Thursday, June 26, 2014

JAG in Space, continued

(cover image from

I've continued my reading of John G. Hemry's JAG in Space series with the third and fourth (and, so far, final) volumes, Rule of Evidence (2005) and Against All Enemies (2006).

These follow the same pattern I described in my review of the first two books, and that might be a problem. Oh, I enjoyed both books, but whoever named this series "JAG in Space" might have done the author a disservice.

The characters are still great, and life aboard a military spaceship seems both interesting and very realistic. But unlike similar books, these end in a courtroom trial, rather than a battle, and I wonder how many of those can really make sense.

After all, Paul Sinclair is a line officer, not a lawyer. I would love to continue following his career, but I wonder if "JAG in Space" hasn't boxed the author into a situation which simply won't work for long. Is that why there hasn't been a new volume in this series for eight years? Certainly, the fourth book doesn't read like a conclusion.

In Rule of Evidence, Sinclair's fiance is charged with sabotage and the deliberate murder of 61 of her fellow shipmates. Clearly, he has a strong interest in this court martial. And I loved her reaction to confinement. Hemry is just exceptional in his characterizations.

The book was great, but the trial itself was a bit weak. Well, the case was certainly weak, though it appeared to be enough to convict her. They didn't have any evidence against her at all, except the fact that she'd survived the explosion. Was that really enough for a court martial?

And the solution was rather weak, too. Oh, it was quite reasonable. I had no trouble buying it. But I could see it coming from a mile away, and the actual mechanics of the discovery seemed too simple, too easy, too neat.

(cover image from

Against All Enemies ends in a court martial for treason. This time, the trial was rather straightforward, and Paul Sinclair didn't have much riding on the outcome. So as a trial, it was the least interesting of the four in this series. (And I read these two books out of order, so it wasn't just that I was getting tired of the concept.)

Make no mistake, I enjoyed both of these books. I've enjoyed the whole series. But that "JAG in Space" idea seems to be locking the author into a pattern that's working less and less well with each succeeding book.

Paul Sinclair isn't a lawyer and has no intention of becoming a lawyer. In the first two books of this series, he risked his career - at the very beginning of it - to do the right thing. That worked great.

But there's a lot more to this series - and to this character - than legal issues. Unfortunately, it's JAG in Space, right? So how could Hemry write a sequel without a court martial? I did like the idea behind this, but I think he backed himself into a corner.

Of course, Hemry now writes the hugely successful Lost Fleet series under the name Jack Campbell. That's how I discovered his writing. And the Lost Fleet universe gives him a lot wider canvas than this one does.

From the beginning, the setting of JAG in Space seemed as unique as the idea behind it,... but also rather hard to imagine. Hemry kept the focus on shipboard routine, and that was great. But I had to wonder if he was also forced into that small canvas because he couldn't make the rest of his universe seem plausible.

If Against All Enemies is the last of this series, as it seems right now, that wouldn't be too surprising. There's certainly a lot to like in these books, but maybe not as much room to grow. If you're already familiar with Jack Campbell, you'll probably want to give JAG in Space a try. If not, definitely get your hands on The Lost Fleet: Dauntless.

Note: The rest of my book reviews are here.

No comments: