cover image Valiant Dust

Valiant Dust

Richard Baker. Tor, $25.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-7653-9072-1

Baker has built his writing career primarily in the Forgotten Realms gaming franchise, and the hand of the dungeon master is heavy in this military SF swashbuckler with clunky racial politics. In the year 3102, the galaxy unironically recapitulates 19th-century Earth politics: technologically sophisticated, multisystem “great powers” play colonial games with traditionally religious states racked by insurgencies. Sikander Singh North is a prince of Kashmir, vassal to the interstellar Commonwealth of Aquila. He serves as gunnery officer on the CSS Hector, a cruiser assigned to protect and evacuate Aquila’s citizens in the Gadiran system, which is dissolving into chaos. The Dremark empire is represented by the provocateur of that chaos, Otto Bleindel, who’s busily wresting control from Gadira’s current overlord, the Montréalais. The narrative is cratered with data dumps that add little to the plot and nothing to the notably weak characterization. Baker knows a lot about software but has little grasp of technology trends overall; for example, in the 22nd-century diaspora from Earth, he portrays Indians as technologically inferior to Europeans. Baker claims that citizens of the “cosmopolitan powers” ethnically “blended together long ago,” but if he believes he’s thereby eliminated Eurocentric ideas from his novel, he’s sorely mistaken. Agent: Richard Curtis, Richard Curtis Associates. (Nov.)