on 1 May 1999
Midshipman's Hope is the most unique science fiction book I have ever read, it combines a mixture of highly detailed science fiction and harsh discipline on a Navy Spaceship in the vast depths of space. Nicholas Seafort, a young an inexperienced Midshipman finds he has to grow up a little sooner than expected, and the author has a magical way of putting across his struggle against despair, aliens and a crew who don't trust him. This is the kind of science fiction we need to see more of, going deeper into the relationships of a space bound starship crew, not just being centred round space exploration. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the alien contact in the book was limited to a few pages. I really enjoyed this book, watching the story line unfold, and Nick Seafort's slow descent into despair made this book stand out from many adventures similar to it. If you haven't read Midshipman's Hope, then you don't know what you are missing! Review By Alex Freeman.
on 10 January 2006
Midshipman's Hope, and the six novels following it, seem to be planted firmly in the "love or hate " category. On the whole, I am one of the lovers. My gripes are few and trivial.
MH is set two centuries in the future, when war and anarchy have supposedly led to a violent "Laura Norder" reaction, our times being remembered with a shudder as the "rebellious ages" which must never come again. However, when examined closely, the reaction turns out to have been very limited and "patchy", with the most important 20th Century social changes, such as race and gender equality, coming through without a scratch. There is a degree of class antagonism in regard to the "Transpops", but only slightly greater than between ghetto dwellers and suburbanites in today's US. Even homosexuality is still tolerated, and unorthodox methods of reproduction like host mothers are accepted without demur. The only ban is on producing unplanned children, and that is condemned more as irresponsible than as immoral.
So what changes have occurred? The biggest, from where we sit, is the spectacular revival in the power of the Church. There is essentially only one, the "Reunification Church", which is a sort of amalgamation of most Christian sects, formed after the main alternatives to Christianity have been conveniently wiped out in World War III. It has enormous political clout, and the authority of the civil government supposedly derives from it, or at least from Lord God, whom it of course represents. Oddly, though, it doesn't seem to have really made much use of all this power. Blasphemy is condemned, but apparently not homosexuality, or indeed most sexual behaviour which doesn't lead to unplanned pregnancy. Nor does it control education, or seem very insistant on the traditional family unit. In fact, its main concern appears to be suppressing rival Churches. Pentecostalists are given an extremely hard time and can even get burned at the stake on a bad day, but that's about it <g>. The Church tolerates no competitors, demanding recognition of its undisputed authority, yet does hardly anything with it, just holding power for power's sake. Well, not impossible.
The secular side of government, though in form still democratic, has a distinctly authoritarian flavour. This is most evident in regard to the Space Navy (another powerful political force), where a Captain is literally the direct representative of Lord God, with virtually absolute authority, and who may not even be touched without permission, on pain of death.
There is also a decidedly "tough love" approach to child rearing. Drugs and juvenile delinquency are very severely dealt with, while corporal punishment of minors is accepted as entirely normal, a minor being (with some exceptions) anybody under 22. This has generated an amazing amount of heat in discussion of MH and its sequels, despite being quite trivial compared to some social changes that you get in sf. Indeed, outside (some) Western countries it would scarcely represent a change at all. I have the feeling that a slaveholding or cannibal society would have been less upsetting to certain critics than one in which kids get the cane, but feel this says more about the critics than about the book.
(Incidentally, does anyone know how the legend arose that Cadets and Midshipmen get caned on the bare backside? Offhand I don't recall a single instance of this. Given the absence of privacy in the Wardroom, Middies are often undressed in front of one another , so probably get to see the marks of recent canings, but there is no suggestion of punishment being administered that way. I get the feeling some dirty minds have been working overtime.)
The final social change is strangely at odds with the rest. Education is no longer compulsory. The public schooling of our era is remembered as a waste of resources, and it is entirely at a parent's discretion how he/she educates the kids. Whatever its merits, this seems an oddly "libertarian" approach for such a society. Still, inconsistent doesn't mean impossible.
The central character of MH is Midshipman Nicholas Seafort, aged 17 at the start, of UNNS Hibernia. Thanks to a series of accidents, he finds himself in command of the ship, with a lot of difficult decisions to make. It recalls an episode in Master and Commander , where a Midshipman even younger than Seafort is left in command while his Captain joins a boarding party. In M&C, though, the Captain survives - Seafort's doesn't. Resisting demands to abort the mission Seafort deals successively (and sometimes ruthlessly) with rebellious crewmen, a potentially disastrous mechanical failure, mutiny on a space base, social problems at his destination, officers with major character flaws, and last but by no means least, the discovery of a hostile alien race. Listed like this, it all sounds less than credible, and indeed rather corny space opera, yet it is Feintuch's achievement to make it all quite believable, in the contest of his invented world. I was gripped to the end.
Feintuch also does a great job of portraying Seafort himself. The latter, whose upbringing has been stern and Calvinistic even by the standards of his world, has a savagely demanding conscience , fixated on his duty to the service and to Lord God. How he sticks to right as he sees right (sometimes as a minority of one) and successfully completes his mission, makes fascinating reading.
All in all, a great book. If you like Hornblower or M&C, you should love this. Firmly recommended.
on 17 June 1999
I've read the entire Hope series, including this one back when it came out five years back...and have re-read it again recently. As a graduate of a military academy (and currently serving as a guard officer), as well as being a fan of science fiction, it's hard finding a book that meshes the SF and military arenas seemlessly (or at least close to it). This series, starting with Midshipman's Hope, did exactly that. I found it interesting that Feintuch never served in the military nor was an expert on technology (to my knowledge). This things usually bias me against an author (there's plenty of SF and regular military fiction out there that's trash). But he used a good foundation to model this futuristic world.. for example, he studied on the 18th century British Navy, from the bio I read on him. It appeared he also did his homework in some other areas. The most important thing, though, is that he let you get to know the characters, and I found myself actually caring about them (whether good or bad). Despite whatever controversy his Hope world may cause (from other reviews I've read), keep in mind this is fiction, and well-written science fiction at that. It's not a biography on the world today. I immensely enjoyed it and found myself immersed in Nick Seafort's world.
on 26 January 1998
I hate following a crowd of 10's by giving the book a 10. The suspicion being I don't have a mind of my own and I didn't keep my mind open while reading the book. But I really did immensely enjoy this book. Why? For me it was a book about command, duty, loyalty and self sacrifice. Captain Seafort is the best commander in SF and extremely tough. He had to make difficult decisions, take risks and many times go against the majority. He is a pessimistic, paranoid person. But I believed that made him more effective as he was constantly alert for trouble. Optimists don't make effective commanders, they are just careless and sloppy. A pessimistic view of things created an inner doubt in his head that he really screwed things up or that he could have done better. Of course he hadn't, he acted superbly. I admit that reading about his self doubt was starting to bug me, but I took it as part of the author's way of describing the psychological makeup of an excellent commander. And I eventually agreed with it. I also loved the intense loyalties that were developed between the characters. Congrads Mr Feintuch on writing an excellent story. Now on to book 2, Challenger's Hope.