Thursday, November 1, 2018

A Review of Ken Hart’s It was a Small Affair

 (Pensacola, FL: World Castle Publishing, 2018), ISBN: 9781629899985 (print edition)

It has been my pleasure over the past six years or so to review Ken Hart’s science fiction novels. This will be my third. My previous reviews were of Behind the Gem and The Eyes Behold Tomorrow.
Hart brings a lot of heart to his sci-fi. His previous two novels deal with family and reproductive issues and his stories explore what happens when distinct binary groups—be they male–female, human–nonhuman, or past–present—interact.
His latest novel, It was a Small Affair, focuses on the third binary—past–present.
The past is the confrontation at the Alamo in 1836 between the Mexican general Santa Anna (whose derisive remarks after the battle provide the novel’s title) and Travis, Houston, Bowie, Crockett, and Co. Texas’s independence from Mexico was at stake, and the Texans were badly outnumbered.
There is a great deal of romanticism and myth that surrounds the Alamo. It has been the subject of many books (fiction and nonfiction), films, and TV mini-series.
So what makes this story different?
The science fiction time-travel.
The present is 2010, and the players are a less than stellar Army Infantry platoon about to embark on a training exercise. Led by the narrator, Sergeant Webber—a veteran with experience in Afghanistan and something to prove—the platoon winds up (through the kind of vaguely defined phenomena at work in most science fiction) at the Alamo in 1836, 13 days before the final engagement.
Hart, who did tours in Vietnam and Desert Storm, interweaves his abundant knowledge of military organization, tactics, and equipment throughout the narrative, adding plenty of reality to all of the fantasy. He has obviously also done exhaustive research on the Alamo and its key personalities, for each are nuanced and all too human. There are very few commanders in the story who seem healthy enough in mind to be responsible for leading men into battle.
This has always been a fascination for me, especially when it comes to Grant and Sherman in the U.S. Civil War—two men who had been failures in everything else in their lives.
As I mentioned, Hart does not spend a lot of time on the nuts and bolts of the science fiction and I believe his novels benefit immensely from it. His explorations are psychological—the behavior of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances— coupled with plenty of action, which keeps up the pace.
As a reader, you could get hung up on just how the platoon is transported or why more of a fuss isn’t made by those in 1836 over the fact that they are from the future. I encourage you to let those aspects be. It is clear that this well-equipped group with a military truck and plenty of advanced technology IS from the future and, with thousands of Mexican soldiers bearing down and harassing with cannon less than 200 defenders, Travis and company are more concerned with how Webber and his men can help them—especially when Webber very honestly tells them what the outcome will be if history is not changed.
Ah—that old sci-fi chestnut—changing history. Star Trek’s Prime Directive comes to mind. But, again, in the midst of what we know is coming for what history has told us are the “good guys” in this confrontation, we are more interested in changing a bad outcome—of seeing justice done—than what the consequences may be for doing so.
This is exactly the dilemma for Webber and his men.
The secondary plots—the infighting between those in charge of the Alamo and Texas; a couple of disgruntled minority soldiers in Webber’s platoon—reinforce the main themes and raise the stakes. We truly do care how it all turns out.
As far as that goes… the Prologue and Epilogue handle the whys and what-fors of the time-travel aspect. The Epilogue also hints at possible sequels for Webber and his men.
It was a Small Affair is an example of how a talented author, historical fiction, and sci-fi time-travel can all come together to make for a high-stakes, fast-paced, entertaining reading experience.
If you are interested in learning more about Ken Hart and to order this and other titles he has authored, visit www.kenhartscifi.com