Baen, 2000, 288 pages, C$9.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-671-57846-4
The rabid patriotism of Americans will never cease to amaze, especially when considered in the context of Science-Fiction stories. You would think that a genre so concerned with change and other global -nay, universal- issues would realize that simple patriotism is a self-limiting expression that ultimately belittle all achievements from outside one’s country. But a quick glance at such rah-rah-rah works like INDEPENDENCE DAY… well, point is made.
Among SF publishers, Baen has always been regarded at the stronghold of a certain type of ultra-patriotic, libertarian thinking that simply exists nowhere else in the world. Eagle Against the Stars, from simply the title itself, would appear to be a work that plays strongly in this vein. Even the cover blurb might turn off some people with statements such as
“America was enjoying victory … that’s why the aliens chose it to use as puppet in dominating the planet. We were already set up to do it; now we would do it for them. […] But the Lokaron were going to lesson from their victims, a lesson they weren’t going to like one bit”
By this point, Baen probably lost a few sales from people repelled by this rhetoric. Fortunately (or not, for those who bought the book for this reason), Eagle Against the Stars isn’t as much about Americans-against-aliens as you’d think. True to SF form, the aliens aren’t as eeevil as you might think, and the rebel Americans aren’t as virtuous as the protagonist thinks they are.
If books were evaluated on solely the basis of overturned assumptions, Eagle Against the Stars would rate highly. Unfortunately, details like sustained plotting, good characters and unobtrusive didactism also come into play, and Eagle Against the Stars fares less well in these areas. Too bad, because the novel otherwise demonstrates a good setup, an adequate grasp of SF elements -including overturning some of the most unlikely assumptions of lesser SF- and a writing style that shows promise despite a certain lack of interest. It’s not that it’s bad, but that it’s padded and slow, slow, slow…
Surprisingly, what interest there is in the story comes from the not-so-hidden political agenda of the author and his pointed barb against (all together now:) environmentalists, socialists and communists. Arrr, those damn liberals! Always meddling with the good old libertarians! Never mind that it’s hard to believe that all independent spirit could be sucked out of the United States in a single generation… that was probably caused by the alien mind rays. (Liberals and aliens? Egawd!)
Fans of political SF might enjoy this novel, but other readers will be disappointed, for despite White’s depth of historical sources and writing abilities, he doesn’t deliver much more than a standard adventure-with-twists that we’ve seen so many times before. James Clavell turned out Shogun when he tackled cultural clash between civilizations of different technological levels, but White isn’t Clavell nor -from the book- is he interested in becoming one.
But then again, this is a Baen book, which for all their good fun isn’t exactly known as a reservoir of thoughtful SF. Though they are known as publishers of good action/adventure, and Eagle Against the Stars isn’t too good at that either.
A quick final word on the cover illustration: Not only is it rather tacky to cover a large part of the illustration with blue foil, but the alien’s elongated chin is simply too funny for words. What is it with prominent chins that instills amusement? Will we ever know? Does Jay Leno have an opinion?