The Outposter by Gordon R. Dickson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This isn’t a bad book, but it’s not a great book either. Above average?
Earth is overpopulated — has been for 100 years — and has a lottery where the “winners” are turned into colonists who are shipped to Earth’s colonies around the galaxy. There they presumably lead miserable lives, all under the watch of Outposters, sort of frontier cops. One thing I didn’t understand was why entire worlds and their colonists are being protected by groups of four or five outposters…. How are so few supposed to stave off alien attacks and protect the populace (and keep the peace)? That seemed pretty weak in the story line to me.
But there are indeed aliens. We have the Meda V’dan, a predatory alien race that has been attacking the colonies, stealing various supplies and killing outposters for years. Thus we meet Mark Ten Roos, an 18-year-old outposter whose parents were killed by the Meda V’dan when he was young and whose adoptive father, an outposter, has just been crippled in a Meda V’dan attack on a colony. Mark has been studying on Earth for five years and now he’s going back out to the colonies, but he’s got big plans. He wants to rid the galaxy of the Meda V’dan and will let nothing get in his way. Along the way, he recruits various colonists who have training that will be able to help him, such as space navigation, bookkeeping (he wants to turn the colonies into self-sustaining entities, since they’re reliant on the earth for everything), a former Marine for security, etc. He’s ticked at the Navy, which has sat back and done nothing about these attacks for fear of starting a war with this alien race.
Now, one would think over a 100 year period, the colonists would have gotten to the point where they could be self sustaining, the Navy could have built up its power so that it could take on the Meda V’dan, etc., et al, but these plot weaknesses never occur to Dickson, the author. Odd.
Mark “borrows” a few ships from the Navy, gets some colonists trained in how to use them, and visits the Meda V’dan city on another planet, on both a spying mission and under the guise of setting up trade with them. However, he burns for revenge, and gambles that the aliens will attack his planet after his visit. He’s not disappointed. Three Meda V’dan ships appear and attack his colony, but he’s prepared and has guns and ships ready. He takes two out while a third escapes. He then borrows more and bigger ships from the Navy and goes to attack the Meda V’dan city, hitting them where they live.
Now, I’m going to go no further because that would give away the ending and I don’t want to do that. Suffice it to say that things turn out fairly well, the colonists gain their independence from Earth, Mark disappears with an interesting love interest, and the book ends a bit anticlimactically, frankly. Partially satisfying, partly not. Still, I guess I like the ending enough to give this book four stars. There are holes in the plot and Mark’s superhuman work ethic and narrow-sighted desire for revenge make him hard to buy as a character at times, but he’s a decent protagonist, even if he is the 18-year-old savior of the galaxy, which seems unlikely. It’s a good quick read. I finished it in a day. I cautiously recommend this book to sci fi fans, and obviously to any Dickson fan who hasn’t yet read it.