The Last Campaign


Michael L. Shoemaker


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

January 19, 2021

thought that the first book, The Last Dance, in this series called The Near-Earth Mysteries, was fantastic. It introduced us to the brilliant but demanding character of Nicolau "Nick" Aames. Aames returns in this second novel, The Last Campaign, but he is no longer captain of a spaceship. Instead, Aames is now a private citizen living in a colony called Maxwell City on the surface of Mars. With Nick is his wife, Rosalia Morais, who is also now a private citizen after a career as admiral in the Space Fleet. In the opening chapter, Aames and Morais have found a dead explorer at the bottom of a Martian ravine. Did the man die in an accident - Mars is a dangerous and hostile environment - or were there more sinister forces in effect?

I did not enjoy The Last Campaign as much as I liked The Last Dance. The action in The Last Dance took place on a Mars Cycler, a giant spaceship called the Aldrin, which was in service as a Mars Cycler - the cycler is a neat idea and the science fiction elements are crucial to the story. But for the majority of the action in The Last Campaign, Aames and Morais are indoors in Maxwell City, and the story becomes a police procedural - yes, it is a competent story, but the science fiction aspect recedes into the background. A lot of the story might as well have taken place in an Earth-based town. The plot revolves the upcoming election in Maxwell City between the Saganists (who want Mars to be treated as a scientific preserve), the Realists (who favor unconstrained development of Mars), and the Libertists (who want Martian settlements to develop slowly in accordance to guidelines defined by Earth authority). There are tensions in Maxwell between these various factions, and the media personalities stir the passions with deliberately provocative reporting. It turns out that the dead man found in the ravine was indeed murdered. Crime is rising, even a population as small as Maxwell City (I think the story said there were about 100K inhabitants) needs a police force.

Rosalia Morais, who is a dedicated citizen trying to do the right thing, takes the thankless task of forming the initial police force. This is the disappointing part of the novel - the reader learns of the struggles to get the new policeman to act professionally, to not accept favors from supportive citizens, to work smartly and with discipline. Morais must find trustworthy lieutenants .... and while all of this realistic, it isn't that interesting. The reader is told about that stacks of paperwork the Morais must wade through. Morais must answer to the politicians who need the murder quickly solved before the election. One trouble with all of this focus on Police Chief Morais and her workload is that Nick Aames is shunted to the side. It seems that most of the novel, Aames and Morais hardly have time to speak to each other. Aames operates on the peripherary, he doesn't disappear from the plot entirely, but he is not in the limelight.

It is clear from the end of The Last Campaign that there will be at least one more tale in this series; set on the Martian surface. Hopefully Nick will become the center of the story again and hopefully there is plenty of description of the rigors and wonders of the Martian environment. Shoemaker has proved he can write a good story, so I am looking forward to the next book. I suspect he deliberately held back some good ideas from this book, planning an epic tale for the next book.