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Literature / Paul Sinclair

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The Paul Sinclair series is a hard SF/courtroom drama series by John Hemry about Ensign, later Lieutenant (j.g.) Paul Sinclair in the United States Navy in space serving aboard the cruiser USS Michaelson, where he is the ship's legal officer. Each work revolves about a court martial that he becomes involved in.

Books in the series:

  • A Just Determination: The captain of the Michaelson is charged with unlawfully destroying a civilian ship.
  • Burden of Proof: An explosion aboard the Michaelson results in the death of a sailor. Initially the explosion is ruled an accident caused by inadequate training, but evidence surfaces that the damage may have had a more sinister origin.
  • Rule of Evidence: Sinclair's girlfriend, Lt. Jen Shen, is charged with sabotaging the USS Maury when an explosion rips up the Engineering spaces, which Sinclair fights to prove she's not guilty of doing.
  • Against All Enemies: A mole aboard the Michaelson leads to Sinclair coming in contact with NCIS in order to find the source of a leak that indirectly resulted in many civilian deaths.


Tropes included

  • Altar the Speed: In Against All Enemies, due to Sinclair being reassigned to Mars instead of his original next assignment after the Michaelson, he and his girlfriend have a quick civil ceremony aboard Franklin Station before his departure for his new duty station.
  • Burial in Space: In A Just Determination, a sailor who's killed in an accident is sent into deep space, intended to eventually fall into the sun.
  • Closest Thing We Got: Sinclair isn't a lawyer. He's the brother of a lawyer who took a couple law-related classes at the academy. Since that was more legal training than anyone else had on the ship, he was declared Legal Officer.
  • Colony Drop: Asteroid colonies are very closely regulated and supervised to make sure that one doesn't get set up by some doomsday cult who decides to try this.
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  • Conspicuous Consumption: The suspected traitor in the last book spends more than his expected income, but not by so much that it couldn't be explained by being good at gambling between deployments. At least util his family hires Sinclair's brother, a very expensive attorney, to join his defense team at the court-martial.
  • Could Say It, But...: Sharpe gets quite huffy about the things he can't do owing to his legal status as the ship's Master at Arms.note 
  • Court-Martialed:
    • The titular character finds himself in courts martial uncomfortably often, one in each book, both as a witness and as an observer under his duties as the Legal Officer of the USS Michaelson.
    • In the first book, A Just Determination, Captain Wakeman is put on trial for destroying a civilian vessel, and ultimately found guilty. The convictions aren't as severe as they could have been, however, thanks to Sinclair's testimony for the defense.
    • Burden of Proof has him working with the prosecution when a new officer is court martialed for events that lead to the death of a sailor. He is found not guilty of causing the accident, but is found guilty of dereliction of duty and sabotaging the investigation in to why the accident happened, resulting in a dishonorable discharge.
    • In Rule of Evidence, Sinclair's girlfriend, serving on the USS Maury, is blamed for an explosion that guts her ship. She's almost convicted of the crimes she was charged with, but is saved at the last moment by evidence of corporate malfeasance involving the actual cause of the explosion.
    • Sinclair has a more direct involvement in the court martial of a newly arrived Lieutenant in Against All Enemies, who's accused of indirectly responsible for the deaths of many civilians after leaking classified information to a rival country, having worked with NCIS to help them narrow down the suspect list. He really is guilty, and ultimately cops a plea to avoid execution.
    • Every book also has at least one scene at Captain's Mast, a lesser judicial proceeding in which the Captain gives summary judgement on lesser offenses committed by his crew. As Legal Officer, Sinclair is required to be present in case a question of law comes up in the proceedings (which usually doesn't happen).
  • Detective Mole: Lt Silver gets assigned to gather witness statements in regards to an explosion and fire for the investigation. Since the incident was his fault, he makes a point of discarding all statements that could lead to the investigator learning that his actions caused the situation that made the explosion possible before turning them in.
  • Due to the Dead: Part of Sinclair's motivation to give attention to cases involving death is to ensure that those killed by malfeasance are honored.
  • Exact Words: A key part of Captain Wakeman's defense is that the Michaelson's mission orders were so vaguely phrased that they could be interpreted as authorization to do just about anything.
  • Famed In-Story: Someone explains to Paul that he's this, for his taking hard stances that could potentially be career killers.
  • Glory Hound: Captain Wakeman is focused on making himself known to the Navy's senior leadership, in an attempt to be assigned to a more prestigious post than a space cruiser.
