Theirs Not To Reason Why

Reviews of A Soldier's Duty

Jean Johnson's - Theirs Not To Reason Why: A Soldier's Duty

Reviewed by: Kay

August 2, 2011

Kay is one half of the founding team of co-publishers and chief editors for, a monthly magazine of science fiction and fantasy short stories, where speculative fiction is mixed with a genre-of-the-month.

I read a lot of fiction, and in my experience, very little writing is as crisp and clean as Jean Johnson's. That's something I've always enjoyed about reading this author's work, and I think that trait comes even more to the fore in her latest book, A Soldier's Duty. Military science fiction is a good fit for her style, I think, and epic military SF especially.

A Soldier's Duty is the first in a series, so of course it doesn’t carry readers very deep into the overall story arc. Taken on its own, however, it's a fine tale that follows a valiant young space-marine through the daunting early years of what promises to be a harrowing career on the front lines of a war of which she alone is fully aware.

The main character, Ia, is precognitive and has set herself on the only path she can foresee to avert an impending disaster vast enough to wipe-out life in the entire galaxy. Armed as she is with advanced and intimate knowledge of the future, there are times during the story when Ia's exceptional abilities make it harder to identify with her. She's not perfect – she sometimes makes mistakes even when she knows she can ill afford them – but her tight grip on the outcome of most events sometimes undermines the impact of the events themselves.

That said, I definitely enjoyed reading a strong female lead who is untroubled by love interests. Ia actually comments on it several times during the story; she just doesn't have time for romance. And she doesn't waste any time bemoaning the 'loss,' either. She's got a lot of work to do and her priorities are clear from the beginning. Very few people in life or in fiction are so committed to the choices they make, or embrace the consequences so well, and this trait above all others makes Ia an admirable character.

I recommend this book to fans of above-average Military SF, and to anyone who enjoys reading about women married to something more important than marriage itself.

Reviewed by: Marlene Harris

August 3, 2011

A Soldier’s Duty is the opening title in the new military science fiction series, Theirs Not to Reason Why, by Jean Johnson.

We first meet Ia as a 15-year-old on the Terran colony of Sanctuary as she navigates the time-streams after a horrifying vision of the future annihilation of human civilization. Through her frantic search of the possible futures for one tiny glimmer of hope, we catch a glimpse of our heroine as well. Her precognition is a recognized fact, and this future accepts psi-powers, at least to some extent. She is a determined, even driven individual, who will sacrifice her dreams, even her very definition of her self, to salvage everyone who can be saved.

Three years later, the moment she reaches legal majority, Ia joins the military. She gets herself a berth as a recruit of the Terran Space Force Marines. It is here that the story truly begins.

The future she has seen tells her that she must be a "boots on the ground" Marine. Not an officer, and not the member of Special Forces her precognitive powers entitle her to be. Also, she must walk a fine line between displaying exactly how much she knows of future events, and being promoted too quickly, and knowing just enough to be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. She can never get too close to anyone, because she knows the fate of each person she meets--she has already seen it in the time-streams.

Spock said, but Ia lives it, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or of the one." Everyone Ia meets must be nudged in the direction that will save the most people at the best time, even if the individual must be sacrificed in Ia's here and now. This book could easily have been titled Young Woman's War, as it bears many parallels to John Scalzi's Old Man's War. In both stories, a person without military experience but a lot of knowledge is thrust into the military at the entry level and applies their full intellect to the problem at hand to provide a new solution to old problems. All the while providing interesting observations in a unique voice to their superiors and to the audience.

Ia also reminds me a lot of Sgt. Torin Kerr in Tanya Huff's Valor Confederation series. Kerr is also a woman in the Space Marines, although Kerr remains a noncom and proudly so.

A Soldier's Duty ends, appropriately, with Ia being promoted to Lieutenant. The next book in the series is An Officer's Duty, and it unfortunately will not be out until sometime in 2012.

The series title is very apt in some ways, but not in others. It is a quote from The Charge of the Light Brigade, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

"Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die."

Ia knows why. That is the point of the story. She will do and do and do, and will die before her task is done. Some of her tools also know, but some don't. Those have served the future, and done, and died. But unlike the poor sods in the Light Brigade, their commander seems to know what she is doing. It is well worth reading her story to find out what she will do next.

In case anyone can't tell, I loved the book. Old Man's War and Tanya Huff's Valor books are two of my favorite series, so the comparisons are not ones I make lightly. I can't wait for An Officer's Duty.

Marlene's review can be found at her website at: Reading

Other Reviews

Click here for a review by Inspector Librarian of CSI Librarian

Click here for a review by Harriet Klausner of Genre Go Round

Click here for a review by Bill Lawhorn of SF Revu