By Myke Cole
The future could be Utopian, but if the vast majority of science fiction novels have taught us only one thing: it’s going to be Dystopian. The setting of Myke Cole’s Sixteenth Watch promises to be an uplifting one as humans have populated the moon and therefore found the resources needed to power Earth. However, this being man, we don’t start afresh on the Moon but take old allegiances with us. A proxy Cold War now rages on the Moon between the USA and China. Can anyone deescalate the tensions before the Cold War heats up?
The Sixteenth Watch is the name given to any member of the Armed Forces sent out to do their next tour in space. This can be the Marines or the Navy, but also the Coast Guard. The structures of Earth have survived into Space along with their motives. Whilst the Armed Forces have a Hawk mindset the Coast Guard are more like Owls, willing to use force if required, but would prefer to solve the issue more wisely and peacefully if possible. Captain Jane Oliver personifies this viewpoint and is tasked by her superiors to train an elite team to compete in a series of War Games that may determine the future of the human race.
Sixteenth Watch is packed with some great ideas. The initial conflict that opens the pages is one. A melee battle between miners. Sounds a bit like 1980s Miner’s Strikes on the surface, but not when you think that this surface is on the Moon. This is a battle with reduced gravity. A punch can now pack far more power when you can lift and throw a huge boulder with ease. This opening sequence is kinetic and introduces to the concepts that will dominate the book; who is best to police space and the character of Captain Oliver.
Oliver is a Coast Guard Officer and a woman in her 50s. This is not the usual viewpoint that I read in science fiction; often leaning more towards the young and the male. The fact alone that there is a wise head at the centre of the story lends the book weight. Oliver is not a woman that will bow to pressure easily. There is a confidence born of experience and technique. She is always aware of her personal life, but it takes a backseat to her professionalism. However, it does inform the character brilliantly giving her several dimensions and the reader something to care about.
All this comes into play during some of the tactical set pieces that dot the book. Oliver is training an elite group and joins them on missions to discourage smuggling or crossing the Chino-US border. These are mini tactical tour de forces as a four-person crew attaches themselves to non-responsive ship and engages. This training will all lead to a competition between the various Armed Forces that are televised and have become the most popular sport to watch on Earth. The hope is that is the Coast Guard can win they will prove that a less intimidating response to flash points will deescalate tensions between the Chinese and the Americans.
It is this concept of who is the best to police the Moon that is core to Sixteenth Watch. If you go into a fracas with a military mindset are you more likely to make matters worse? Oliver has a real belief that the Coast Guard offers the most viable route to peace as they will police the Moon with a neutral stance.
The world that Cole has created in this book feels like it could happen in the future and the character of Oliver is more rounded than you will find in many books. I did feel that the narrative moved around a little confusingly as the prime motivator for the crew is a competition that flits in and out of their consciousness. It feels like a concept that did not quite work.
Thankfully, even with the main thrust for the characters being a little flimsy, the rest of the book holds strong. There are great military science fiction scenes and Captain Oliver is one of the more interesting military personnel you are likely to meet. From my perspective one of the best elements of the book is the hidden philosophical debate that pitches the hawks versus the doves. Taking this thinking of nuclear deterrence into a space based Cold War works wonderfully to flesh out the wider world of Sixteenth Watch. It is a book that has military action, but also explores what motivates different branches of the Armed Forces.
Written on 12th March 2020 by Sam Tyler .