Author: Ric Locke
Genre: science fiction
Price: $2.99 (ebook)
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib
Some time back, I reviewed Nathan Lowell’s novel Quartershare. Lowell’s book was of the “merchants in space” subgenre of SF, and so Amazon kept recommending that I buy Ric Locke’s novel Temporary Duty. When I learnt that Ric Locke had terminal cancer and was soliciting donations for an oxygen machine, I decided to spend the three bucks and buy his book. (I also kicked in a few bucks to the tip jar.) Buying Locke’s book proved to be a great investment.
I’ve talked on my personal blog about how writing is more than having the same basic idea. Two books, in this case Temporary Duty and Quartershare, can both be summarized as “enlisted men join merchant starship” but the execution of the idea leads to radically different stories. The world of Quartershare is peaceful and alien-free, leading to a surprisingly calm book. The world of Temporary Duty is rather the opposite.
The protagonist of Temporary Duty is John Peters, a Petty Officer Second Class in the US Navy of the mid-21st Century. An alien spaceship arrives at Earth, making first contact with the aircraft carrier USS Barack H. Obama. After some backstage maneuverings, the aliens agree to take two squadrons of US fighters onboard the ship for a two year trade mission. Peters, by sheer luck, gets assigned in advance of the main US body to the alien ship. In one of the more insightful parts of the book, this immersion into alien culture forces Peters to become a resident expert on the aliens, which proves continually useful.
The world of Temporary Duty is not at total war, but neither is it totally at peace. As a result, our carrier wing (with planes converted to fly in space) sees some action, and Peters, as defacto alien expert, has a number of opportunities to advance personally, which he seizes. Locke, the author, appears to have been ex-Navy himself, and uses that to good advantage.
One of the things I like about the book is that Locke captures the peculiar dynamic between Navy aviators (officers) and enlisted. I was an officer in the Navy, although not a pilot, and I noticed that pilots tended to have the most distant relationships to their enlisted subordinates of any officers in my experience. This was due to a number of factors, the discussion of which is for another essay, but Locke captures that dynamic perfectly.
Temporary Duty is very action-packed, and quite a gripping read. I stayed up way too late reading it! There’s adult language and sex, (including inter-species) and some violence, but only the most sensitive readers should have an issue with that. I did find the last couple of chapters a bit over the top, but that’s a quibble. It’s not Space Opera, but fans of space operas, science fiction or just good storytelling should enjoy reading Temporary Duty.