"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you."
Personal self-defense is normally an easy concept to understand and justify. Though the particulars vary, it's a rare society or group that insists a person passively accept death or harm. Self-defense of a society is a trickier thing. Societies also defend themselves, but part of that is defending the values and ideologies of the society. Even defensive war, by its nature, is still organized mass killing. The various ethical and moral considerations involved in warfare have been debated throughout the entirety of human history. At what point, though, does self-defense trump all other considerations?
Krista D. Ball's military science fiction thriller Road To Hell explores such ethical conundrums through one Captain Katherine Francis, a military officer in a democratic and pluralistic interstellar society, the Union of Planets. The Union is hard pressed by a vicious invading enemy, and the only hope is to somehow involve the neutral Alliance. Unfortunately, the Union's restrictive Ethics Laws may mean that Captain Francis will have to sacrifice herself to save the Union.
Ethical issues may not, on the surface, sound like the most exciting subject for a military science fiction novel, but the book's intense focus on character provides more than enough drama sustain interest. In addition, the actual ethical dilemmas are explored nicely through their consequences on Captain Francis and those around her. While a somewhat more morally nuanced enemy may have heightened the overall complexity of the main ethics question, the progression in what Captain Francis is willing to do, and who she's willing to harm, is interesting.
The psychological portrait of Captain Francis is well-rendered. The brisk pacing doesn't always leave time for full exploration of everyone who is introduced, but all the characters still come off as realistic people with realistic motivations. I particularly enjoyed the presentation of a shadowy expatriate whose motivation and loyalties remain teasingly unclear throughout.
The setting is unobtrusively developed. The future painted he story isn't particularly exotic. All the factions are human, and the technologies and cultures a reasonable extrapolation from the present for the most part. This is effective in highlighting that this is fundamentally a story about an age-old human problem.
The plot unfolds briskly and at a satisfying pace. My only real quibble is that the book is on the shorter side, and I would have liked to have had a bit more time to see the effects of everything implemented. Though I suppose that really just means I'm asking for a sequel.