Suppose your troops have managed to retreat to a tree line in the dark of night. The automated troops who chased you have found the range of the tree line with their rockets. But they stay outside the range of your grenade launchers, and your troops’ bullets do not harm them.
What do you do?
If you’re Lieutenant Katja Emmes, you charge forward out of the tree line, ordering your troops to do the same.
When she gets twenty meters forward, she targets one of the automated soldiers, and her troops destroy it with grenades. Ditto for the next and the next, while the enemy rockets harmlessly hit the tree line behind them. They send the enemy reeling back, but have to retreat themselves when artillery fire comes down around them.
Virtues of War is one of the best military science fiction novels I’ve read in a long time. Set far enough in the future for there to be major colonized worlds that can challenge Earth, yet close enough to our time that all the human interactions are familiar, Bennett R. Coles was written what may be an instant classic.
Assigned to the fast attack craft Rapier, Lieutenant Emmes punches her way through brutal fighting, whether on a planet or on board an enemy ship. Although brave to the point of taking on suicidal risks, she is not immune to the emotional baggage of war and the internecine backstabbing that comes with it.
Coles describes with gritty detail the physical shocks that Emmes and a few other main characters endure when going to and from combat, much less from the battles themselves. This is no rah-rah book; he throws in our faces some of the morally ambiguous acts performed during war. And the machinations of an intelligence officer puke can really mess things up.
Overall, Virtues of War features fully-realized characters hurtling into one gritty situation after another. Bennett R. Coles was an officer for fourteen years in the Canadian Navy, and it shows.