She’s a lady with a crazy story and a frog for a side-kick. He’s a general who has been waiting for his Picard moment for a long time.
That's the two-line introduction to Pauline Baird Jones's story
in Pets in Space 5, The General's Holiday, my latest SFR read.
To get right to the point, I loved it. Here's the blurb.
General John Halliwell, Commander of the Project Enterprise Earth Expedition, has spent most of his time in the Garradian Galaxy being shot at and shooting back. When a mysterious and intriguing lady arrives on Kikk asking for some non-shooting help, he is intrigued enough to listen.
It doesn’t hurt that the lady’s easy on his eyes, close to his own age, and not under his command.
He doesn’t mind a chance to show the galaxy that their expedition can do more than point and shoot. That it’s the closest to a holiday he’s going to get for a while, might have tipped the scales too. The problem is, he believes she believes, but her story is too unbelievable to believe.
Or something like that.
All Naxe has ever known is a life of hiding and providing, but with the end of the war, freedom feels further than ever. Why are they still hiding from the rest of the galaxy? Why aren’t the ships of Scoyfol finally going home?
In a bid to break the stalemate gripping the ships’ company, she breaks all the rules and asks General Halliwell for help. It’s a bonus that he is the first man in her life to remind her she’s a woman, that life could be about more than endless scavenging runs to help feed her people. But when she brings the general and his team to the Scoyfol ships, something has gone terribly wrong. What is the true story of Scoyfol?
As Halliwell and Naxe get closer and closer to the truth, he realizes he’s getting his Picard moment, but with shooting.
Because shooting happens.
But if they can survive he might just get to kiss the lady.
Like all stories in the Pets in Space anthology, there's a… critter which plays an important role in proceedings. He's not a pet, he's an intelligent alien although that doesn't come across at first meeting. His name is Blooban and he is a very large frog-like creature with very large purple eyes. Not exactly a cuddly critter, then.
But there's more.
Of course General Halliwell agrees to go off with Naxe but he takes along two companions: a massive robot known as Tim and a lady who he expects knows more than most about the Scoyfol and the war with the Dusan. She is also very fond of Tim, who is equally fond of her. Maybe there's another story there?
The author has a great 'voice' that comes through in her characters. I particularly liked the fact that Halliwell and Naxe are both (ahem) a bit older than so many main characters in romances. Halliwell has a tendency to remind himself to act like a general, which is often amusing. So are the references to Picard, the famous Star Trek captain. However, as any general should, he doesn't go into the expedition without forethought and planning – which makes him even more convincing.
Enough information is divulged about Tim the robot and Riian to give them both depth and individual voices. For instance, Tim is inclined to be spare with words and Riian doesn't show her feelings. As Halliwell puts it, "It was going to be a fun trip with all of them working on their lack of expression."
While this might appear to be a light-hearted tale, it's
also a great SF story that had me intrigued and turning the pages to find out
what happened next. There's a menacing, powerful force at work and Halliwell
and his team are going to have to confront and defeat it - in the end in a very satisfying way.
This was my second dive into Pets in Space 5. I read and reviewed Laurie A. Green's story, Juggernaut, a few weeks ago (you can read it here).
Have you bought your copy yet? You really should.