S. M. Stirling, David Drake – The Steel

On a mission to reunite the planet Bellvue, Raj Whitehall and his men must conquer a group of barbarians or else his civilization could plunge into an era of darkness.
Author: S. M. Stirling, David Drake
Narrator: Franklin Pierson
Duration: 10 hours 28 minutes
Released: 20 Jun 2001
Publisher: Recorded Books
Language: English

User Review:

mound swell

Book 4 of the General series continues the story of Raj Whitehall and the AI Center’s efforts to reunite Bellevue and prevent the further decay of civilization in the already far diminished remnants of the collapse of the Federation. I’ve always enjoyed this series as it quite plainly takes the inspiration for Raj and Governor Bearholm from the history of the general Belisarius who was rather shabbily treated by the Byzantine emperor Justinian. The characters of Raj, his wife, his companions, and those who are their opponents, both military and in court, are well done and the clashes and events are engaging. Even minor characters come across with vivid descriptions and depth.

The religion of the Civil Government is interesting in that it based around worship of a Spirit of Man of the Stars and features as its prayers and religious terms technical jargon (“boost us to the orbit of fulfilment”, “save us from the hard crash”, and “end file” serving the same function as “amen”) and holy relics are no longer functional bits of technology (headsets, circuit boards, computer terminals, etc.). This in itself is interesting and adds to the story, it also fits in with the Byzantine influence as the Star Spirit worship is the official state religion and bears a resemblance to Orthodox Christianity in its forms. The religion of the other major state, the Colony, is Islam, though this book and the prior book 3 mostly deal with Raj’s tackling of the Brigade, a major barbarian power slightly behind the Civil Government and Colony tech wise. Here again, as with book 2 where the Squadron was defeated, Raj and company are fighting with barbarians who are the much regressed descendants of Federation military units. As in the other books, the action is vividly described and is not for the faint of heart as the authors pull no punches regarding the reality of war, particularly as plunder and rape were considered just rewards of the soldier in enemy territory.

The overall tech level of the world is at best around latter 19th century equivalency so electricity is uncommon besides use in the opulent capital. The military tech is at best limited to black powder breech loaders or lever action carbines (the descriptions of the Civil Government rifle and Colony carbine both sound a great deal like British Martini Henry rifles and Winchester lever actions). An interesting twist is the cavalry of the time is mounted on dogs grown to horse proportions while horses do not appear to be present on the world. From bits and pieces in earlier books this appears to be the result of pre-Fall genetic engineering that has carried through in standard breeding to the present one thousand years after the Federation collapsed.

While I have read through this five book series several times, I have found the audio books particularly entertaining. Franklin Pierson does an excellent job with quality narration overall and voices varied widely to fit the characters, from the educated speech of Raj and others of higher ranking birth, down to the less clear and more accented speech of the common soldier, to the patois of peasants and barbarians that is sometimes nigh unintelligible. This comes across well in print form but even better in audio book form. Further, his voice and timbre when speaking as the AI Center in Raj’s mind is spot on with what I had always imagined it to be. It is great to see some of these older classics coming to Audible.

TLDR; if you enjoy military science fiction or just a good tale in general with engaging characters and solid world building and great narration, these are well worth checking out in audio or print form.