Ric Locke’s Temporary Duty (TDY) is a really solid read — one of the best I’ve had in several years. It’s about John Peters, a junior enlisted person in a believable near future US Navy, who volunteers to swab decks on an interstellar aircraft carrier/interstellar trading ship, crewed by aliens, Mankind’s first contact. Peters’ America is one where the poor don’t get school, the vote, or much chance to make something of themselves. It isn’t a glass ceiling, it’s more of an adamantium barrier. Wealth and privilege are birthrights of the wealthy and privileged, and American society has become a caste system in all but name.
But, all of that is backdrop, and Locke dribbles the info in over hundreds of pages of fun space opera. Peters’ adventures in space are engaging, his cynical attitude well earned, and his ability to rise to any occasion seems to flow naturally from the character. As a retired Coastie pilot, with a pinch of army warrant officer pilot in my past, I found that all of the human technical language was familiar to me, and the sort of interactions Peters has with fellow enlisted and officers generally rang true to the real world, with the exception that the behaviors Peters experiences in the officers of his story are behaviors that would have got me cashiered if I had acted that way during my military career. This isn’t unreasonable, given the premise of a much darker, very hierarchical US social structure. Almost any of the worst behaviors the officers and senior enlisted personnel in Peter’s unit display are things I saw happen at some point in my career — but most of the time by people who got to experience civilian life within a couple years of doing whatever they did.
Another reviewer commented that this isn’t a military action book, and that is true. But fans of military SF, who know what they’re looking at, will really love this book. Fans of Andre Norton’s Interstellar trader stories will really love this book. Fans of Heinlein’s “Between Planets” or “Citizen of the Galaxy” and his other early adventures with sideline social commentary will really love this book. I even think that fans of the recent BSG will love this book. Fans of C.J. Cherryh’s alien worlds will really love this book, for its interesting alien cultures and environments. Fans of John Carter of Mars will love this book, especially the last half. You’ve probably got my drift. One other thing — while this book reminds me of many things, it is uniquely Ric Locke’s creation. I’m really glad that I read it.
One of the things I love about TDY is the fact that it isn’t a simply premised adventure. Peters’ life changes, and the nature of his adventures change over time — a lot like real life. The man who we meet at the beginning is still there at the end, but is only a part of the whole. I think that the Gatekeepers of Modern Publishing can’t accept this thing because they can’t define it in a two minute pitch. Buy it. Read it. You’ll probably tell friends to buy and read it.