Force of Destiny
Force of Destiny. Dale L. Kemper
Original Publication: 2003
Current Availability: Print (used) and e-book
Editor’s Note: This review originally appeared on RPG.Net in August of 2009, and was reprinted in the October 2011 issue of Freelance Traveller magazine and here with the author’s permission.
Author’s Note: I think that one of the best ways to prepare yourself to run a game is to immerse yourself in its fiction, and thus get a real sense of its milieu. Thus, this series of reviews, which looks at some of the fiction that influenced Traveller, was influenced by Traveller, or is actually set in the Traveller universe.
As with my last review, I am continuing my look at books that were influenced by Traveller—even if not set in the Third Imperium.
In the early 1980s, FASA was one of the more notable Traveller licensees. Among their more famous releases are six beige-colored adventure modules, set spinward of the Third Imperium in the Far Frontiers sector.
If FASA hadn’t picked up the Star Trek license in 1982, they probably would have continued to publish Far Frontiers adventures, and they probably would have eventually published Dale L. Kemper’s Far Frontiers novel, written later in the 1980s.
This seventh review covers Force of Destiny, the novel that Kemper wrote in the 1980s, and which wasn’t published until ~15 years later.
About the Story
Force of Destiny is a story of a sector at war. The Protectorate has fallen into a civil war, with loyalists fighting against the Tellamatrixians.
However, Force of Destiny is a very small story against that large backdrop. It is the story of the couriercraft Speedy and the priority message that she brings of a massive Tellamatrixian fleet on the move. It is the story of Destiny, the ship forced by bad luck to stay and face the oncoming fleet, the ship that may be Speedy’s only hope. And lastly it is the story of the people on these two ships—and those of their enemies.
In Force of Destiny we never really come to understand the civil war, or even who the forces fighting it are. Though the events of the novel could have some effects on the overall conflict, we will never know what they are. Instead we only get the desperate tale of the hours or days in which two Protectorate ships face a fleet of enemies that outguns them 100:1.
Genre & Style
This was probably Dale Kemper’s first novel, and it shows. The biggest problem that it has is weak and/or clichéd characterization. I’m not convinced that the characters themselves are clichéd, but Kemper doesn’t show much nuance in his descriptions. And thus the first mate who’s in love with the captain seems unduly smitten and the admiral of the opposing fleet seems maniacally evil.
I think this wasn’t helped by the fact that more than once Kemper goes straight to a cliché to show off an emotion, as one character wants to bash his head against a desk in frustration and another closes their eyes to “avoid screaming”. This was all sometimes distracting, but not constant enough to really harm the reading experience.
Contrariwise, Kemper’s attention to the space battles is terrific. The book is straight naval military science-fiction, and that generally requires exciting and evocative space battles, and Kemper really delivers. Not only do his missiles and lasers seem realistic, but he also shows the real (and terrible) effects of war in a way that few writers would be comfortable doing. I think the highs of Kemper’s space battles more than offset the lows of his clichés.
Though I don’t normally comment on the physical aspects of a fiction book, it’s unavoidable here, because the Hamster Press printing of Force of Destiny, which I had the misfortune to pick up (though to be fair it’s the only print edition which is readily available) is horrendous. It’s so bad that I can't believe anyone wanted to put their name on this piece-of-garbage production.
To start with the typography is poor. Beginning immediately with the title page, everything shouts, “unprofessional.” The paragraphs of the book are laid out like they were a forum posting, with two carriage returns after each paragraph, and that’s made even more frustrating by the fact that section breaks are marked by three carriage returns. Think it’s hard to differentiate those sometimes? Yup.
Finally, this book was clearly typed in by hand from a printed manuscript and either no one bothered to edit it afterward, or else the editor who did so should never be allowed to work again. I’m pretty sure that there’s more than one error a page, on average, including missing words, repeated words, and missing letters. Also, either the typist or the author didn’t know the different between “loosing” and “losing”, and at least once that combined with the generally poor editing to produce the word “loosig” in the text.
So, the Hamster Press edition is shamefully amateur. If I was rating this book’s Style based on the qualities of the book, I’d give it a “1”. Despite that, you might want to get it anyways, as the author occasionally sells it through eBay, and if you want a print copy, that’s the way to go. There's an older Cargo Press edition, which I’ve never seen, but it’s probably impossible to get. However, if you don’t mind reading eBooks, the edition of Force of Destiny on DrivethruRPG seems much cleaner: I looked over the preview, and it’s clearly been reset and the errors on at least those pages were corrected.
Anyway, getting back to the quality of the book. I don’t really see much point in rating a novel’s Style based on its physical qualities, because that’s a pretty binary operation: the publisher got it right or not. Instead I try to judge Style based on how entertaining and professional the author’s storytelling was. Here, as I said, good space battles but some clichéd characters. Similarly, looking toward Substance, this isn’t a very deep story, though it is largely fun. Thus I’ve given average ratings of “3” for both Style and Substance. As a first effort, though, it’s not bad at all.
(However, as far as I know, it’s not only Kemper’s first novelistic work, but also his only one; no surprise when it took over 10 years to find a publisher, and even then its publishers were both super small press.)
Applicability to Mongoose Traveller
Force of Destiny was arguably the first-ever Traveller novel. Like its predecessor, Not in Our Stars, it uses the science of the Traveller universe, but it goes the next step and actually sets the story in the Far Frontiers sector, two sectors spinward of the Third Imperium. Of course, Force of Destiny wasn’t published until 2001, by which time numerous other Traveller books were in print (and perhaps back out). As I said, it’s arguable ...
Traveller GMs should really like that aforementioned look into the science of the universe. The book kicks off with the Destiny fuel-scooping a gas giant to refuel, and in fact the whole book is about the necessity of fleets refueling at gas giants. Though Space Viking showed how a Traveller-like universe could be really big, this book shows how it can likewise be pretty small.
Beyond that the attention to military forces also is very clearly a part of Traveller. The one thing that confuses me in this book, as a Traveller book, is the constant reference to a “shift point”—as if Traveller ships could only leap into jump-space at certain points, rather than whenever they’re far enough away from gravity wells. Maybe the Far Frontiers sector has different jump technology, different customs, or maybe they just speak more about points than distance, I dunno.
Unfortunately, when we go beyond the science to the actual physical geography of the Traveller universe, its people and its cultures, this book doesn’t have a lot to offer. That’s partly because it’s set out in the middle of nowhere, and that’s likely to be beyond the area most Traveller GMs are interested in—unless you’re running those old FASA adventures, I suppose, and I should say that the Sky Raider adventures are considered absolute classics.
But, beyond that, Kemper never tells us much of anything about the setting of this area of space. That’s partly a purposeful storytelling decision, so that Kemper could tell just one small story amidst many others in this time of war. However, as a Traveller GM it disappoints me a bit because I know there are pro-Zhodani states and pro-Imperial states in the area, plus some ancient mysteries like that of the Sky Raiders. There are lots of stories that could be told in this area of space that might still be of interest to GMs in the Imperium proper, but Kemper chooses not to tell them.
So, is the story still of interest to Traveller GMs? A bit. I think it has about the same value as Not in Our Stars, which I’ve already reviewed: it’ll get you into the mindset of the physics of the Traveller universe, and might spontaneously generate some ideas for you.
Force of Destiny is a fair book with a good basis in the physics of the Traveller universe. Some of the characterization is rough, but particularly if you’re looking for evocative and interesting ways to describe space battles—or if you want to think more about what refueling at gas giants can result in—this is a good source.