February 2004
© 2004 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Burden of Proof by John G. Hemry
Ace / Penguin Putnam PPBK: ISBN 0441011470 PubDate: 02/24/04
Review by Cathy Green

304 pgs. List price $6.50
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Burden Of Proof is John G. Hemry’s second novel about the adventures of Lt. Paul Sinclair, space warfare officer and sometime legal officer aboard the USS Michaelson, a ship in the spacefaring U.S. Navy of the future. The first book, A Just Determination, was also reviewed by SFRevu in May 2003 (see review).

The novel starts off with a typical day in the life of newly promoted Lt. j.g. Paul Sinclair. His ship is on maneuvers to test a new weapon when the test is disrupted by members of Greenspace. Paul quickly has to change hats from tactical officer on the bridge to ship’s legal officer and figure out what the Michaelson legally can do with the Greenspacers. The weapon test is put off and they return to the nearest space station to hand over the Greenspacers to civilian authorities. The novel proceeds at a leisurely pace, giving the reader time to get to know the crew of the ship. We are introduced to Paul, his fellow junior officers, the senior officers of several key departments onboard and Paul’s girlfriend Jennifer Shen, also a Lieutenant in the Navy and a former shipmate on the Michaelson. While in port at Franklin Station, the Michaelson changes captains and acquires new bridge officer, Lt. Scott Silver, the son of a Vice Admiral. Paul hooks up with his girlfriend and has an unfortunate first meeting with her father, a respected naval captain.

When the ship gets underway again to complete the weapons test, Paul discovers he doesn’t think much of Lt. Silver or his abilities. While many of his fellow junior officers agree with him, unfortunately most of the senior officers seem to hold a different opinion. It is at this point in the novel, about 100 pages in, that the action really starts. There is a fatal explosion onboard, and unsatisfied with the results of the official investigation, Paul, in his role as ship’s legal officer, undertakes his own investigation with the permission of the Michaelson’s new captain. Paul comes to a different conclusion than the official investigation, which had been conducted by his girlfriend’s father.

While this book is follows A Just Determination, it works fine as a stand alone novel, so readers should not put off reading Burden Of Proof because they have not read A Just Determination. I had not read the first book when I elected to read and review Burden Of Proof and it did not diminish my enjoyment of the book or my ability to understand what was going on. Hemry’s background as a Naval officer clearly shows. The reader gets a real sense of Navy culture and daily life as a junior officer on a ship. As a trial lawyer, I very much enjoyed the courtroom scenes. Hemry has a real grasp of trial strategy and evidentiary issues.

SFRevu’s Ernest Lilley, in his review of A Just Determination, noted that while it was set in a spacefaring navy of the future, there was little in the book to remind the reader that it was taking place in outer space. Hemry attempts to correct for this in Burden Of Proof with discussions of what it means to work in zero or low gravity. For instance, a female junior officer points out to Paul that the reason many of the women wear their hair short is so that it won’t float in front of their eyes and notes that she has become hyper-neat because leaving items lying around unsecured would be a major hazard whenever the ship changed direction or accelerated or decelerated. My favorite was the fact that anyone serving on a spaceship developed a tendency to anchor himself to large objects in the room, even when planetside. However, it could just as easily be set in the current Navy as a straightforward legal thriller. That said, I enjoyed the book and I look forward to following the future adventures of Paul Sinclair.

© 2004 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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