Fri
Jan 20 2012 11:00am

The Rest is History: David Weber and John Ringo’s March Upcountry

March Upcountry by David Weber & John RingoWhen March Upcountry published in 2001, David Weber was well-established in Military Science Fiction, with nine books of his Honor Harrington saga plus an additional 10 novels published. In short, he was a Military SF brand name. John Ringo, his ‘apprentice’ partner in crime for March Upcountry, was a relatively new writer, having published the first two books of his Legacy of Aldenata/Posleen War series. For Ringo the rest, as they say, is history.

So, onto the story itself… the novel is set in a far future where humanity has expanded to other planets throughout the galaxy and the governmental body has become an Empire, which is ruled by Empress Alexandra from her throne on Earth. Her afterthought of a son, the foppish Prince Roger, is sent to the planet Leviathan to represent the Empire in a flag raising ceremony. He knows he’s not very respected within and outside of his family, but Roger sees this charge below his princely standing. On the way to the backwater planet Leviathan, Prince Roger’s ship is sabotaged, he and his regiment of Royal Marines are forced to land on the planet Marduk which is inhabited by a civilization far less advanced than humanity, humanoids with four arms inventively referred to as Mardukian. In addition, Marduk is home to large, savage beasts. 

The Marines are led by Captain Armand Pahner who initially shows little patience for the willful prince. If anything, the Prince’s brash nature is seen by Pahner as an impediment to the mission of keeping the Prince alive on their mission across the globe to a space port. Kostas “Mouse” Matsugae, Prince Roger’s manservant, is the closest thing the Prince has to a friend. When one of those aforementioned savage beasts, the size of an elephant, charges the regiment, Roger’s great skill as a hunter comes to the fore; he kills it, in the process saving the life of the Mardukian D’Nall Cord who, as a result, owes the Prince a life debt. In addition to those stage-front characters, Weber and Ringo populate the novel with a fair range of additional characters from the Marines, the Mardukians from Cord’s tribe, as well as Mardukians from tribes at war with Cord.

In some ways, I’d say March Upcountry is a more military-flavored take on Lois McMaster Bujuold’s Miles Vorkosigan saga, specifically some of the superficial similarities between Prince Roger and Miles himself – the arrogance, the seeming foppishness, and how both Roger and Miles are often underestimated. Roger’s character evolves in March Upcountry, lending hints of a bildungsroman to the novel. As a royal prince, the tools for him to learn and become something special have always been at his disposal. Only when his life is at stake and he’s in dire circumstances does Roger begin to exhibit maturity. 

The Empire and royalty of Prince Roger combined with the barbaric civilization and strange monsters/creatures lend an edge of fantasy to the novel. Those elements are window dressing to the core of the story – the military mission to get Roger safely to the space port. The military aspect, as well as the advanced space travel, power armor, advanced medical and communication technologies, and some of the biological examinations of the life on Marduk place the novel squarely in the Military Science Fiction subgenre. I don’t personally have military experience, but Ringo does, so I assume the verisimilitude of the trudging life of a military unit in foreign circumstances comes from him. 

Since the publication of March Upcountry and those first two Aldenata novels, Ringo has become another “brand name” in Military SF, whose popularity within Baen is possibly second only to David Weber. Ringo has since gone on to author (or co-author) almost three dozen novels in the past decade while Weber pushes out at least a book a year, and often multiple books a year. That is the “history” to which I referred in my opening paragraph. Though I haven’t read any other novels by John Ringo (soon to change with a few queued up on my Kindle), I’ve become a David Weber fan, particularly his Safehold saga, where similar themes — like blending elements of science fiction and fantasy as well as human government as an Empire — can be seen. 

In the end, March Upcountry is just the start of a grand series, which became the first book in the Empire of Man series, that helped to launch John Ringo into the Military SF stratosphere and enhance David Weber’s already prominent position. The only negative I can level at the novel is the narrative gets a bit cramped with details, which slows the pace. Otherwise, the book is entertaining, and believable in the military aspects as well as some of the advanced technology presented. This book has encouraged me to read more of John Ringo’s fiction, and has given me greater encouragement to continue reading through David Weber’s backlist – including March to the Sea, the sequel. If those last statements aren’t an appreciation of March Upcountry, then I’m not sure what is.