  • Inappropriately Close Comrades: Jen advises Paul early on never to break the navy's rules against relationships between crew on the same ship, since it's impossible to keep something like that secret in the cramped conditions on board. In fact, the two end up breaking those rules themselves, although not too severely — an upcoming transfer is about to make the relationship permissible, and they just get started slightly early (and not on the ship itself). The ship's executive officer figures it out anyway, but is prepared to let it slide. This gets held against her in her court-martial two books later.
  • Indestructible Edible: Tradition simultaneously uses fruitcake "as a warning to all the universe of the awful culinary weapons available to the human race" and emergency rations for any distressed ship that might find in in a million years.
  • It's All About Me:
    • In A Just Determination, Sinclair realizes that another officer is not this because he's angry about something which has no potential to harm him.
    • This ultimately causes the accident in Burden of Proof. An officer covers up problems in his subdepartment to make himself look good until it suffers a major engineering casualty. Then he can't report that a major system component failed and needs a replacement without it being obvious that he covered up the fact that it had been having trouble for weeks - a fact made worse by the fact that getting a new part and installing it through channels would require postponing the ship's scheduled launch date. So he gets the part through back channels and forces one of his men to install it in a non-standard and unsafe manner to conceal the fact that a major repair had been needed at all. This causes an explosion and a human casualty.
  • Karma Houdini: By the time the series ended, none of the people responsible for the SEERS getting pushed into early field testing, causing the destruction of the ship it was installed on, had been punished.
  • The Leader: Herdez gives quite a talk on it in A Just Determination.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: An explanation offered for certain occurrences aboard the Michaelson, none of which endangered anyone or anything seriously, is ghosts of sailors who have died aboard the ship in the line of duty.
  • Meaningful Name: Every book is named after a key concept in the US Navy Court-Martial manual, and the relevant passage of the manual that discusses that concept is quoted at the start of the book.
  • Nepotism: Lt. Silver's father is a Vice Admiral, making people reluctant to take actions to kill his career despite him being totally useless.
  • Never My Fault:
    • Wakeman's personal closing statement in his court-martial consists entirely of trying to pass the blame for his actions on to his junior officers.
    • Silver's personal closing statement consists of trying to shift the blame for the accident his actions helped bring about on the man killed in it. The prosecution tears him a new one for trying to blame someone unable to defend himself, and for failing to get the name of the component whose failure triggered the accident wrong several times.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Sinclair's duty posting after the Michaelson was supposed to be station duty, which among other things would allow him regular contact with his fiancee, whose ship was based off that station. But due to having made enemies through his actions as Legal Officer (top suspects being the Admiral whose son he got discharged and his disapproving father-in-law to be), his posting gets changed at the last minute to Mars. To add insult to injury, the orders require him to be on Mars a week before his wedding was scheduled.
  • Running Gag: "WHERE'S TWEED?"
  • The Scrounger: Sykes is a good supply officer, willing to go the extra mile to ensure that the ship has all it needs to perform its tasks, in spite of his apparently being a slacker.
  • The Slacker: Sykes looks like this, rarely seen outside the officer's ward room drinking coffee. Despite this, if people need things, he can find them. Lt Silver, on the other hand, just dumps any work he gets (and blame for mistakes) on subordinates, and takes all the credit for success himself.
  • Smoking Gun: In Rule of Evidence, circumstantial evidence is about to convict Lt. Jen Shen in the explosion that crippled the Maury, until Sinclair discovers through alternate means that a critical piece of new equipment had potentially devastating flaws covered up for the sake of forcing it into service.
  • Space Is Noisy: Simulated, with sound used to help crew members keep track of nearby ships and other objects.
  • Unfinished, Untested, Used Anyway: The SEERS system. Documented proof that it wasn't ready for field testing is used to exonerate Jen from the charge of causing an explosion that was actually the result of the SEERS malfunctioning.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Upon seeing the list of charges that has been levied against his incompetent Glory Hound of a captain (to the point where the fact that he had blown up an unarmed vessel, killing 37 civilians in the process, was an afterthought), Paul realizes that if he lets the man get railroaded like that, he'd never be able to look in a mirror again. So he volunteers to be a witness for the defense.
  • Would Not Shoot a Civilian: In A Just Determination, wrongfully engaging a civilian ship is what lands Captain Wakeman a court martial.


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