The Exchange Officers by Brad Torgersen (Hugo Nom)
Posted July 19, 2014on:
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.