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Master of Formalities by Scott Meyer
Review by Ernest Lilley
47North Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781477830918
Date: 28 July 2015 List Price $14.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Master of Formalities is a comedy of manners (says so on the cover) set 2170 years from whenever the great Terran exodus is going to happen. Now all the prime real estate in the galaxy is settled, and every world sovereign unto itself. Binding the galaxy together in peace and harmony is a vast organization of very polite people whose job it is to speak truth to power. Masters of Formalities have the often difficult job of explaining to planetary rulers not what they can or can't do, but what happened the last time someone took some course of action, and what course might be most prudent. The Masters of Formality can't order anyone to take their advice, but a ruler would have to be crazy to ignore it, defying the covenant all civilized planets signed and risking the social and economic consequences of having their status as civilized worlds revoked.

Which is not to say all is peace and harmony between the civilized worlds.

In point of fact, Apios and The Hahn Home World have been at war for many generations, a war which has turned the once neutral and inhabited planet Ophion 6 into a stalemated battlefield, girded by a line of troops facing each other with little alteration, or even altercation, under the watchful eyes of orbital battleships. Peaceful, perhaps not, but static at least.

Until the Hahn begin actually attacking across the line, breaching the Apiosian defenses and, if somewhat clumsily, killing hundreds in hand to hand combat. Despite the fact that the Hahn are a nasty piece of work, and the Apiosians are fairly decent fellows, the latter also revere a sport somewhere between judo and wrestling, and the Hahn fatalities are somewhat heavier than theirs. Besides which, the Apiosians have come up with a regenerative technology that lets them rebuild soldiers from whatever they can scrape up, and not just rebuild them, but make them stronger, faster, and more lethal.

Which happens repeatedly to the poor sod who had been head cook for Lady Jakabitus, ruler of Apios' household. Gint had been such a gentle lad, but war will change a man, especially after he's been resurrected enough times.

Not only are the Apiosian's able to kill a good number of the Hahn aggressors, but they were able to take a few prisoners, including, much to their surprise, Hennrik, the son of the Hahn Home World's ruler, and second in line of succession, along with a servant, Migg.

Though the notion of executing them both, or one or the the other, get's played with, Lady Jakabitus vetoes it, which her Master of Formalities, Wollard, is quite in agreement with. With some help from the researches in his organizations Central Authority, Wollard comes up with a plan that might just end the war without bloodshed or less of it anyway. Hennrick should be adopted into House Jakabitus.

This doesn't go over tremendously well with the actual scion of the house, Rayzo, who at 14 is two years younger than Hennrik, but he bears the prospect in mostly good grace. If they'd known beforehand just how much trouble they were in for, execution might well have gone back on the table as an option.

Master of Formalities has a bit of Jeeves and Wooster, quite a bit of Upstairs Downstairs, and Downton Abbey, and just a general sense of BBC snark. Which is odd, since the author, Scott Meyer is a Floridian comic and comic strip writer, or he was until he announced the death of his strip, Basic Instructions, so that he can spend more time writing novels.

Well, that's something, anyway.

I enjoyed Master of Formalities far more than most of the serious SF Iíve read recently, and recommend it to all you closet snobs out there who think the world would be a better place if only there were a few more butlers around.

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