all he can as an unskilled orderly, mostly hauling out the dead.

Conditions grow more desperate when the enemy takes out their power generator. Dr. Bashir and Jake make a sortie outside to recover the runabout generator. Possibly because Jake is an enormous pin-wheeling target of many limbs, the bombardment strikes ever closer. Abandoning the doctor and the mission in sheer terror, Jake stumbles into a foxhole.

He is present for the death of Sgt. Rock, or his 23rd Century equivalent. With the planet under a transporter scrambler, the Starfleet soldier had to give his platoon a chance to escape in something called a hopper (Possibly related to the Grenthamen Water Hopper Geordi La Forge once mentioned? Or, for all I know, a giant genetically-engineered grasshopper with bucket seats? Take your pick.)

When Jake stumbles back to the hospital, burning with shame over his cowardice, he finds Bashir has saved everyone but was horribly worried and guilty about the boy he thought was lost. There's plenty of that to go around, including the combatant who phaser-burned his own foot rather than face any more bat'leths and the berserkers on the other end of them.

Jake reaches some conclusions about the futility of labeling during such chaos. "Maybe you saved a hopper full of people. Maybe you shot yourself in the foot. No-one's gonna remember!"

"Nor the Battle to the Strong" is firmly in the camp of Military SF, seemingly a far cry from the lofty world of mighty Galaxy-class starships soaring through the heavens and solving sexy problems in 47 minutes. There's a lot of intensity here, and painful subject matter. But it's a deserved classic.

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