The Trafalgar Gambit concludes Christopher
G. Nuttall’s Ark Royal series of military science fiction battleship carrier stories. For those of you who are not familiar with Mr. Nuttall, he is a British writer of considerable industry. He churns out B-level fiction that is solid, enjoyable, and worth some time. Nuttall is not in danger of a Hugo nomination any time soon, but he pulls a solid ending out of a somewhat murky middle arc.
Ark Royal tracks a lone, theoretically outdated carrier and her misfit crew as they step up to become the key to humanity’s defense against alien invasion. The series begins full of stock characters and situations, but Nuttall does right by his choices.
Nuttall is a distinctly English author, and the majority of the social conventions may seem odd to an American audience. It is a post-Christian society, where conventions from the old faith remain largely out of momentum without reason, the Royal family are tortured to near insanity in powerless glass boxes, and every hero has a secret vice whether it is a scheming political family, an illicit affair, etc. There are no American-style happy families, and a bleaker outlook on relationships that most of my friends are used to.
Still, there are solid nuggets here that make the time worthwhile. First, Nuttall’s pace is relatively quick and eventful. He has sequels, those portions where characters sit, feel, and reason through events as they plan, but they are well done and give meaning to the frequent changes in action, scene, and plot as Earth’s situation continues to disintegrate.
I appreciate the changes that personal loyalty and friendship make in this series. Heroes who reach the end of their strength find a friend, a coworker, or even a lover who is there to be strong for them in the critical moment, and those moments count. This element is key in why I saw Nuttall’s somewhat derivative fiction through to the end.
David Weber fans, be warned, Nuttall is not about to drown us in technical lingo. Drive mechanics, ship design, and interstellar transport are important, but character situation and story drive the plot forward more than anything else. It is a note that more famous authors would do well to return to.
Military fiction is the stomping ground of larger-than-life heroes, bold and dynamic leaders, and some caricatures of cultural bad-guys. This series has dogfights, cruiser battles, tactical maneuvers, alien planets, and questions about us vs them that carry the plot through.
Good people die, bad guys try bad things, war brings suffering, all of these are true in Ark Royal, but heroism, loyalty, a sense of adventure, and the underdog value of the socially discarded crew put this series solidly above a passing grades.
I will not sit twitching until the next Nuttall release, but he has earned a spot on my bookshelf while the big boys are wrestling with editors. There is potential here if he can find a more distinct setting and dig a little deeper either into technical specs (one side of the military fic genre) or interpersonal drama outside of bedrooms (the other side) that Nuttall may work his way into top-tier status for me. He’s not there yet, but at the rate he churns out fiction he has the work ethic to reach it.