A Just Determination (JAG in Space, Book 1)

A Just Determination - John G.  Hemry Interesting blend of hard SF and legal drama. Ensign Paul Sinclair’s first ship assignment is on the USS Michaelson, where, in addition to his other duties, he acts as the ship's legal officer. The naval dialogue seems quite realistic, and were it not for a few references to space stuff, one might think they were aboard a modern day Navy ship. Except there was not one “fuck” in the entire book. So maybe in the future they have eliminated all swearing; yeah, right.

The Michaelson’s captain Wakefield, anxious to see some combat, decides to intercept an alien vessel that is technically outside his patrol zone. He’s the typical Queeg without the steel balls and stolen ice cream. (As an aside, the Caine Mutiny is a must read and based oin Herman Wouk’s experiences aboard a WW II mine-sweeper/destroyer. Queeg’s must have been relatively common because my brother-in-law’s first assignment as an ensign was under a similar character.) When the ship fails to heave to and then makes what appears to be a threatening move, the captain asks Sinclair for a legal interpretation of the orders, very broad and suitably vague,** then destroys the ship only to learn it was an unarmed civilian ship, albeit an alien one. (Remember the USS Vincennes shooting down Iran Air Flight 655 in 1988? see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran_Air_Flight_655) I’m still puzzled by how an Airbus 300 could have been confused with an attacking F-14. 290 civilians were killed including 66 children.*)

Unlike the captain of the Vincennes, Wakefield is court-martialed and the last third or so of the book is the trial, itself quite interesting if you like legal drama, which I do. Sinclair finds himself in some interesting moral and ethical dilemmas that are sensitively handled.

Billed as a legal thriller, it’s not much of the latter, but the legal aspect is quite good.

*Quote from the Wikipaedia article: When questioned in a 2000 BBC documentary, the U.S. government stated in a written answer that they believed the incident may have been caused by a simultaneous psychological condition amongst the 18 bridge crew of the Vincennes called 'scenario fulfillment', which is said to occur when persons are under pressure. In such a situation, the men will carry out a training scenario, believing it to be reality while ignoring sensory information that contradicts the scenario. In the case of this incident, the scenario was an attack by a lone military aircraft. Just imagine what the U.S. reaction would have been to an Iranian attack downing a U.S. civilian airliner.

** That reminds me of something a candidate for a job once said during an interview. One of the search committee had asked something about mission statements, and the guy (bless him) said that he was familiar with mission statements, that they were “vague yet meaningless.” Direct hit.