NESFA Members' Reviews

coverThe Excalibur Alternative

by David Weber

A book review by Mark L. Olson

Baen Books, 2003, $7.99, 346 pp

I'm afraid that this is a fairly minor piece that could easily have been a lot better. It started off as a novella set in David Drake's Ranks of Bronze universe and then expanded into a sort-of novel.

The idea of Ranks of Bronze is that Galactic civilization is a tens of thousands of year old culture which has developed a pernicious combination of ruthless aggression and hopelessly convoluted and calcified decision-making. The culture doesn't mind a trading firm taking over a planet and exploiting it or killing the natives wholesale, but absolutely prohibits using high-tech weapons to do it.

By chance, the discoverers of Earth didn't give it the treatment usually given to primitive planets, but saw an opportunity to gain an advantage by buying tens of thousands of Roman soldiers from the Parthians after Carrhae, making them nearly immortal, and using them as mercenary soldiers on primitive planets.

A thousand years later, another trading group has rediscovered Earth and kidnaps a few thousand Englishmen (with families) who are off to fight in Edward III's French wars. (Does this sound familiar?) In spite of being bloodthirsty medievals, they're all very nice people.

After a couple hundred years of fighting, the Englishmen successfully rebel, steal a ship, and disappear from Galactic history.

Fast forward to 2100 or so. The human race has gone out into space and has encountered the Galactics who have decided to destroy humanity as Too Dangerous.

The Galactics have sent an overwhelming fleet to the Solar's met by the tiny Human fleet...the fleets line up...the aliens are winding up for the pitch...trillions of megatons of high-energy weapons are about to be unleashed on the small human fleet...the aliens throw. Stop! A huge battle fleet appears out of nowhere and blows the alien super dreadnoughts to smithereens and the Solar System is saved.

It seems that the English have spent the five hundred years since they rebelled building up a tidy little interstellar empire, a really huge space navy, and riddling the alien galactic civilization with agents on all of the enslaved primitive planets. They'd been hoping to be able to wait another century or so before attacking, so they could wipe out the corrupt Galactic civilization with no risk to themselves, but they couldn't bear to see Earth harmed.

The book was entertaining enough, but it is so obviously based on the same notion as Poul Anderson's The High Crusade and falls so short of that superb book, that I can't really call it a good book. It's an entertaining, easy read, though.

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