Temporary Duty, by Ric Locke

First of all, the disclaimer: Although I didn’t get the book free, I should probably note that Ric Locke is a Facebook friend, and has been giving me helpful advice on e-publishing, at which he has been (very deservedly) successful.

I have good and not-so-good things to say about Temporary Duty, but I’ll start with the good.

Considering its length and its price ($2.99 for the Kindle book), Temporary Duty is one of the best reading entertainment values you’ll find today. It’s quite long, and it’s simply lots of fun. If you go back far enough to remember the sheer pleasure of the old space opera novels, like Heinlein’s juveniles, that same pleasure is here in abundance—the wonder of space, the fascination of exotic aliens and strange cultures, the excitement of human ingenuity applied to interstellar challenges. You’ll have a good time reading this book.

For the negative… well, I’ll leave that for further along.

The time is about 40 years in the future. There have been big changes in the world. A terrorist war and a financial collapse have turned America into a highly regulated, rigidly stratified society. The American military mirrors that stratification. There’s very little mobility between the upper and lower ranks.

So when history’s first alien contact occurs, and the aliens—the mercantile Grallt—ask for an advance party to prepare quarters on their ship for the humans who have contracted to join them on their merchant voyage, the Navy asks for two initial volunteers. They are to be lowly Petty Officers, and their duties will be simply to clean the place up and make it ship-shape. Still, John Peters and Kevin Todd are eager to volunteer, partly for the adventure and partly for the (seeming remote) possibility that they’ll be able to better their prospects.

In order to do their work, they need to learn the Grallt language (actually a Trade language used by many mercantile cultures in space), and they make friends with some of their hosts, less class-conscious than the humans. Once the Navy contingent comes aboard, the officers do their best to put Peters and Todd back in their place, but their usefulness as translators (the officers arrogantly refuse to learn the Trade language) and the preference given them by the Grallt leaders, give them repeated opportunities to distinguish themselves, and they gradually start making money of their own.

There are battles with space pirates, diplomatic incidents, and equipment crises. The action rarely lets up, and when there’s no action there’s generally something interesting to learn about the aliens.

In the second half of the book, the story changes somewhat. John has a major adventure which, while not inconsistent with the fictional universe we’re dealing with, ends up a little too close to a 14-year-old boy’s sexual fantasies (I can speak with authority on this matter) than I found comfortable.

We’re dealing with Libertarian science fiction here, and if you’ve read anything in that genre you’ll know that one of the standard elements is non-traditional sex (it’s a sort of a tradition with Libertarians). Sexual relations between humans and Grallt are possible, but we’re informed that the functionally female Grallt are biologically male, and vice versa, thus making all such liaisons not only inter-species, but transsexual. And even when John finds love in a humanoid culture, the actual “family” he establishes is not exactly what the Christian right would call traditional.

On the other hand, shots are lobbed at radical feminists, and at abortion (as I understand it), as well as at big government and the IRS. So there’s some balance here.

If you’ve read all the above and are not put off, I think you’ll find Temporary Duty an extended pleasure.

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