Oh wow, remember how I thought Engaging the Enemy was boring and plodding? Command Decision is the complete reverse of that. With this book, Elizabeth Moon revitalizes the Vatta’s War series. She advances the storyline considerably, for everyone involved. The result is a slick, faster-paced adventure that leaves the galaxy on the brink of hope—and war.
As usual, spoilers for previous books but not this one.
Command Decision opens not with Kylara Vatta but rather Rafe Dunbarger. Once Ky’s protege and an undercover operative for ISC, Rafe has returned to his homeplanet of Nexus II to confront his estranged father—CEO of ISC. Except his father is nowhere to be found, and something strange is happening, requiring Rafe to go deeper undercover and discover a conspiracy and a coup in progress. When we finally catch up with Ky, she and the other two ships forming her nascent space navy are looking for supplies. They run into some obstacles, eventually having to pick a fight with pirates to defend a one-time ally of Ky’s. The end result: Ky demonstrates her command chops once again and makes more friends, even as she definitely becomes more than a thorn-in-the-side for her piratical enemies. Meanwhile, back on Slotter’s Key, Ky’s Aunt Grace is now in government—what fun! And on Cascadia, Stella is discovering a knack for steering the newest incarnation of Vatta Enterprises, even if she doesn’t want to admit it to herself.
Moon’s near-obsession with logistics proves more asset than liability in this volume. Things are constantly looking up for Vatta and its allies, yet Moon is always careful to take slightly more than she gives. Got some shiny missiles for your ships, Ky? How about a big ol’ space battle to deplete those reserves? And some more bad news about your ship while we’re at it? Finally proving yourself as a commander? How about a reminder that starting an interstellar, multi-government space navy is a nigh-impossible and impractical undertaking? If there’s anything I like more than a book just stacking the odds against its characters and slamming them with one challenge after another, it’s a book going out of its way to give its characters everything they want only for those things to be totally useless in the conflicts ahead.
Can we also celebrate, once again, Moon’s talent for both the military and the science fiction aspects of military SF? There’s a lot of focus in Command Decision on the nature of a military or paramilitary organization: the requirements for discipline, the need for a commander to delegate certain tasks, and the nature of permissible risks. Similarly, Moon has a great handle on how much science she needs to drop into her science fiction. There are some great developments regarding the shipboard ansible technology, but Moon keeps the technobabble to a minimum. So you can read the book as semi-hard SF, albeit without as much exposition as one might expect, or as semi-soft SF, albeit with a little more realism when it comes to the nature of accelerating and decelerating and the limitations of lightspeed on acquiring information in a big ol’ space battle. However you interpret it, Moon’s writing is exactly what I was looking for, as usual: exciting and entertaining. It’s just like a cup of tea that really hits the spot.
And unlike the previous book, this book just flies along. Ky and her allies get into one scrape or situation after the other. Rafe finds his family, but that’s only the start of his troubles. Not as much Stella in this one—she is mostly a bridge character here, to connect others together. Perhaps my only real complaint for this book is that, in some ways, it is much more of a setup for the next (and final?) instalment of the series. I cannot wait to see what Ky gets up to next—but I will hold off, just a little longer than I did between these two books, because I don’t want it to be over just yet.