Sixteenth Watch by Myke Cole

UPDATE: In light of new information regarding Myke Cole, I can no longer endorse any of his work, including Sixteenth Watch. While at the time I enjoyed this book thoroughly, in retrospect, it has proven to be a shitty piece of false, performative “feminism.” Many women and nonbinary individuals within the writing community have come forward sharing their stories as to how Myke abused them. Some of their stories are below. I recommend clicking through for the full context. 

My original review is preserved below, for posterity. I no longer stand by my statements. I am extremely disappointed in Myke for having contributed to the toxic culture surrounding cons and the writing community as a whole. 

Original review for posterity. Remember: go read someone else instead. Megan O’Keefe is a good choice. Check out Velocity Weapon, maybe. She’s cool and not a sexual harasser like Myke.

“The top story tonight – military sports continue to dominate ratings for the twentieth straight week, with the Army’s World’s Best Ranger Competition capturing over 100 million viewers in the coveted prime time slot. Even bigger is this year’s Boarding Action, which pits space-based crews in a simulated boarding of a hostile vessel in zero-gravity. The highest rated civilian sport is still the American NFL, but it doesn’t even come close, with less than fifty percent of military sports’ audience share in that coveted 18-39 demographic. It truly looks like the new age of military training competitions as a civilian spectator sport is here to stay.”

I’ll be honest: up until now, I’ve rarely, if ever, given the Coast Guard much consideration. They’re just the guys who go out and rescue stranded boats every now and then, right? Perhaps they check up on fishing licences? They… just sort of exist? Are they even in the military or are they a state militia sort of thing? Well, Myke Cole has thoroughly shamed me for having given them so little credit – and thoroughly entertained me in the process, to boot! I walked away from this book with a whole new appreciation for our sailors in the Coast Guard.

Jane Oliver is a captain in the Coast Guard, stationed on the Moon. Her task is to secure and border and ensure peaceful relations between the USA and China on the Moon even as competing economic relationships cause tensions between the two countries to rise. Her husband is in the Navy, working in a similar capacity. When they find themselves working together on the same engagement, Oliver’s life is forever altered when her husband is killed in action. Following this, Oliver is put out to roost training new coasties back on Earth and on the water rather than in space. That’s the general background, which seems straightforward enough when you first start out. However, what the synopsis of this book fails to tell you is that this is set in a future where military SPACE SPORTS (caps are necessary here) are the Next Big Thing. 

Yes, you heard me. SPACE SPORTS. Sports! In space! With the military! I was absolutely delighted to make this discovery, and it livened up the whole novel for me. This is bigger than the NFL now. Essentially, the different branches of the military compete against one another (in space!) to see who can do the best, most successful, and most dramatic boarding exercise against another ship. It’s great. I loved it. I need more space sports. 

Oliver, of course, is brought out of retirement to lead the coasties’ finest into the fray. She’s the best damn teacher they’ve got, and unfortunately this group truly needs some help. All of them, Oliver included, are still shaken by the same horrific engagement that took Oliver’s husband and several of Oliver’s own crew. They’re shadowed by the memories of those they’ve lost, and struggle to understand that living up to their legacy doesn’t mean they have to become them. Although they’re all excellent individuals, they need Oliver’s help to come together as a team. 

“What do you want me to teach these guys to do?”

“We need you to get them in shape for this year’s Boarding Action. Commandant thinks if we win, it’ll give us the hand we need. It’s a major media event, watched by millions of Americans. If we win it, that’ll give us the leverage we need to stay on, and if we stay on, we can keep the Navy from turning quarantine-runners into a pretext for war. SPACETACLET came close last year…”

Oliver blinked. “We’re going to stop a war… by winning a game show?”

The stakes are high. The Navy and the Coast Guard have been butting heads over who controls the borders on the Moon, and one misstep will almost certainly mean kicking off another World War. The Navy is gregarious, adversarial, and brutish; the Coast Guard leadership’s greatest fear is that they will kick off hostilities. The admiral backed himself into a corner during a cabinet meeting – whoever wins the space sports tournament will be considered the most suitable to control the Moon’s borders. 

“The Navy has proven, for four years running now, in the highest-pressure and most public forum available, that we are the best equipped, the best trained, the overall best at boarding actions on the 16th Watch.”

Zhukov sputtered, his military bearing slipping. “You can’t be serious. That’s a game show!”

Donahugh looked at the senators now, still speaking to Zhukov. “If it’s just a game show, admiral, why can’t you win?” 

The two most consistent themes throughout the novel were teamwork and deescalation. It was a pleasure and a joy to read military scifi that wasn’t focused on the more “macho” side of militarism; the emphasis on finding ways to take a high-energy situation and deescalate it into something diplomacy could handle was a fresh, engaging departure from the typical. Oliver has to push her team to become a cohesive whole such that they’re able to take control away from the Navy and other powers that be. 

In some ways, Sixteenth Watch can be reduced to an incredibly specific wish-fulfillment fantasy. For some people, this may not work. For me, it clicked. I was right there with Cole, who himself served in the Coast Guard. The engaging, humorous cast pulled this book together into a cohesive whole. Oliver and her XO constantly quipping at one another, Pervez’s constant antics and rebellion towards authority… I laughed aloud, repeatedly, and caught myself smiling even more. Military sci-fi sometimes gets caught in the logistics, hanging itself out to dry. Cole’s writing does this opposite – these characters are warm, comfortable, and human. Their constant struggle in the face of long odds kept me on my toes because I cared about them.

“Ma’am, with respect…”

“Nothing after the words ‘with respect’ is ever entirely respectful, Wen.”

“With respect,” Ho carefully enunciated each word as he stood, walking to her keyboard. “It’s possible you’re being a little paranoid here. You’re the one who insisted on this school in the first place.”

“With no damn respect, I’m around a hundred years older than you and I have been at this game for my entire life. I am not misreading the situation here.”

Ho clicked the mouse to open the email. “Well, you’re right. You passed.”

Oliver gave an exasperated sigh. “I told you I was smart.”

“No, ma’am,” Ho said, “you told me you were old.”

Although there is a lot of military jargon interspersed throughout the book, I did not find this to be a problem. Cole includes a glossary, but let’s be honest here: I, personally, am far too lazy to use it (whoops). I was easily able to suss out the meanings of each of the phrases and acronyms based on their context, and when I couldn’t, they weren’t really important anyway. The key pieces of the story are clear without having to do any extra look-ups or research, though you may find an additional layer to the book if you do so. Anyone who has served in the military will likely have no difficulty whatsoever. 

If you’ve ever been on the fence about military scifi as a subgenre, Myke Cole may be the right author to help tip you over to the dark side. He’s got characters you’ll love, a fun, light writing style, and a completely fresh take on the subgenre. I can’t recommend this book enough. 

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Published by Christine Sandquist

Christine Sandquist is an NYC-based sensitivity/developmental editor and author assistant to writers such as Hugo Award Winner Mary Robinette Kowal, World Fantasy Award Winner Tobias S. Buckell, and SOVAS Award Finalist Cadwell Turnbull. They specialize in analyzing and providing feedback on works that include diverse, queer casts, representations of sexual trauma, and broader gender-based violence. They are part of the team behind Reddit r/fantasy, the internet’s largest discussion forum for the greater speculative fiction genre.

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