Summary: Multi volume alternate history posing as military sci-fi across eight books. Surprising character development is co-joined with the breaking of a few traditional military shibboleths, lending an entertaining twist to books. The book’s themes are accessible to non military readers, though some content is definitely ‘R’ rated.
This book is the first in a series of eight: The Forge, The Hammer, The Anvil, The Steel, The Sword, The Chosen, The Reformer and The Tyrant. The first six books are written as a partnership between Dave Drake and Steve Stirling, and the last two are collaborations between Drake and Eric Flint.
The entire series takes place after the fall of a galactic golden age. Men have lost space travel, and planetary civilizations have devolved. The first five books center on the same planet, and we are introduced to the protagonist who appears in all eight books. Raj Whitehall teams with, nah, is used by an ancient AI that is attempting to restart Galactic Civilization. The AI is a C4ISR (God I love it when I can use unintelligible milspeak techno babble) (stands for Command, Control, Communication, Computer, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) application (see this link from the Federation of American Scientists: http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/usa/c3i/gccs.htm ) whose mission includes selecting and training the leader of a resurgent Civil Government on the planet Bellevue.
Set in a period featuring American Civil War era technology, this is an interesting socio-politco military novel with gruesome battles, dry wit, foul language, against-all-odds victories, politics, and surprising character development. One complaint might be that the authors don’t really introduce us to any aliens, or even any technologies which stretch the imagination, so the series more akin to an alternate history, vice pure sci-fi. After the first five books, Raj and Center, as the AI is known, begin to spread the return of civilization to other planets. We get to watch our protagonists take on the problems of a WW1 era civilization as well as a pseudo Roman Empire.
I have reread this series several times, and despite some of the clichés, I can still appreciate the characters, and how each of the major players evolves. I enjoy the technical detail that the authors committed to their work. I have read some of the background discussions on this series. Drake states that there are a few additional books that are possible, but that he and his coauthors are working on other projects.