I’m going to be up-front and say this whole series by P. M. Griffin falls under my “comfort reads”. When the world is determined to be annoying, aggravating, or evil, there are certain books I pull out to feel better. Star Commandoes makes that list.
(That bunch of books also includes Tanya Huff’s Smoke series, Sandy Mitchell’s Ciaphas Cain stories, and Charlotte MacLeod’s Peter Shandy mysteries. Make of that what you will.)
Star Commandoes has a lot of features that make it more science fantasy than hardcore SF like, say, David Weber’s Honor Harrington books. (Which I also like, but they’re a different fictional species.) Some of those features include the near-magical healing of renewers and regrowth machines, psionic abilities like empathy and telepathy, and human-level intelligence in critters way too small for that to be realistic. And yet, for all that, the book (and the rest of the series) has a much more plausible story than some other more reality-based books. Here are some of the things that I think make it a good story.
First, conservation of detail. The book does not go into long, lengthy descriptions; it gives a few key details to set each new scene, then goes on from there. If the characters notice something out of place, wrong, or otherwise unusual, we get to see it. If not, we get just enough description to see the scene. Galley chairs in a spaceship having bolts to lock into place in case of sudden evasive maneuvers, for example. Super-green leaves on an alien planet where the sun almost never shines through the clouds. Spacer’s boots, a blaster on the hip, a crown of braids (so you don’t have hair flying in free fall). All of these are sketched for us, so we can fill in the blanks ourselves.
Second, the series is set in the aftermath of an interstellar war. This lets the author keep stories on a much more human, individual scale. The big battles and politics are all over, but there’s plenty of small brushfires to clean up. This also lets the author give characters combat experience, Dark and Troubled Pasts, and so on, without having to juggle a whole war.
Third, the main characters are good guys. I can’t stress this enough. The heroes in these stories are actual heroes. They bleed, they fail, they sometimes make stupidly stubborn decisions. But they’re always trying to do the right thing. And doing the right thing includes acknowledging the humanity of their enemies. Sure, there are bad guys who get killed – and the main characters refuse to beat themselves up over that. But they try to take criminals alive, when possible.
Fourth, the environment is always as dangerous as their fellow human beings. I have to admit this is a personal sucker button: yes, the universe can and will kill you just as dead as a bad guy.
Fifth – no character knows how to do everything. When it comes to wilderness survival, a Star Commando is top of the line. When it comes to daredevil flying in space, though, you want a pilot. Yes, everyone on the team is cross-trained enough to be competent, but that’s not the same as expert. Going along with that, there are hundreds of planets in the Federation. Nobody knows all the details on all of the, Our heroes make a special study of each one they’re sent on a mission to, just as any Special Forces team would going to a new country.
Sixth – and this comes up in the very first book – the stories address the fact that sometimes people consider getting married for reasons that have nothing to do with love. (Or sex, either.) And that adults don’t just fall in love and live happily ever after. They have to consider what they want out of life, and each other. If it’s practical. If it’s possible. And then they have to spend time working it out.
All things considered, Star Commandoes is a world I can imagine myself living in, with characters I wouldn’t mind having over to dinner. Even if dinner was likely to get interrupted by interstellar ninjas. 😉