Well, that certainly was a lot of fantasy over the last few months! Time for a palate cleanser I think, and I can’t think of a better way than with some military-grade science fiction.
The Rogue Commodore is the first novel in The Martian War series by prolific author Kenneth Tam. Tam has been writing since 2001 and has published nearly sixty books with Iceberg Publishing, currently based in Edmonton but with strong ties to Newfoundland and Newfoundland culture. Under the Iceberg banner, Tam has four series: the now-complete Equations series, the Martian War series, the His Majesty’s New World series, and The Champions series. He has also a contributed to the Wes Prewer’s creator-owned series Seas of Sand, also from Iceberg.
While all taking place under the banner of science-fiction, each of Kenneth Tam’s series spawns from a different genre under the spec-fic umbrella, and each appears to have been inspired by different aspects of 1980s counter-culture. This series seems to be inspired by the better parts of Star Trek: the Next Generation, Firefly, and the works of Arthur C. Clarke.
The series has a rich history before it even begins. It’s based on the reminisces of Admiral the Lord Ken Barron, as he looks back on his misadventures during a period that history has dubbed “The Martian War.”
The Rogue Commodore starts just before the onset of the War, with a battle between Barron’s ship the Wolf and the invading Martian fleet over a seemingly unimportant meteor belt.
A fair portion of The Rogue Commodore is world building, setting up the landscape of this potential future we find ourselves in. There’s a lot being explained about the world, the state of the military industrial complex, and the characters that inhabit each. That’s a good thing, because Tam is very technical in his prose. What most authors would skim over for narrative convenience, such as transit time between planets, Tam dwells upon and uses it to his advantage. The world of The Martian War is a very real one. This is the first in a long series that does well to setup the main premise of what is to come. It also reads like many war books I’ve read over the years, such as The Things they Carried, a little of Rendezvous with Rama, and even a little of Paul Stoller’s ethnographic studies. So, in this, it succeeds, and when the novel picks up steam toward the latter half, it has already sucked the reader in.
I love taking the Freudian method of dream analysis and applying it to literature. Quick/Dirty rundown: you take the part of the book that bothered you the most, then spin the analysis so that that is what the book is about. At least, what it’s about for you.
I can say, without exaggeration, that it took me ten years to figure out what this book was to me using this method. Sometimes things are slow burns like that, but I think it’s the sign of a good novel and a good puzzle when your mind keeps traveling back to it like that — you have a need to figure it out. Even then, I didn’t realize it until I read Making Family by Jenn White this past fall, and everything clicked into place.
What bothered me about The Rogue Commodore was that the villains of this opera were portrayed as inept, and so Barron and his team defeat them easily. The villains provide the secrets to their plans easily after a few moment’s interrogation over the Skype-like comm-system, erupting in bursts of fury. This bothers me because, in my mind, a hero should triumph because they’re skilled, not because their opponent is unskilled.
It was only after reading White’s novel and realizing that the similar misgivings I had about the main character were because she was an unreliable narrator that I realized the same about Barron: this is an unreliable narrator. It’s not that the villains were defeated this easily: it’s that Barron isn’t telling you everything. When I went back and re-read, there was ample evidence of this: descriptions that were phrased literally but couldn’t have been, instances when the narrator admits to altering the events for reasons of secrecy, and meta-textual arguments in which the narrator lambasts other media interpretations of his exploits. It’s then that I come to the realization of what this novel is about: it is about the flaws inherent in perspective, especially when dealing with historical accounts. And in that respect, it is absolutely genius.
Part satire, part action-movie, and part science-fiction thriller, this is a book that I’ve come to over and over again, and every time I read it it’s a different book. It changes as my own politics and opinions change while remaining itself apolitical, which is a testament to the care Tam took in crafting his narrative.
The Rogue Commodore is available in print and eBook formats. Check it out, a must-read for people interested in supporting good independent fiction. Perfect from those who enjoy Arthur C Clarke, Robert A Heinlein, and the military sci-fi of Scott Bartlett.
‘Other Indie’ is a recurring series of articles on Engen Books in which authors highlight the best in independent publishing, in the hopes of helping readers break through the cluster of books they may not be sure about in an age when anyone can publish via digital formats. Engen Books is an independent small-press publishing company based in St. John’s Newfoundland and is proud to highlight the talent of independent authors not our own. The Rogue Commodore is © 2011 Kenneth Tam. This review is © 2017 Matthew LeDrew. ‘Other Indie’ banner photo credit: Steve Lake.