RUN RUN RUN YOU VERMIN WE WILL DESTROY YOU AND BRING YOUR HEADS BACK TO OUR HOLY OF HOLIES
Oh, wait, it's been desecrated by a Longknife. *sigh*
Shepherd has actually done some really weirdly interesting things in this entry. Of course we don't know if it is possible to have a space faring empire much less conduct wars, and all speculation on this topic is a bunch of foolishness, but it's fun foolishness. In this outing, Shepherd has taken on some tropes (crazy powerful alien race won't communicate and is annihilating everything in its path, wackadoodle mutineer/mutiny, feeding an armed force "off the land" in while space faring) and I think he may have actually come up with some genuinely new explanations.
I am _so not kidding about the spoilers_. Just leave now.
All right. Let's start with the wackadoodle mutineer. Someone comes out to Alwa, and then wants to go home, but of course no one is going home lest they be followed by the crazy powerful alien race which won't communicate and is annihilating everything in its path. Said someone hijacks a ship and hightails it. This is wackadoodle for a variety of reasons (obvs, the Longknife will give chase, more importantly, a very high risk run home unescorted plus the crew doesn't include people with the right skill set to keep the ship running all the way home), and the person who conducts the mutiny comes from a wealthy background and is a high ranking officer. So, why? Brain tumor! Great explanation! I like this _way_ better than some other author attempts to explain The Cray Cray which they had someone commit for plot purposes.
Shepherd doesn't stop there with the, Why Are You So Crazy? answers. Once Longknife and the boffins get to the alien home world and do their Sherlockian detecting, they start looking at the hunter gatherers hanging out on the home world and conclude from brain analysis of them (and listening to their sagas) that the earliest trophies in the Holy of Holies (the royal family right down to the twin babies, encased in plastic for all eternity) were the folk who enslaved the crazy powerful (before they were crazy powerful), and part of that enslavement process atrophied (okay, this part is weak) that part of the brain that let's people feel like they are part of something bigger than them. This both provides an explanation (oh, they don't listen because they can't see any connection to anyone who isn't them, wait that doesn't make sense, but Shepherd explains it as sort of monolithic groupthink? Okay) and a potential fix (maybe we can fix their brains!).
And about that Holy of Holies. It's a TV/movie/fiction serial murderer trophy collection, only for entire species. Unfortunately, when you take the repulsive ick factor of a serial murderer's trophy collection and cross it with ALIENS WILL KILL YOU AND EVERYONE EVOLUTIONARILY RELATED TO YOU which is pretty horrifying, it turns out (at least for me) to be sort of boringly overwrought. But I applaud it on a technical level, because I Love Genre Smooshing.
Also in this book: matriarchal cat people! Really, the cos play opportunities here. Divine!
The best part of the book, IMO, is the How Do We Feed Everyone problem. It makes a great contrast between the planet-independent space faring crazy people and the planet-dependent space faring rescuer types.
At times, I get confused about which crazy powerful alien race that will destroy you and everything evolutionarily related to you right down to the microbes I am reading about. I find that if I remember King Arther Duct Tape = Jack Campbell and the heroine is related to everyone and hangs out with a bunch of birds = Mike Shepherd really helps keep it straight in my mind. If you stick to reading either Campbell/Hemry OR Shepherd, that'd work, too.