I've got mixed feelings about Brandon Sanderson -- I liked his Mistborn
series, and I've gotten invested in his new doorstopper epic fantasy series The Stormlight Archive
, but he's kind of a dork and sometimes he writes dorky stuff. He talks on his blog about being a big Magic: The Gathering
player, the magic systems in his novels are very clearly based on spending his teen years as an RPGer, and while reading this short story, I pictured him pushing little cardboard chits around on a Starfleet Battles
is a space opera with all the space opera tropes, including capital ships acting like "aircraft carriers" in space who launch swarms of fighters (something we know is completely unlike
the way any actual space warfare is ever likely to be fought -- "space fighters" just do not make any sense. (Go check out the Project Rho
page some time for all sorts of spaceship geekiness.) But that's all right, science fiction about space fighters and "beamships" and so on is still cool. In Firstborn
, Dennison Crestmar is the younger brother of Varion Crestmar, a legendary fleet commander who has never lost a battle. Dennison, on the other hand, is completely inept as a leader. But when his brother turns traitor, Dennison is the empire's only hope.
It's an interesting set-up and just the sort of hero's journey I like to read about. My problems with it (besides the bad science and dorkiness) are two. The first is that Sanderson has this creepy "predestined for greatness" vibe in all of his stories. Larry Niven once wrote a great essay about how Star Wars
reeked of predestination and only the "chosen elect" being worthy of leadership, while Star Trek
was more democratic, where an Everyman could be a hero. Sanderson's stories all feature natural-born leaders, usually born with powers and part of a hereditary nobility. His moral may be that you have to work hard to be worthy of your destiny, but it's still a destiny that was handed to you. Heroes are born, not made.
My other problem is that I found the ending just too pat and convenient. Okay, it's a short story, but it felt like he wanted it to be a full-length novel (or maybe a ten-volume series of doorstoppers -- damn you, Sanderson, for making The Way of Kings
so good), and had to compress it into a short story. I thought the ending did not deal convincingly with the plot holes.
So, I recommend this story if you like grand space operas, because it's like a grand space opera condensed to 30+ pages, and it's a free download. But Sanderson really seems to do better with long-form works. Also, it may be that he's just better with epic fantasy (where heroes born with great destinies are kind of standard) rather than sci-fi. 3.5 stars for Firstborn
, which I rounded up to 4 because of my fondness for the author.