March Upcountry (Empire of Man #1) by David Weber & John Ringo
Publication: Baen (May 1, 2001), ebook / ISBN 0743435389 (mmpb)
Genre: Military Sci-Fi
Rating: 4.5 birds
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Read: August 2009
Roger leaned back on the bed in the tiny cabin, eyes shut and tried his best to radiate a dangerous calm. I’m twenty-two years old, he thought. I’m a Prince of the Empire. I will not cry just because Mommy is making me angry. (from Chapter 1)
I think I said somewhere before that military sci-fi wasn’t really my thing, but after reading this book I have been proven a big fat liar. I love military sci-fi! I should have figure it out before, actually, since I loved Interstellar Patrol and There Will Be Dragons. Those were both either military sci-fi or had elements of it in them, and– yeah, I was delusional.
Summary from FantasticFiction.co.uk:
Roger Ramius Sergei Chiang MacClintock didn’t understand.
He was young, handsome, athletic, an excellent dresser, and third in line for the Throne of Man…so why wouldn’t anyone at Court trust him?
Why wouldn’t even his own mother, the Empress, explain why they didn’t trust him? Or why the very mention of his father’s name was forbidden at Court? Or why his mother had decided to pack him off to a backwater planet aboard what was little more than a tramp freighter to represent her at a local political event better suited to a third assistant undersecretary of state?
It probably wasn’t too surprising that someone in his position should react by becoming spoiled, self-centered and petulant. After all, what else did he have to do with his life?
But that was before a saboteur tried to blow up his transport. Then warships of the Empire of Man’s worst rivals shot the crippled vessel out of space. Then Roger found himself shipwrecked on the planet Marduk, whose jungles were full of damnbeasts, killerpillars, carnivorous plants, torrential rain, and barbarian hordes with really bad dispositions. Now all Roger has to do is hike halfway around the entire planet, then capture a spaceport from the Bad Guys, somehow commandeer a starship, and then go home to Mother for explanations.
Fortunately, Roger has an ace in the hole: Bravo Company of Bronze Battalion of The Empress’ Own Regiment. If anyone can get him off Marduk alive, it’s the Bronze Barbarians.
Assuming that Prince Roger manages to grow up before he gets all of them killed.
March Upcountry is really long (608 pages in the mass market paperback version) but I honestly didn’t notice until I was somewhere around the middle and realized I had been reading for two-three days and wasn’t done already. (It actually took me about five days to finish.) It’s such an involved world, with fantastic characters and lovely descriptions and lots of adventure, intrigue, and fighting that it was a pleasure to be so immersed for so long. I didn’t even feel tired at the end of it!
Probably my very favorite thing is Prince Roger and his evolution from awkward, snobbish noble to super competent leader and popular dude. Roger is a slightly tragic character in that he doesn’t want to be snobbish but he can’t seem to stop himself from acting like it. I think it’s almost like a defensive reflex against everyone who doesn’t like him (basically because of an incident concerning his parents which he had no control over and which he didn’t even know about), and he starts his change so early on that I didn’t hold it against him. But best of all is how Roger is technically already awesome with the physical stuff, and once he starts getting a handle on the personal politics stuff he turns into a really likable, really capable leader. Of course, it wouldn’t have worked if Roger didn’t already have the qualities needed, and I liked that, too.
I have another favorite character, too: Captain Armand Pahner. While Roger is learning the ropes, the majority of the orders are given by Pahner, who is head of the marines and basically Roger’s opposite/equal. He initially is annoyed by Roger but sees something in him that has potential, and so he spends much of the book alternatively trying to mold Roger into a leader and keeping him from getting killed. He reminds me a lot of Colonel O’Neil from Stargate (the movie), actually!
There’s a love interest somewhere but I honestly didn’t give a crap about it since I couldn’t see any chemistry between Roger and the love interest and I often forgot the love interest’s name. Maybe that bit gets better in the second book, no idea. I was more interested in the marines’ crossing of the planet and seeing how they’d get out of the next scrape.
The handling of technology is really interesting, and I liked how it was mixed with the marines have a lot of high tech stuff, like heavy-duty armor and guns, but it’s all susceptible to the elements and they don’t have a lot of power supply. At the beginning they’re pretty much all high tech, but by the end of the book the marines have resorted to mostly using Iron Age-type technology– swords and spears and such. They also move from a more modern army type of fighting to maneuvers taken directly from the Romans. The history geek in me squealed at that!
A lot of people die in March Upcountry, but it was mostly marines who were sideline characters. I think some more main character marines died near the end, but I, er, can’t remember who. An unfortunate side effect of military sci-fi/fantasy is that so many people die that eventually you just go “eh, another one down” unless it’s a REALLY main character, and that didn’t happen in March Upcountry. I was quite shocked at the total amount of marines left at the end of the first book, though; I think it was a little less than half that started? Quite a lot of casualties for one book.
Luckily I was distracted by all the rest of the stuff in the book. March Upcountry is long and involved, but it was a lot of fun and was really exciting! I look forward to reading the next book in the series.