the Little Red Reviewer

The Exchange Officers by Brad Torgersen (Hugo Nom)

Posted on: July 19, 2014

Fact is, I tend to shy away from Military Science Fiction. I find it’s rarely something I relate to, rarely a mentality I connect with.  Have there been MilitarySF or War Story SF pieces I’ve connected with? Yes.  But this wasn’t one of them.

 

Told through the eyes of Chief Dan Jaraczuk,  he and his proxy partner Mavy Stoddard are up on Grissom Platform, and the platform is being attacked by the Chinese.   Dan and Mavy’s physical bodies are safe down on Earth, but for the time being, they see, feel and hear exactly what their proxies up in space are experiencing.  While the two of them try to figure out what the Chinese are after and how to save the platform, the story jumps back in time to Dan and Mavy’s first meeting, their different military backgrounds, training, etc.  There is a lot, and I mean A LOT of infodumping done via dialog, where Dan and Mavy are training in simulators, and their trainer has to give an entire background of world politics and the budget of the US Military, things I’d expect our two characters to already be aware of.

 

I liked the technology, that someone can climb into a proxy booth and be the eyes, ears and hands of a robot somewhere. There’s a fun scene where they are training in the proxies, and Dan takes a tumble, and his proxy does to, it was a nice light moment. But enjoyable moments like that were few and far between. I didn’t relate to Dan at all, the dialog was annoyingly clunky, the politics embarrassingly old fashioned, I simply wasn’t interested in what  was going on.   And the in-joke about Mavy’s callsign being “Chesty”?   Completely lost on me. Also, really? If you are going to have a character smile at that that kind of nickname, at least explain the joke, ok?  And while we’re on the subject of explaining, this is simple ignorance on my part: why are they called exchange officers? Is it because a different branch of the military is borrowing them? some other reason? help a girl out here, will you?

Near the end, Mavy takes an opportunity to discuss her personal politics – she’s not a fan of what’s going on, but if this was her only opportunity to get into space, damnit she was going to take it.  If it wasn’t for that scene, there wouldn’t have been a single thing I related to. She’s so conflicted about the whole thing -she has to balance her military life against her moral disagreement with what her country is doing, against the fact that this is the closest thing she’ll ever get to being an astronaut,  something she’s dreamed of her whole life. Her inner turmoil, that I appreciated.  And Dan pretty much looking at her like she’s crazy?   Made me wish the story had been told from her point of view.

It was a strange experience reading this story, I’d felt like I’d gone back in time. On the one hand, positions of power and agency seemed well split between men and women, but on the other hand, the main character’s overly simplistic beliefs about America vs the rest of the planet were so out of date as to sound completely silly, nearly bordering on satire.   The entire story has a theme of “America is the best! Everyone else is the bad guys! Go ‘Merica!”, it just  left a bad taste in my mouth. The entire time I was reading this, all I could think was how offended a Chinese person would be if they were reading it.

This story didn’t work for me on a lot of levels, and had it not been on the Hugo ballot I would not have finished it.

10 Responses to "The Exchange Officers by Brad Torgersen (Hugo Nom)"

I took the “Chesty” comment as “hur hur she has BOOBS!” I realize it supposedly refers to some earlier (male) marine, but I don’t buy it. If the writer actually meant something nonsexual by it, it should have been explained. And even then, a better writer would have found some other, less easily misinterpretable, way to convey the same idea.

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that’s what i was afraid of. What a lost opportunity to explain to the reader who or what Chesty Puller is/was, so we could cheer everytime we saw that term. But no, since it wasn’t explained, everytime I saw it all i could was “must be nice, to be called Tits McGee all the time”.😦

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For starters, why not call her “Puller”? Or say, “CP”? Those would be at least as good for a callsign, refer to the same person, whoever it was, and don’t drag boobs into it quite so obviously.
But that was the problem, I guess. Dragging boobs into it was apparently very important.

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I am completely in agreement with your opinion. I didn’t get the “chesty” joke either (some kind of military thing, I guess?), and the politics were weirdly dated, in an offensive way. The proxies were neat, but what they did with them was pretty boring. I don’t think this one will beat out ‘no award’ on my ballot.

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The proxies were pretty cool. And what a great way to get into space! you are safe on Earth, and your proxy is just sitting up there sleeping waiting for you.

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Chesty is the name of one of the most famous Marines. “Chesty” Puller. I doubt there’s any sexual reference at all.

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THANK YOU FRED!

no sexual reference, but a term that would trigger many readers to believe there was one.

same damn thing I run into when trying to explain to Americans what “Lolita Fashion” is. everything thinks it’s something kinky, but it’s actually the opposite.

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I had to Google both Chesty Puller and Lolita Fashion. Something is learned every day.

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Fun off-topic anecdote. I once played a jazz gig in a Goth-Loli/SM themed Japanese bar. It was … different.

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[…] “The Exchange Officers” by Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jan-Feb 2013) […]

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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