A Small Colonial War, Fire in a Faraway Place, and Cain’s Land by Robert Frezza
(Del Rey/Ballantine, 1990-96). Covers by Stephen Hickman and Peter Peebles
Anyone else out there read stray book comments on the internet that send them off in search of 30-year old paperbacks? No? Yeah, that figures. Well, that’s what happened to me when I stumbled on this brief mention of Robert Frezza’s 1990 military SF novel A Small Colonial War on Reddit last night.
Anyone read A Small Colonial War? Catch-22 in space. Need to find my copy, it was dad’s favorite SF and he was very well read. Had to send my paperback to his widow.
It’s a total cluster-f**k of an empire trying to impose their will on a rebellious colony, told mainly from the point-of-view of the invaders. And it’s hilarious. And brutal. And hilarious.
A Small Colonial War was the first novel in a trilogy published between 1990-96. I’ve never read it, and I’m not 100% even sure I’ve ever seen a copy. But that small mention pinged around in my head because someone else had recommended A Small Colonial War recently, and it took some mental gymnastics to remember who and when. (Cut me some slack — I read about a lot of books).
But I remembered eventually. It was James Nicoll, in his July post Five Doomed Armies in Science Fiction at Tor.com. Here’s his more involved take.
22nd-century Japan’s empire reaches to the stars. Travel takes years, although relativity and hibernation spares travellers from paying that cost. Instead, they pay in alienation, as society back home on Earth changes beyond recognition. Japan’s solution is to defer the task of controlling their empire to modern-day peregrini recruited from the lesser nations of Earth — forces like Lieutenant-Colonel Anton “the Veriag” Vereshchagin and his command, the 1st Battalion, 35th Imperial Infantry.
Communication lag means the Japanese Diet is forever misinformed about their colony worlds. No problem for the Diet, safe at home on Earth. For the soldiers of the 35th, this means assignment to Sud Afrika, a planet settled by racially paranoid Boers. The Boers were followed by cohorts of heavily armed settlers who, the Japanese optimistically assumed, would bring the previous colonists to heel. The 35th is very much the odd man out in this conflict; they’re hated by all sides.
What’s better than a new Vintage Treasure to track down? Three Vintage Treasures, of course! All three volumes in the trilogy were published in paperback by Del Rey/Ballantine in the 90s; none were ever reprinted, and there are no digital editions. Here’s the publishing details; jot these down for me while I start an internet search.
A Small Colonial War (301 pages, $3.95 in paperback, February 1990) — cover by Stephen Hickman
Fire in a Faraway Place (319 pages, $4.99 in paperback, March 1994) — cover by Peter Peebles
Cain’s Land (313 pages, $5.99 in paperback, January 1996) — cover by Peter Peebles
Robert Frezza published two more SF novels, McLendon’s Syndrome (1993) and The VMR Theory (1996), before hanging up his hat as an SF writer. I wondered what happened to him, and then I remembered that James Nicoll took a stab at answering that question on his blog in 2015, in an article titled Whatever Happened to Robert Frezza? (Man, apparently I spend a lot of time on that guy’s blog. Thanks James! I’m not stalking you, I swear.)
See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.