Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Medal of Honor by Mack Reynolds

Dubious distinction
Medal of Honor, a novella by Mack Reynolds, was originally published in the November 1960 issue of Amazing Science Fiction Stories magazine. The story takes place at an undisclosed period in the future when mankind has colonized the solar system and maintains a military presence in interstellar space. Lieutenant Don Mathers is a pilot in the Space Service. He patrols a sector of the galaxy in a one-man scout ship, keeping a look out for the Kradens, an alien race at war with Earth. Mathers is just beginning to grow tired of his military career when he is presented with the possibility of being decorated with the Galactic Medal of Honor. Any recipient of this highest award is said to “do no wrong.” He has carte blanche to do as he pleases, laws do not apply to him, and he needs no money because he can have anything he wants for free. The scheme by which Mathers might come by this prestigious award, however, is not remotely ethical. He faces the moral dilemma of whether he wishes to be the next great hero of the human race, even if his heroism is all based on lies.

The premise is somewhat interesting, but Reynolds never really does anything particularly novel with it. The story just kind of coasts along, proceeding pretty much as you would expect it to go. Reynolds’s sense of humor is evident throughout, and it inspires a chuckle here and there, but there are no real surprises. Beyond the space travel element of the story, there really isn’t any speculative science fiction going on either. Neither is there any great philosophical depth to the story, just a brief point made on the relationship between industry and government. Every once in a while, Reynolds really surprises me with an excellent, fun, and thought-provoking tale (like “Gun for Hire,” “The Business, As Usual,” or “Compounded Interest,”) but, as is perhaps too often the case with his stories, Medal of Honor is basically a military or business story that just happens to take place in the future and gets dressed up in sci-fi trappings.

My reaction to Medal of Honor is one of underwhelmed ambivalence, similar to that inspired by Reynolds’s novellas Mercenary, Ultima Thule, and Status Quo. It is not a bad story, but there is nothing that sets it apart as particularly exciting, funny, or memorable. Reynolds demonstrates that he is clearly a skilled writer and competent storyteller, but one comes away from this work with the feeling that he didn’t quite give his best effort. Nevertheless, I know he’s capable of better, and I will continue to hunt for the gems in his body of work.
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