Robert H. Bedford is a lifelong a fan and reader of speculative fiction. He has a blog and, for about a decade, he has been contributing reviews and interviews and moderating the discusson forums at SFFWorld. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and dog.

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21 comments
Tehanu
2. Tehanu
It should also be noted that the whole series is based on, or perhaps "inspired by" would be a better phrasing, Xenophon's Anabasis -- the true story of how ten thousand Greek mercenaries made their way home across the hostile Persian Empire after their general was killed. I like to think of March Upcountry as Xenophon Plus John Carter of Barsoom, myself.
Tehanu
3. Byers
It should also be mentioned that Baen has provided CDs of nearly all of Ringo's and Weber's work at the publisher in recent hardcovers. These CDs are DRM free and available for download at baencd.thefifthimperium.com.
john mullen
4. johntheirishmongol
I just finished a reread of the series a couple of weeks ago. One of the really good things in this series, besides some excellent set piece battles, is the growth of Roger from child to man.

When I was young it was pretty much a given that joining the service would make you grow up. You can't quit, you aren't allowed to give up and you learn to work together and rely on each other.
Robert H. Bedford
5. RobB
@Tehanu
It should also be noted that the whole series is based on, or perhaps "inspired by" would be a better phrasing, Xenophon's Anabasis -

I wasn't aware of that, good to know.

@ jimnutt & Byers
Yeah, those are two great Web sites, probably the first two Web sites I visited when I received my e-Reader

@ johntheirishmongol
I think the groundwork for Roger's progression from child to man starts out well here, which is why I'll (at some point) read the second book.
Tehanu
6. Mike Kelm
As far as Ringo goes, stick to the early stuff. Once he got more established his personal neo-con agenda comes through to the point of rediculousness. His books almost become window dressing for political rants. It got to the point I stopped reading his stuff for the simple reason that I couldn't escape from reality into them.
Joel Tone
7. jtone
As was said of H.G. Wells:
He is a born storyteller who has sold his birthright for a pot of message.

I agree with Mike Kelm - stick to Ringo's early stuff unless you enjoy hearing about his hobbyhorses at length with scraps of story thrown in.
Tehanu
8. junior1234
As far as Ringo goes, stick to the early stuff. Once he got more
established his personal neo-con agenda comes through to the point of rediculousness.

This is definately true, some of Ringo's stuff is pretty ugly; but to be fair...at least he isnt (yay nazis!) Kratman.
Tehanu
9. J. Bradford DeLong
Was the series ever finished, in any sense?
Robert H. Bedford
10. RobB
I *think* (based on Wikipedia) the books come to a conclusion after the fourth book, though I've only read the first. The authors have plans (and a contract) for three more books.
Matthew Kuhl
11. pattonmat
Apparently the original plotline in this series is concluded, and the three books that are under contract will be prequels. I will also agree that Ringo's earlier books ("A Hymn Before Battle", for instance) are definitely better than his later ("Watch on the Rhine", "Yellow Eyes", etc.). And Kratman's work is fracking garbage.
Tehanu
12. Sam Hidaka
The four books of the "Prince Roger" series aren't really a book and three sequels -- in the way that (Tor-published) Xenocide and Children of the Mind are the sequels to Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead.

And the "Prince Roger" series isn't really a series -- in the way that David Weber's (Baen-published) "Honor Harrington" series is (in which each novel a more-or-less complete story, but the novels collectively forms a greater story arc).

The "Prince Roger" series is a single very long novel, broken into convenient, normal-novel-length chunks -- much as The Lord of the Rings is a single novel broken into three volumes.

I would suggest that it's kinda pointless to read The Fellowship of the Ring, if you don't read The Two Towers and The Return of the King. Likewise, I think it's kinda pointless to read March Upcountry, if you don't intend to read the entire four-book sequence.

*
I enjoyed the "Prince Roger" books immensely. But I had a bit of difficulty, initially, with the narrative style. Ringo uses a "pass the baton" style of POV switching in these books.

Early in the first book, I was suffering from POV-whiplash. Nevertheless, I found the story so engaging that I kept reading on. By about a quarter of the through the first book, the POV switching stopped annoying me. And by the second book, the POV switching didn't bother me at all.

In the fourth book, Ringo started using scene breaks to delimit POV switches -- which is what I'm accustomed to. But by then, I found myself missing the more free-wheeling POV switches. (Go figure!)

