The Gravity of the Affair is a gem of a novella placed in the alternate setting of the Known Worlds in which ships of the line fly as easily between planets in our solar system as they ply the seas of earth on the basis of practical alchemical science. Mr. Martinez created this setting in The Daedalus Incident (about which more here) in which Nelson has a cameo role. The novella is a delightful look at Nelson’s first command (in this alternate universe), a brief encounter with a Ganymede (equivalent of a recently independent America at war with Britain) ship. The Badger is aptly named as this small brig takes on the larger frigate. We are presented with a study in Nelson’s character as he navigates the encounter, a trial initiated by his subordinate, friends and Naval bureaucracy.
[Full disclosure: I received an advanced copy of this work via Netgalley.]
What I love about this novella is that it beautifully distills Mr. Martinez’s take on Horatio Nelson’s character depicting his bravery, chivalry, hubris and ego through battle both in the Void and the courtroom. It’s done through story, not monologue. We have an opportunity to see Nelson’s willingness and humbleness to take to heart the lessons learned while not dampening his patriotism. His characterization is not unlike Jack Aubrey’s portrayal of Nelson in Master and Commander (based on a fine set of books by Patrick O’Brien): “Capt. Jack Aubrey: The second time he [Nelson] told me a story… about how someone offered him a boat cloak on a cold night. And he said no, he didn’t need it. That he was quite warm. His zeal for his king and country kept him warm.
[Dr. Maturin sighs]
Capt. Jack Aubrey: I know it sounds absurd, and were it from another man, you’d cry out “Oh, what pitiful stuff” and dismiss it as mere enthusiasm. But with Nelson… you felt your heart glow.”
Other aspects of the novella I love are how he provides full bodied characters even in such a short work, especially:
- the character sketch of alchemist’s mate Francis Forster and his relationship with Nelson,
- how, even in this brief work, Mr. Martinez demonstrates great camaraderie between officers in the the form of Nelson’s relationship with Lt. Cuthbert Collingwood; Lt. Collingwood is willing to show support and care for Nelson whilst bringing him up short when needed.
- the First Lieutenant and crew’s character and relationship.
So we leave The Gravity of the Affair enamored of Nelson, the Known Worlds and Mr. Martinez’s delightful writing. You need not read The Daedalus Incident to read this work, but if you haven’t read it, you certainly will want to after this whets your appetite. Its sequel, The Enceladus Crisis, is arriving Spring 2014. This brief dive back into the Known Worlds reminds me why that seems like such a long wait. Once again, well done Mr. Martinez.