Shadow of the Storm
This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue.
Shadow of the Storm. Martin J.
Original Publication: 2014 (Far Future Enterprises in cooperation with Athans and Associates)
Current Availability: Trade Paperback (Amazon, Barnes and Noble) or eBook (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords).
The story opens in media res during an incident where Lieutenant Simon Crowe, Bridge Engineering Officer on the CSS Maestrale, manages to make his way to the drive room, pulling together an ad-hoc damage control party as he does, and manages to restore interstellar ‘jump’ capability and initiate a ‘jump’ out of a situation which might otherwise have resulted in the destruction of the Maestrale. He and his commanding officer are awarded the Confederation’s highest award for their respective performances in that incident.
Two years later, Crowe is involved in ‘the so-called “Santorini Incident”’, refuses to resign because of it, and is suspended from the Confederation Navy, seconded to the Home Guard (normally in the role of naval auxiliaries for system defense). The suspension ends up lasting six years, with the various boards of inquiry failing to reach a verdict on the incident. The decision is made to shelve the incident, and Crowe is restored to active duty. He will not receive Navy seniority for the six years on suspension, but he will retain his Home Guard seniority, and not be required to resign his Home Guard commission.
His new orders have him breveted to (Acting) Lieutenant Commander, and given command of the CSS Stormshadow, a new class of patrol frigate, for its shakedown cruise. The shakedown cruise is abruptly changed to an operational deployment through a few nearby systems, expected to be a ‘show the flag’ patrol.
Their first port call, however, immediately turns into an operation to recapture the highport from rioters, at the request of the world government. Their next port call is uneventful, though an encounter with another ship has the side effect of stirring up some old history.
At Stormshadow’s third port call, they re-encounter a merchant seen at their first port, who leads them into an ambush. Stormshadow takes moderate damage, but in the end defeats all three of the attacking ships. While the ship is undergoing repairs to make her spaceworthy, an attempt at assassinating Crowe is made, but he and his crew escape, and head to their next port, where Stormshadow is to be fully repaired. There, matters come to a head as Crowe is first railroaded into a duel, and then suspended, just as an uprising against the Confederation is launched.
The uprising pits elements of the Confederation Navy against each other, and against the Home Guard, and Crowe, using his Home Guard commission, volunteers to fight on the side of the Confederation. He is ordered to take command of Stormshadow, and shoots his way out of the repair dock to bring Stormshadow into the fight against the rebels. Poor luck and poor shiphandling on the rebels’ part, plus some good luck for the loyal forces, results in a Confederation loyalist victory.
To the reader familiar with the Traveller universe, the story provides insights into the Solomani, showing them not merely as an opponent to the Imperium, but as an interstellar polity with its own issues, trying to find its own solutions. For the new reader, Dougherty presents a universe that stands on its own, with its own texture, its own problems, and its own people trying to deal with the situations they find themselves in. While one can’t really say that the characters are well-developed—the story is well under two hundred digest-sized pages—neither are they completely “flat” or “one-dimensional”. The storyline is perhaps somewhat predictable, and the high drama at the climax feels somewhat like the sort of propaganda films that we smile or chuckle at when they’re shown on TV as part of a World War II historical special.
Dougherty does use news items to good effect to bridge gaps in the story and to give the reader a ‘bigger picture’ than the focus on Stormshadow and Crowe can provide. This is contrasted with some ‘infodumpy’ scenes, where characters, under the guise of ‘venting’ or providing a non-rhetorical answer to a rhetorical question, expound on background material which could be adequately summarized for story purposes in two or three sentences, instead of a like number of paragraphs. It never quite gets to the ‘As you know, Bob,…’ level, but it comes close.
The story feels unfinished in some sense, though this reviewer could not explain precisely why. It simply feels like there should be more to both Crowe’s story and that of the rebellion.
A section of Library Data in the classic Traveller style is included, but will be of more interest to those familiar with the Traveller milieu than to the new reader. It’s useful to the new reader, though, as it does provide some of the background material that is useful for filling in some of the gaps in the background.
The cover definitely points the book squarely at the Traveller player as its target market; it’s basic black with the thin stripe and the word Traveller in the Optima font, with the remainder of the artwork basically shades of grey, and not easy to make out on the black background. This is perhaps unfortunate; the story could easily serve to get non-players interested in the milieu, provided you can draw their interest in the first place—and this isn't the sort of cover that would grab attention at Barnes and Noble.
Overall, a good but not spectacular read. It definitely belongs on the shelf of any “Golden Age” Traveller player.