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Better to Beg Forgiveness by Michael Z. Williamson

Cover art by Kurt Miller

Published by Baen Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

Michael Z. Williamson's Freehold of Grainne series is military science fiction, and in this installment, it's strongly tilted toward the military part of that description. In other words, this is the sort of book that your literature teacher would tell you is simply a story that could take place in any here and now Third World country but has been tarted up with some science fiction elements for the enjoyment of the sort of people who like juvenile escapism.

So if you don't like science fiction that doesn't worry about bipping that "story would collapse if science fictional elements are removed" box, or if you don't like fiction written from a strongly conservative world-view that has very little use for transnational progressivism, political correctness, or the like, you'll probably want to save your time and your money. But if you want hard-edged action adventure in a future that doesn't sugar-coat the ugliness of the way in which socialist economies and the like perpetuate not only the gap between the haves and the have-nots, but endless ethnic violence and social disruption, this may well be the book for you.

Bishwanath is an unusual sort of guy, a leader of a poor nation who isn't a creepy kleptocrat, but a genuine humanitarian who wants to better his people's lot in life. However, he also is realist enough to know that there are a number of entrenched power centers that would like nothing better than to see him destroyed. Rendered impotent but useful as a puppet if possible, but if necessary reduced to a smear on a wall.

So he hires himself a crew of mercenaries from the outfitting company Ripple Creek to serve as independent bodyguards. Since they are all offworlders, they will not have any problematic ties with any of the tribal groups that vie for influence, and thus can be counted on to be loyal to him alone. And unlike the local outfits, they're actually competent fighters instead of street brawlers. Not to mention that they have access to technology well advanced above the locals' cobbled-together weapons.

And as it turns out, they are more loyal to him than he had anticipated, to the point that they are willing to stand by him even when they would have been well within their rights to declare the terms of their contract fulfilled and take off. But Bishwanath has won their respect in a way no other politician has before, and thus their loyalty, and they are willing to go not just to the ends of the earth, but of the very galaxy to get him to a place of safety where he can continue his struggle against the forces that have driven him from power, rather than to have him simply become a martyr. And as the title suggests, sometimes it really is better to beg forgiveness after taking the initiative in a rapidly changing situation than to ask permission and thus lose a fleeting opportunity in the midst of crisis. To say more would be to spoil the best parts of the novel.

The story is told in a grittily realistic manner that shows the author knows whereof he writes. Yet for all the grimness of idealism relentlessly being crushed under the ugliness of opportunistic power-seeking, there is also humor, both in some little in-jokes that fellow Hoosiers will quickly pick up but shouldn't leave other readers feeling left out, and in bits of character interaction sprinkled throughout the book. If you've enjoyed the works of John Ringo and Tom Kratman, you'll probably enjoy this book too. And similarly, if you enjoy Better to Beg Forgiveness..., you'll probably want to acquaint yourself with the works of Ringo and Kratman, both individually and in collaboration.

Review posted January 14, 2010

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