Book: The Forge by S. M. Stirling and David Drake

Very entertaining military science-fiction/fantasy

December 13, 2010

S. M. Stirling and David Drake

The Forge (first book in the series “The General”)

Baen, 1991

ISBN: 0-671-72037-6

323 pages

Out of print; inexpensive used copies seem to be readily available

I have read and enjoyed books by S. M. Stirling (1, 2) and by David Drake (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) and so it is probably not surprising that I thoroughly enjoyed this collaboration between them. The Forge is the first of five books in the series named on their covers “The General” and probably more often referred to by the name of the main character, Raj Whitehall.

Indeed, the only complaint I can find about this book is that it seems to be beginning a series that is more than a little like the “Belisarius” series of novels by Eric Flint and David Drake (reviews of them are at those six links above). But I liked that series a great deal and so reading something rather similar by David Drake with a different collaborator isn’t something I view as a bad thing.

The book is set on the planet Bellevue, which was once part of a space-faring civilization. A thousand years and more earlier, that civilization experienced what the inhabitants now call the Fall, which seems to have involved at least nuclear war. The planet’s civilization fragmented and the part that we’re concerned with calls itself the Civil Government. They have re-acquired approximately late-nineteenth-century technology. Given the main character’s name, you might imagine a certain amount of influence from the British empire and you’d be right.

Raj Whitehall is a twenty-five year old military officer from the country gentry but he’s stationed in the capital city, East Residence. As the book begins, he and a buddy are exploring the ruins in the catacombs below the city, hoping that they’ll find something cool and interesting from before the Fall. A part of a computer would be especially nifty since they’re considered holy.

And they do find one. Or rather, it lets itself be found. They find a functioning computer, and it’s a pretty clever one that calls itself Center. For one, it can communicate directly with a person’s mind and, for another, it can work out the likely outcome of certain actions pretty far into the future. Which is why it allowed itself to be found. It has calculated that Raj stands a decent chance of re-uniting the planet’s civilizations. (This sort of semi-divine aid is another parallel with the Belisarius books.)

Conveniently, Raj is soon present at a meeting at which military options for dealing with a nearby and often hostile civilization called the Colony are discussed. With Center’s help, he proposes an excellent plan. And he’s put in charge of carrying it out. The military adventures that follow are thoroughly entertaining.

The book is not politically correct. The Colonists practice Islam. And the soldiers are no more politically correct than nineteenth-century soldiers were.

I could wish for a novel that’s not a re-telling of a story I already know. And I suspect that the Belisarius novels are, perhaps, a trifle more engaging. But this is a thoroughly entertaining book and I’m looking forward to reading the next in the series.