Star Rebel is an epic story of one man’s struggle against institutional brutality and the oppression of the Space Academy. Bran Tregare has survived humiliation, beatings, fights to the death and witnessed rapes and murders – all by superior officers who use their authority to satisfy their own sadistic needs. Somehow, amongst this violence, Bran has to not just survive physically, but mentally as well, and avoid becoming the monster that the totalitarian regime is trying to make him.
Bran is only thirteen when he is sent to the academy, known by those who have attended as “The Slaughterhouse”. It is here he learns the horrors of what people are capable of, and though of a wealthy and powerful upbringing, now finds himself stripped of any rights or privileges and is powerless against the tyranny embedded in the system.
This is not an original story premise, and the character archetypes you would expect from a military academy story are all there. Bran is the small kid who thinks fast and overpowers his foes through cunning and determination and quickly rises through the ranks. There are his numerous sexual conquests who have only fleeting impact on the story and serve more as plot drivers than characters. There are the brutal officers, the bullies, the quiet kid and the kindly authority figures who are too powerless to stop the brutality but help where they can. There are factions, there is mutiny, and there is revenge.
Reading this book I couldn’t help but think of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, or Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. What set this story apart, however, was that the conflict were kept to a personal level. There were some big action scenes, to be sure, but nothing as vast or epic in scope as the aforementioned books. Star Rebels firmly keeps itself grounded so that through the entire book you are relating to the personal struggles of Bran.
It reminded me of High School, and of the jobs I have held in large corporations which do have systemic cultures of bullying and oppression. I could relate to everything in this book. Busby did a fantastic job creating a realistic hero, and showing the way the trauma of each horror manifested itself in him – anxiety, depression, insomnia, nightmares and physical illness and various dysfunctions.
Busby was a Veteran of both the American National Guard and of the US Army, and when one reads this book you can see the mark that WWII left upon him. The dehumanization of people is a large theme in this book, as is the theme of institutional corruption. Bran is so emotionally scarred by these things, that one can’t help but thinking Busby was writing from experience.
It could be an argument that the institution of The Academy was representative of the US Army at the time – in the book it is very clear that women don’t carry true respect or authority, and that homosexuals are demonized – things that Bran doesn’t agree with.
But it could also be argued that The Academy is a metaphor for Fascism, inspired by Nazi Germany – clear in the way that human life has no value to The Academy and discipline must be absolute.
Star Rebel is a solid entry to a series that started in 1976 with Rissa Kerguelen and culminated in Rebel Seed in 1986. It is an emotional read full of anger, hate and grief; but there is also love, and friendship and honour. It was hard to put this book down, as it ensnared me from the beginning. Not a book for the young reader – the violence can be disturbing – but young adults and upwards will enjoy this novel.
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