by Ric Locke
The premise of Temporary Duty is interesting. It tells of humans in contact with aliens, but from a point-of-view of the lower-echelon worker-bees, in this case, enlisted sailors. However, the potential of the story never really develops.
John Peters and Kevin Todd are two lower-ranking sailors who are suddenly sent to an alien ship which has appeared over the US and has invited humans to board in order to create trade for whatever humans can offer. The two sailors are ordered to prepare the ship for the arrival of a Navy squadron of Hornets and Tomcats, which will be the main human offering.
Peters and Todd have no real briefing on what they are supposed to do, but they get on with the tasks, getting to know the alien crew as well as prep for the arrival of the squadron. For the rest of this rather lengthy story, the ship travels to various planets where most are amazed b the prowess and technology of the humans. A few battles ensue, Peters and Todd try to deal with buffoonish officers while endearing themselves to the aliens, and interspecies sex abounds.
But the tale just has too many holes in it to be believable.
One glaring example is that the aliens are almost human, as are most beings of the "kree." The various peoples of this section of space are very similar in looks, what they can eat, how they think, how they live (every planet has resorts with bars which serve beer, for example), and using gestures like using a thumbs up. They different beings are barely more different than say a Japanese factory worker and a Brazilian lumberjack. This is really beyond belief, but taking the "kree" origin to heart, it could be almost accepted. However, then there are huge differences. Despite the traders and the humans being so alike, they have huge diversionary differences such as the trader's gender roles. The "males" have very human female-like bodies and accept the "female's" eggs being deposited into their bodies where they go through pregnancy and give birth, then probably nurse the children. The "females" have human male-like genitalia which deposit the eggs. Yet, even with this difference, the "males" of the traders and the males of the humans seem to enjoy sex together.
Another huge problem for me is that while the traders use ships provided for them by the "Makers," they have no concept of radios nor computers. A radio is a very simple concept, so I doubt very much that a ship which can travel between stars cannot communicate other than my shouting at each other. When the smaller shuttle craft or Navy planes leave the ship, they navigate by sight to and from the ship as there are not computers, radar, or other means to get around. Yet the ships can navigate between stars, and without computers?
Characterizations are very primitive. All the Navy officers are arrogant idiots who have nothing but disregard for the enlisted sailors. I know many, many Naval aviators, and while many have that swagger, almost all have a deep respect for their enlisted crews (it doesn't pay to get the sailors who keep your plane in the air upset at you.) None ignore enlisted sailors when that sailor has experience in a certain subject as every officer in the book save one does. And no officer who has just been taken off flight status to be made an Landing Signal Officer is going to try to learn the space version of the landing gear while disregarding what the existing crew tells him.
You can summarize the book as officers, bad; chiefs, bad; enlisted, good; aliens, good; IRS, bad.
For a mission of this importance, the US government would have vetted the humans very closely. Both Peters and Todd would have been vetted instead of just being sent up to the ship. And the squadron would have been vetted, too. Only the best of the best would have been selected, and they certainly would not have come onboard a spaceship telling the traders just what they would do and not do. And a mere commander would certainly not have been the senior person sent. With this being a trade mission, the senior representative would nto even ahve been a pilot, much less one of mid-ranks.
I have problems with the Tomcats and Hornets as well. Why pick 100-year-old aircraft unless it is because that is what the author is familiar? With the alien propulsion system installed which makes the plane viable in space, you could have picked a Chevy SUV and at least flown around in comfort. Why pick a plane whose wings limit the number of aircraft in the spaceships hanger bays? And why keep touting the aerodynamics when that mean nothing in space?
Sex, while never graphic, is constant in the book, and rather teenager-like. When the enlisted see a female officer in a tight flight suit, they get erections. All the aliens seem to be sexual opportunities. Pretty much all the female characters, human and alien, are "hot" babes. And Peters had two human-like aliens fall in love and move in with him, where to Peters delight, one likes to run around his stateroom nude. It is all a 15-year-old boy's fantasy.
The protagonist was weak as well, poorly developed. Speaking with an exaggerated West Virginia banter, he sounds dumb, but is evidently very smart. We know that because we are told he is smart, not because he demonstrates it. His successes are mostly due to blind luck.
With a multitide of trips to the mess hall, and too many officers with a "rictus of rage," I thought the repetition of certain things was mind-numbing. The book could have used some serious editing to cut the length and make it a more concise story.
The book isn't all bad. And at $2.99 for the
Kindle version, it certainly won't break the bank. It is just that the book could
have been so much better.
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