Jan 25 2012 11:00am

Naval débutantes in space: Mike Shepherd’s Kris Longknife: Mutineer

Sometimes, you want to read pure fluff. The Kris Longknife books stand in the same relation to the military SF subgenre as a whole as candyfloss does to steak and potatoes, or as — to take a recent example in a different subgenre — Dante Valentine does to War for the Oaks.

You might think I’m going out of my way to make inflammatory statements. I promise you, that’s far from my intention. I love fluff. I devour the stuff. I have, as one might say, a sweet tooth. And Kris Longknife provides a very appealing style of fluff.

Kristine “Kris” Longknife is a prime minister’s daughter, the granddaughter of generals and industry tycoons, and — when the series opens — a lieutenant in a peacetime navy about to be sent on a combat drop with a platoon of Marines. She also has a Tragic Loss in her past, is wealthy and beautiful and politically connected, and having her under their command makes her commanding officers about as happy as having an unstable nuclear fission plant in the room next door.

Because Kris Longknife is trouble. She causes it, or it follows her, or she charges into it — and somehow, when the bullets have stopped flying, the spaceships have stopped exploding, and the major interstellar crises have come to a halt, she’s still alive. In fact, she’s come out on top, covered in glory — or at least, not usually covered in muck.

Now, you might think a woman with a name like “Long knife” Longknife is a pun, or worse, a caricature, waiting to happen. Not so: despite the name — and a number of characteristics which one might also expect to find in that legendary beast, the Mary Sue — Kristine Longknife, Princess of Wardhaven, becomes, over the course of the books, a well-rounded character. And she has that necessary accompaniment of every heroine as well, of course: a bevy of wise-cracking sidekicks. With the able assistance of bodyguard Jack, maid and all-around woman of mystery Abby, her pet computer Nelly, and assorted colleagues naval and otherwise, she kicks ass and takes names, from assignment as “humanitarian relief” on an agricultural planet to exploring beyond known space — and making first contact with aliens and a new, potentially deadly threat.

The titles of the first two books are a little misleading, it must be said. Kris Longknife isn’t really a mutineer, precisely. Or a deserter, exactly. She just gets into sticky situations not entirely covered by the letter of the regs. Or local law, as she learns in Kris Longknife: Audacious, when she’s the catalyst for political crisis and regime change during a visit to the planet of New Eden. Or when she defends an entire planet with little other than an obsolete space station in Resolute.

I’m not the world’s biggest enthusiast of finding new things — or people — to shoot at, but while the Kris Longknife books (like candyfloss) have their flaws, they’re never less than entertainingly sticky, full of implausible successes, assassins, fleet actions and daredevil do-or-die gallantry. And Shepherd can add the absence of techsposition to the points in his favour.

If you like things that go BOOM in SPAAAAAACE (and on land, too), this is a good series for you. I have to say, I find it a lot of fun.

When pressed, Liz Bourke will admit that she can think of some things to put in a bio. But certain parties (who shall remain unnamed) dared her to write [PLACEHOLDER] instead. This is the compromise position.

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Kristoff Bergenholm
1. Magentawolf
It's very fluffy fluff. I read the first three or four before I had to give them up on the recomendation of my doctor.
2. Total
Paula Deen science fiction!

(I do so have an aversion to heroes with 'evocative' last names: "longknife"! Oooooooooo...bleargh.)
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
3. tnh
There's never enough really good fluff. I've wiped out my "to be read in case of the flu" stash, so these sound like a promising way to restock.
Fade Manley
4. fadeaccompli
I've overdosed on grittiness recently, and these sound exactly like what I need. Also, it sounds like a good way to stick a toe back in the milsf waters, after getting scared away by my last few forays. A maid who's also a woman of mystery? Sign me up!
5. herewiss13
Just finished reading the entire series in the last two months. Very addictive. It does follow a common pattern though: whatever the title and/or back-cover summary cover as the plot-line doesn't occur until about 2/3rds of the way through the book. So if you keep asking yourself "when is _that_ going to happen?" just know it'll be awhile (the other stuff is entertaining, it's just not what you go in expecting).
Liz Bourke
6. hawkwing-lb
They really are very fluffy. I haven't caught up on the most recent two, I don't think (it could be the most recent three), but I found them perfect "I'm sick and tired and dizzy - ooo, explosions!" reading
7. Portlander
The cover illustrator has strongly "borrowed" elements from The Fifth Element movie design: both Fhloston Paradise and the ZF-1 Pod multi-weapon Zorg sells to the Mangalores, before he .

The weapon design is particularly blatant. It's the closed version of the ZF-1
(not particularly a prop nerd--I had to Google the name of the weapon--but this just sticks out like a sore thumb. The Fifth Element's visual design is rather unique.)

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