Military sci-fi is not a sub-genre I’ve been naturally drawn to – or so I’ve thought. Renowned for its emphasis on tech and less on character development than your standard space opera, it’s been something I’ve tended to shy away from. But then again, when I think about it, some of my favourite sci-fi stories have been military-based – and none of them could be accused of half-assing it when it comes to the characters. Case in point: Battlestar Galactica, its reboot being one of the most character-rich sci-fi series out there.
Mike Moscoe’s The First Casualty was first released at the tail end of the 90s, predating the BSG remake by some years, but it has the same vibe about it. The characters are similarly rich and engaging and, like BSG, cannot be neatly divided into ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. In fact, we’re given protagonists from each side of the war from the get-go, ex-miner, Mary Rodrigo, facing off against the military might of Ray Longknife in a prolonged battle playing out across a good chunk of the book. Both sides are corrupt and that in itself is a major plot-point for the book – can Mary and Ray really justify giving their lives, and the lives of their comrades, for a cause they don’t support?
The first book of the now long-running Jump Universe series, The First Casualty had me rethinking military sci-fi. Moscoe, later writing as Shepherd, has done his homework, and the tech side of things is not shirked at all – I had to re-read a few chapters a couple of times to get the gist of what was going on. But the characters are so engaging, so likeable and sympathetic, that you will put the effort in to fully immerse yourself in their world.
In short, The First Casualty is military sci-fi for those who don’t think they would enjoy that sort of thing. Like me, you’ll probably surprise yourself.