The first of a proposed five-book saga set in his career-spanning Birthright Universe, Mike Resnick's Starship: Mutiny is just the kind of easygoing and unabashedly old-school space opera romp for which we've come to know and love him. Wilson Cole is a highly decorated commander in the Republic Navy who, for his sins (a penchant for insubordination and ignoring orders he thinks are stupid), is transferred to the Teddy Roosevelt, a ship patrolling the remote and sparsely populated galactic rim. The Teddy R, as its crew refer to her, is the basket into which the Republic has dumped all its bad apples. Its crew are a bunch of drug-addicted wastrels, its captain is a burnout and its first officer an inflexible and hard-headed martinet. As second officer aboard this lemon, Cole is determined to make lemonade, so he sets about getting the Teddy R and its ragtag crew shipshape as best he can.
When a vessel from the enemy Teroni Federation is detected upon an outlying Republic world, Cole speeds the Teddy R to the scene (Resnick points out that, unlike Star Trek, no sensible military vessel would have all its top ranking officers on the bridge at once, and so Cole commands one of three shifts), and the resulting encounter involves the ship and its crew in the first shooting engagement they've seen in some years. Cole is decorated yet again, as he has become a Republic media darling, but he quickly has it reinforced that politics and egos trump fairness and justice in the real world. In truth, the Navy brass are more angry that he's made them look stupid, than grateful that he's saved a number of Republic citizens from enemy occupation.
Cole's example has fired up the Teddy R's once-complacent and lax crew and even its fatalistic captain, but the first officer, Podok, remains Cole's bête noire. Things get worse when, in a later engagement, the captain is killed and Podok is given command of the ship. Cole is forced to choose between difficult loyalties: to the crew, who are unreservedly on his side; to the Navy, which seems all too eager to betray their faithful officers if political sensitivities demand it; to his increasingly unhinged new captain; even to the Republic itself, whose fickle and sensationalist media (why, so like our own!) all too easily mold ignorant public opinion.
The novel isn't without its flaws. The title alone kinda gives the game away concerning the ultimate outcome of Cole's relationship to Podok. And we also get a few scenes that ask us to suspend disbelief for some stuff that's borderline silly in order to keep the action and excitement ratcheted up. The aliens who invade the Republic world early in the story, for instance, are prototypical Stupid Bad Guys. Despite having the technological know-how to extract energy from a planet's tectonic activity, they're still dumb enough to have travelled to a world with a sun much brighter than their own without having innovated anything like tinted helmet visors or even sunglasses. So Cole easily escapes when they capture him by running full tilt into the setting sun, and they stagger after him half-blind like Keystone Kops.
But I'm happy to give the story high marks in the end despite this kind of thing. Because Resnick, a quintessential old pro, is so skilled at delivering whip-smart, fast-paced pure entertainment that he could tell tales like this in his sleep and achieve more fun and enjoyable results than any ten SF writers who sweat blood into the effort. With about fifty books to his résumé and enough awards to sink a frigate, Resnick whips up a cast of likable and memorable heroes with such ease that half the aspiring writers who read him will be slack-jawed with awe, with the other half jealously planning his violent death. Much of Starship: Mutiny reads like Poul Anderson's Flandry or Keith Laumer's Retief adventures, simply pure escapism, impossible to resist by anyone who still remembers that good old fashioned sense of wonder. "Cutting edge" writers may come and go. But with his infectious devotion to the kinds of SF "they just don't make like they used to," that so many of us grew up with, Mike Resnick proves that while you might not be able to teach an old dog many new tricks, the old tricks still kick plenty of ass.
Followed by Starship: Pirate.