Sharon Lee & Steve Miller: Plan B

“Other people,” she said, apparently to the room at large, “give their wives flowers.”

Plan B is a rather different book from those published earlier in the Liaden series. First of all, it was first published about a decade after the previous book, due to commercial issues not under the authors’ control. Second, it is a plot-driven story with good solid existing characters instead of being a character-driven book with a plot to keep the characters active.

Some reviewers have placed the Liaden series under the category of military science fiction. In my opinion, Plan B is the only one that truly fits that label. The action takes place on a Liaden planet that comes early in the book under attack by the Yxtrang, with the invasion continuing until the end of the book. Military units, particularly the impromptu defense force formed of mercenary units that happened to be on-planet at the time of the attack as well as local volunteers, feature prominently; the familiar characters take on military roles if the already did not have it; and military action (involving land forces and air forces as well as space combat) is central to the plot.

This change of pace is well justified by the story arch of the Agent of Change sequence, of which this is the penultimate volume; after all, at this point, the characters have been introduced, the chess pieces have been placed on the board and all the initial moves have been completed. All that remains is actually seeing who comes on top in the fight.

Below the fold, I will discuss the book in a bit more detail; the discussion contains SPOILERS for Agent of Change, Conflict of Honors, and Carpe Diem.

SPOILERS for Agent of Change, Conflict of Honors, and Carpe Diem.

In Carpe Diem, Clan Korval was assaulted by the Department of the Interior, Val Con’s old employer. Plan B was declared.

A changing array of safeplaces shall be maintained at all times, in the event of immediate, catastrophic threat to the Clan. There is no shame in strategic retreat. Even Jela sometimes ran from his enemies, the better to defeat them, tomorrow.
Keep the children safe. Honor without love is stupidity.
This by the hand of Cantra yos’Phelium, Captain and Delm, in the Third Year after Planetfall.

The Clan scattered, the Dutiful Passage transformed from a tradeship to a battleship, First Speaker Nova yos’Galan executed a daring escape from Liad herself. Communication between different contingents was not deemed safe, and thus the Passage and Nova each separately continued looking for the missing members: Val Con and Miri. Those two were known to attempt to reach Miri’s Liaden family, Clan Erob located on the planet Lytaxin.

In fact, Val Con and Miri did make it to Lytaxin, just early enough to be trapped on-planet by an Yxtrang invasion. The Yxtrang are not looking to rule a planet’s existing population; instead, they are only interested in the real estate, and thus any war with the Yxtrang is a war for survival. Miri, a retired mercenary master sergeant, becomes an infantry Captain for the hastily assembled defense force, with Val Con as an adviser and assistant. Along the way, they run into Val Con’s old acquaintance who figures prominently in the story but who I cannot discuss further for spoilery reasons.

The Dutiful Passage deduces easily enough that Lytaxin is the planet to go to. First Speaker Nova must make the same deduction in a more roundabout way. Even the turtle friends of Val Con and Miri eventually come to the same conclusion. Some of my favorite scenes in this book involve how each party comes to this conclusion. The turtle encountering the Elder Door, for example. Or the developing relationship of retired mercenary Commander Lizardi and First Speaker Nova aboard the latter’s private space ship. Or how Nova and mercenary Commander Rialto come to an understanding.

We also learn some astonishing new things about the dramliz, particularly through Priscilla and, surprisingly, Shan. Look especially for the soldier lore 🙂

I find I have little more to say, mainly because this is a plot-driven book and as such much more sensitive to spoilers than the previous ones. It is, however, perhaps my favorite book in the series.

I have nothing new to add to my earlier remarks about the beautiful language in this series or about the quality of Andy Caploe’s narration.

Plan B is available as a separate ebook, as part of the Korval’s Game omnibus volume (ebook and paperback), and as an Audible audiobook.

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