*
If you enjoy stories with ground-pounding military action in an exotic location, you might like the "Prince Roger" books.

And the beauty of the Baen Free Library is that if you're part way through first book, and you're not enjoying it, then at least it hasn't cost you any money.
Tehanu
13. Bele
I THINK there is supposed to be a new book in the prince roger series. However im not sure when. There Was supposed to be a book coming out set before the Roger series about the original empress. However this would have been a very hardcore read because of the original setting of the time of knives.

Imagine communist russia, high tech weapons and such with a political atmosphere much like europe and italy in the middle and dark ages. So it would be very bloody and right now webber just doesnt have the time for it he is burried up to his eye balls in books.

I THINK watch on the rhine and yellow eyes were mostly kratman working in ringo's universe. Personaly i loved both books but them im a southerner and pretty conservative about some things so.......

Books are like opinons. Not everyone is going to like everyone but everyone has a book or author he or she does and doesnt like.

I've read some things from pretty liberal authors that made me see red. Cant remember the book But there was one where the subject of the book "found" a super biological R&D ship and sterilized 99% of the people on a entire world.

Then compared the entire human race to his cats.........really? >:|
john mullen
14. johntheirishmongol
I just finished a reread of the series a couple of weeks ago. One of the really good things in this series, besides some excellent set piece battles, is the growth of Roger from child to man.

When I was young it was pretty much a given that joining the service would make you grow up. You can't quit, you aren't allowed to give up and you learn to work together and rely on each other.
john mullen
15. johntheirishmongol
I actually think Ringo's writing got better as he has gone along. Just
because you may not agree with his politics doesn't mean he has not
progressed as a writer. And I think some of his stuff is hysterically
over the top on purpose, and it is really funny because of it. I highly
doubt the Kildar series was meant to be anything more than crazy over
the top fun, like the Die Hard movies in novel form. Anyone who takes
it seriously has issues.

BTW I don't know what is going on here but it seems to want to repost my last comment rather than my newer one.
Tehanu
16. buddykat
(shameless plug)

For those in the area (or willing to travel a bit), Ringo will be the Guest of Honor at Lunacon this year.

Lunacon
March 16-18, 2012

Writer Guest of Honor: John Ringo
Artist Guest of Honor: Howard Tayler
YA Writer Guest of Honor: Tamora Pierce
Gaming Guests of Honor: Andy & Kristin Looney

Featuring: a large and diverse Dealer's Room, numerous panels on many topics, fabulous and famous panelists, a hotel which has an indoor swimming pool and a transdimensional hallway that can take you to two different floors without a change in elevation, and a great group of people interested in all sorts of fun things.

Hotel - $132/night
Hilton Rye Town
699 Westchester Ave, Rye Brook, NY 10573

Weekend membership rates:
Adult: $50 until 2/20/2012; $60 at the door
Child: $20 until 2/20/2012; $30 at the door
Day rates listed on the website.
http://www.lunacon.org/

(/shameless plug)
Paul Howard
17. DrakBibliophile
_We Few_ is currently the last of the "Prince Roger" novels.

There was talk that David Weber and John Ringo thought that they couldn't do justice to further novels following Roger so they were planning to do stories about the first Empress.

However, there was a report that John Ringo was going to talk to David Weber about another Roger novel.

No word on what David Weber thought about the idea.
Tom Cook
18. tomc
Unfortunatley, while prolific, they are both very busy. Oh NO, not another series seems to be a recurring complaint. Since I enjoy both authors, I can't really complain.

Tomc
Tehanu
19. Gregory Dougherty
Bele,

You're thinking of "Tuf Voyaging", by George RR Martin.
Barrett Taylor
20. B_Taylor
I would note that Roger is marooned with a company of soldiers, not a regiment. (I think the royal gaurd is only a regiment, with one battalion tasked with protecting Roger, although only a company is actually directly used at a time.)
Tehanu
21. DeanTP
The imperial guard unit is Her Majesty's Own Regiment, which is divided into battalions charged with guarding different members of the imperial family. For instance, Gold Battalion protects the Empress, Silver the Heir, etc. The Bronze Battalion, nicknamed "Bronze Barbarians", are charged with protecting Roger, the youngest of three imperial children. That being said, the unit with Roger is more company sized. It isn't clear exactly why this is so or whether the battalions protecting the more important family members are larger.

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