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A Just Determination

John G Hemry

ACE /Penguin Putnam

US Mass Market Paperback

ISBN 0-441-01052-0

Publication Date: May 2003

Pages; Price: 259; $6.50

Date Reviewed: 07-06-03

Reviewed by: Katie Dean © 2003



Science Fiction, Mystery, General Fiction

'A Just Determination' (John G Hemry) is primarily an exploration of the concept of Justice. It could be classified as Science Fiction, but in many ways the setting is incidental to the main theme. Hemry's novel is well crafted and thought provoking as a result.

This novel is set in 2098 and the action takes place solely in Space. The reader is asked to presume that most terrestrial countries have acquired some presence in Space by this time. The United States operates several space stations and a fleet of spaceships belonging to the Navy. The Space division of the Navy acts in much the same way as the sea bound division, patrolling US claimed territory and potentially going to war. Hemry puts his own naval experience to excellent use in creating a detailed picture of naval life. Unlike some Science Fiction, this novel does not require the reader to suspend reality; this is not an action packed world peopled by aliens or farfetched technology, but a scenario that is entirely plausible a century from now.

The characters on board the USS Michaelson become the vehicle for exploring the theme of justice. The rigidly ordered world of the services is also crucial in creating the series of events around which this theme is developed. Paul Sinclair, the main character, is a newly qualified junior officer joining his first ship. Although the story is told in third person, it focuses on Sinclair's experiences, thus allowing Hemry to introduce and even question certain aspects of naval life. Having some legal training, Sinclair soon becomes embroiled in an incident that is to see the ship's captain, Peter Wakeman, facing a court martial. All the characters are crafted to represent certain values or points of view. Some have strong loyalties to the Navy and display a sense of duty. Others are loyal only to themselves, self seeking, or reluctant to follow orders. As a result, a number of incidents occur during the voyage, all designed to expose Peter Wakeman's abilities as a captain. The final disaster is really an accident waiting to happen. However, nothing is entirely clear-cut in this novel. As in real life, the characters exhibit human foibles and make human judgments, despite the order and discipline imposed upon them. At times, Hemry seems to point to a subtext, questioning how far rigid discipline should be imposed and how far humans be allowed to think for themselves. This theme is never developed to its full potential, taking second place to the main question posed, concerning Justice: should someone who is in all respects 'bad' be condemned for an action for which they were not wholly responsible? The novel passes judgment on that question, but the verdict, whilst conforming to Justice in its strictest sense, may not please everyone.

'A Just Determination' is not a conventional work of Science Fiction, but it is thought provoking and well written. This is not a fast moving action novel, but a brief look at the lives of a handful of characters. Both these characters and the situations they face are carefully crafted to produce a series of events that leaves the reader with something to think about.