Tales of the New Era 1: Yesterday’s Hero
This review originally appeared on rpg.net in March 2017, and was reprinted in Freelance Traveller’s May/June 2023 issue.
Tales of the New Era 1: Yesterday’s Hero.
Martin J. Dougherty
Original Release: 2012 (PDF, Avalon Game Co. via DTRPG)
Current Availability: PDF via DTRPG
This review, the twenty-fifth in the series, covers a collection of short stories all occurring in the Traveller: The New Era setting.
About the Story
Yesterday’s Hero is an episodic novel that reveals the career arc of Captain Lisa “Lander” Davies, RCES, through a series of linked short stories.
“Graduation Day” (1201). A dying starship is rescued by Davies during her graduation flight.
“Absent Friends” (1202). Davies joins a salvager crew searching for a medical database.
“Boarding Party” (1202). RCES Lieutenant Davies and the Apollo stumble onto a Vampire.
“Under Hostile Skies” (1203). Davies is stranded on Lebherz after an attack on a city that’s unearthed a cache.
“Vampire” (1204). After a salvage mission on Mitchell, the Apollo faces a live Vampire.
“On the Carpet” (1205). During a diplomatic mission gone wrong, Davies realizes she has become one of Them.
“Decapitation Strike” (1205). The mission: to bring in the Emperor of Ephraim, an RCES captain gone bad.
“Court of Inquiry” (1208). On Nicosia, Davies saves RCES lives at the cost of her career.
“One Vacant Chair” (1209). Davies returns to Nicosia as a Pathfinder and rediscovers her hope for the future.
“Devil’s Advocate” (1210). When Nicosia yet again rises in rebellion, Davies seeks non-violent solutions.
“Every Threadbare Sail” (1215). Davies takes the Apollo out one last time, to protect Nicosia from a Vampire.
Genre & Fiction
Besides being a linked anthology of short stories, Yesterday’s Hero is also a memoir of a lifetime. The stories are sometimes military science fiction and sometimes space opera. Each of these genres contributes some interesting elements to the novel.
The linking of multiple stories into a larger arc is the most compelling aspect of Yesterday’s Hero. Dougherty is successful in depicting Davies’ career, but he unfortunately doesn’t do a good job of depicting similar changes in the larger universe. Both Matthew Carson’s The Backwards Mask (2011) and Martin Dougherty’s own Diaspora Phoenix (2002) hint at big events in the near future of the New Era, but none of that’s here.
The memoir aspects of Yesterday’s Hero are also of note, because they give Davies the opportunity to speak philosophically and analytically about the New Era … but unfortunately that practice quickly falls away.
As for the military science fiction and the space opera … they’re fairly unremarkable. The short stories give little room for development or surprise.
Unfortunately, Yesterday’s Hero has other flaws too. It generally feels like a less polished work than Diaspora Phoenix. Though it has some of the same issues as its predecessor — like occasionally stilted dialogue and almost entirely nondescript characters (other than Davies herself) — it also has an awkwardness that Diaspora Phoenix didn’t. That is especially apparent in the repeated, heavy-handed mentions of “absent friends” and how everyone is constantly dying for the good of the Coalition.
Self sacrifice. No one makes it out alive. We get it.
There are occasional nice bits in Yesterday’s Hero, usually related to individual action scenes that are well depicted and create tension But, those good moments are too few (and seem even fewer later in the book, when the stories are shorter and more shallow than the early ones).
Applicability to Traveller Gameplay
Yesterday’s Hero covers the same ground as most of the TNE books, detailing the Reformation Coalition and its attempts to rebuild the universe. Unfortunately, that puts it into direct competition with several other novels, and both Brunette’s and Carson’s TNE novels (The Death of Wisdom, To Dream of Chaos, The Backwards Mask, and The [other] Backwards Mask) tell that story better.
That’s in part because Yesterday’s Hero feels shallow in comparison, never delving very deep into the Reformation Coalition and its connected story elements due to the short length of these stories. Dougherty’s interesting (but brief) depiction of the Ithklur is one of the few exceptions — but that largely speaks to the lack of attention that other TNE books give the Hivers’ client race. The Coalition’s Pathfinders also get some brief (but unique) attention in one of the later stories.
As with most of the TNE books, this one is full of plot tropes that are common to the time period and that could be used as adventure seeds. Different sections show: the investigation of dead worlds; the quest for old technology; the fight against TEDs; and the problems pacifying planets. However, other books once more do better with these ideas.
When Dougherty submitted the novel that would become Diaspora Phoenix to GDW in late 1993 or early 1994, he also sent them a short story called “Absent Friends”. They accepted it, but never found a place to publish it before their demise in early 1996.
Dougherty wrote additional short stories for the QuickLink Interactive site when working with them in the early ’00s, but afterward lost track of them. He recovered them a few years later while working with ComStar Games, which resulted in their publication as a PDF (2006).
After Mongoose picked up the Traveller license, all of ComStar’s Traveller books disappeared, but Dougherty has since republished Yesterday’s Hero, again as a PDF (2012), through ComStar’s successor, Avalon Games.
Yesterday’s Hero largely returns to the same topics that are better covered in Paul Brunette’s TNE trilogy and Matt Carson’s TNE megabook. Though the format is intriguing, it's probably what makes this episodic novel somewhat shallow.