Firstborn by Brandon Sanderson is a military science fiction e-short released by Tor and available on most e-reader platforms. The story focuses on the plight of Dennison Crestmar, the underachieving failure of a son who inexplicably has the faith of his father, High Duke Sennion Crestmar, and the High Emperor. Dennison is given command after command yet fails to make any military victories. Those under his command despise him, mostly because they or those they serve with will probably die at his hand in battle.
The problem is that Dennison lives under the shadow of his brother, the amazingly perfect military genius, Varion Crestmar. Varion is twenty years his senior, and they have never met, but in those twenty years Varion has burned his mark across the empire, reuniting it under his military might and wonder. Then there’s Dennison.
Without spoiling the surprise, Dennison has been trained to be better than his brother, yet he lacks confidence. From his first days in the Academy, everybody wanted to try their skill at besting the brother of the mighty Varion, so Dennison has known nothing but failure through his entire military career.
When his father has him reassigned to serve under High Admiral Kern, his one and only assignment is to study the hologram battles of his brother and try to mimic his successes in the simulator. Eventually, what he learns about himself and his brother helps the empire in a moment of crisis, but getting there is built on a long road of failures.
Sanderson built a character so completely lacking in self-confidence that at times I had a hard time finding him a sympathetic character to root for. Also, he was given chance after chance that defied logic. Why did the High Emperor and his father have so much faith in him? If I made a mistake at work, I was usually canned. Nobody gave me the benefit of the doubt, never mind put men under my command to die over and over again. I was tempted to think that this was a flaw in Sanderson’s writing, but eventually I began to understand the reason behind their faith. This was the secret of the story, revealed towards the end.
I enjoyed the story, but I can’t say that I believed the ending. I found the turn of events hard to reconcile with the characters. I can’t say more without revealing too much, but I would have enjoyed more emotional insight into the victory. Unfortunately, the enemy was defeated remotely so we will never know what he was feeling about the unraveling of his plans and the loss of his dearest companions. We did get insight into Dennison, however. He eventually became the sympathetic character I needed him to be when he turned his weaknesses into strengths to win the day.
For military science fiction fans, Firstborn offers fascinating tech and battle dynamics stretched across stars. Sanderson isn’t known for his science fiction, but this is a good effort from him.
Release Date: December 17, 2008 (USA)
Publisher: Tor Books
Violence: 2 (assassination, military combat, suicide)