Independent Command by James Doohan and S.M. Stirling
List Price: $7.99 
Paperback - 407 pages (December 2001) 
Baen; ISBN: 067131851
Review by Ernest Lilley
Check out this book at: Amazon US / Amazon UK

The third in what may or may not be a trilogy combining the efforts of James "Scotty" Doohan and S.M. Stirling came out in paperback in December, and I got around to reading it for some diversion. For diversion, it's terrific stuff.

Basically, I assume it's S.M. Stirling writing  in a universe that he and James Doohan have kicked around, which features Commander Peter Reader, a hero that's unmistakably Doohan himself, a former space fighter pilot (Doohan was a pilot in the RAF during WWII) who got recycled as a flight engineer ("Scotty". Need we say more?) two books back, and in the grand tradition of these sorts of space opera war stories, has been rapidly ascending the command structure over the series.

The story opens with Commander Reader on almost a holiday, taking a mag-lev train upcountry on the R&R world after his gal (LCDR Sarah James) has had her collywobblies removed at the MASH unit. You see, in the last episode she was taken prisoner by the Mollies, humans in league with spideresque aliens who are on the verge of overrunning the Commonwealth, and being a POW takes its toll. She's almost ready to resume duty though, and Reader has gone down to collect her when her shrink prescribes a two week vacation for them both, mostly for therapeutic reasons.

A pleasant day with a beautiful gal and no disaster in sight surely isn't the sort of thing that can last, and before his train ride is over he's had to lead his fellow passengers down from an elevated train wreck, return to an enemy blasted city, and smuggled his gal back to her own ship.

The aliens don't usually make deep penetration runs into Commonwealth space, but they learn fast, and are perfectly happy to turn our tactics against us. Now, with the planet Come by Chance a smoldering ruin, and the captain and XO of the Reader's ship, the Invincible, in intensive care, Reader's guardian angel/devil Marine General Scaragoglu has hatched a plan in which Reader takes the Invincible deep into alien space for some "reconnaissance in force."

Nothing ever goes the way you plan though, and soon Reader, A crippled Invincible, and everyone that means anything to him are running for their lives...deeper into alien space, deeper behind enemy lines.

As if Reader doesn't have enough trouble on his hands he's going to have to add a few more jobs to his resume, and quickly if there's any hope for the Invincible...and the entire human Commonwealth. Titles like Ambassador and First Contact Specialist.

I get a kick out of these stories, which combine the feel of familiar characters from another universe with blatant over-the-top space opera. This may well be the last story that James Doohan and S.M. Sterling do together, as Jimmy's no longer all that young. It does wrap up the current storyline, but it also leaves open a grand premise for the next, one at once familiar and new...at least for the former Chief, er I mean Flight, Engineer.

Anyway, thanks for the yarn Scotty, and kudos to S.M Sterling for the worthy execution.

2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu