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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.
  • Failure to Obey: A short story, following Jen working to defend a former crewmate from the Michaelson accused of failing to obey an order during a terrorist attack, while Paul is away elsewhere. This is collected in the anthology Swords and Saddles, with two more stories from Hemry's series The Lost Fleet and Stark's War.

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.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Not always, but Captain Wakeman and Captain Carney are straight examples.
  • Amoral Attorney: Scott Silver’s lawyer Jones is pretty unlikable and oily. Major Hue in Failure to Obey seems more interested in convicting a sympathetic defendant (Sharpe) than getting justice.
  • Attempted Rape: The charge for the last defendant of the final Captain's Mast in the series. It gets him referred to a court-martial, drummed out of the service and sent to Leavenworth.
  • Blatant Lies: Just about everything that comes out of Alvarez's mouth whenever she appears before the Captain's Mast.
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  • 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.
  • Confess to a Lesser Crime: In Against All Enemies, the suspected traitor insists that he got the money in his secret bank account from illegal sports betting rather than selling military secrets to a foreign power. Almost everyone is convinced that this trope is at play. They're right, and the false confession doesn't save the spy from being convicted of treason.
  • 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 until 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 into 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 being 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).
  • Crusading Lawyer: Out of all the defense lawyers to appear, Bashir fits this best (in a more subdued way), as does Carr defending Sharpe in Failure to Obey.
  • 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.
  • Disaster Dominoes: A humorous version happened to Jacobs - one of the crewmen to appear before the captain's mast in Rule of Evidence - while he was on leave, beginning with him getting a wedding invitation from his old girlfriend, and being too dumb to read the actual names and realize it was someone else's wedding.
  • 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.
  • Ensign Newbie: Several throughout the series. Randy Diego is a notable example in that while he’s a reasonably competent version of this in his first appearance, in Paul’s opinion he still hasn’t quite grown out of it two years later.
  • 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.
  • The Eeyore: Commander Destin, the chief engineer in books 2-4, wears "a cloak of melancholy like an extra uniform", with it being implied that this partially traces back to someone under her command dying in the past (which might also be why she was "exiled" to space).
  • Fallen States of America: Or rather, fallen states of China. The fourth book mentions a "Han Chinese ship" in a way which indicates that China has experienced a schism.
  • Famed In-Story: Someone explains to Paul that he's this, for his taking hard stances that could potentially be career killers. A little while later, he gets confirmation of this when Hayes introduces him to Captain Agee, who will be replacing Hayes once his time on the Michaelson ends, and Agee recognizes multiple anecdotes about the past court martials Paul was involved with and is clearly impressed.
    Agee: Oh. You're that guy.... Oh, you're that guy too. Damn, Sinclair, you're high-level radioactive. Do you know that?
  • Fearless Fool: British Captain Vitali, who conducts joint task-force work with the Michaelson is described as bold and reckless, although ultimately noble, as best shown when she gets into a game of chicken with an enemy ship which makes them back down but could have started a shooting conflict.
  • Foil Hayes (a brave, reasonable un-ambitious tactically brilliant father to his men) to Wakeman (a cowardly Glory Hound and Bad Boss who panics in combat).
  • A Friend in Need: Most of the junior officers are willing to provide both emotional and material support and aide to each other when the chips are down.
  • Genius Ditz: Jacobs, who's apparently a whiz engineer but otherwise an utter idiot.
  • Genre Shift: There's some of this between the books in relation to each court-martial. In book 1 Paul is defending Captain Wakeman for legalistic and moral reasons even though both morally and legally Wakeman is guilty of quite a bit. In Burden of Proof Paul works to implicate someone he correctly believes is guilty. In Rule Of Evidence he’s defending Jen, who is the scapegoat of a coverup, and in the 4th book after the investigation he’s more of an observer and there's a bit of mystery due to both Sinclair and the readers being more unsure of Brad Pullman’s guilt than they were with the subjects of the other three court martials.
  • 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.
  • Ignored Expert: Two testify for Jen in Rule of Evidence, although neither is much of an expert. One is Falco. The second, Victor Zimmer, testifies about some construction problems he brought to attention but it’s vague as to whether they were related to the reason the ship failed. Also several of these did argue against SEERS being installed but were ignored.
  • 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.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Paul Sinclair is exposed to plenty of potential cynicism catalysts (his fiancée being wrongfully accused of treason, his captain committing a war crime out of stupidity, almost being scapegoated for what happened in the second book himself) but continues to hold onto his ideals and works to see justice done.
  • 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 it in a million years.
  • Inspector Javert: Wilkes, the prosecutor in A Just Determination. Not so much for going after Wakeman (who is guilty of at least some of the charges both morally and legally) but for the overly aggressive way he goes after Paul on the stand when Paul gives crucial evidence for Wakeman’s defense, even insinuating that Paul should be charged as well over the incident for providing Wakeman bad advice. He's probably not quite bad enough to be an amoral attorney though.
  • Insufferable Genius: Falco in Rule of Evidence actually gives correct testimony (in terms of what happened) but comes across as so arrogant on cross-examination (as well as having some black marks on his record brought up) that everyone watching is inclined to ignore everything he said.
  • It's All About Me:
    • In A Just Determination, Sinclair realizes that another officer, his director superior Garcia, 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.
  • Living Prop: There’s always one or two silent members during each court martial although some (like Mahris in Against All Enemies) have their movements described a lot, Juarez in Burden of Proof is never heard from nor mentioned after the members are announced as court commences, and Valdez and Bolton don’t say or do anything of note in the first book.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: An explanation offered for 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.
  • The Men First: Paul makes sure his firefighting crew gets water before he does in Burden of Proof.
  • 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.
  • Playing Games at Work: Silver, regularly, to the point where he's barely even opened any of the mail addressed to him as main propulsion officer.
  • Pet the Dog: Garcia telling Paul turning in Silver was the right thing to do.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: A few but Morraine, Silver and Wakeman are the most genuinely incompetent and toxic ones.
  • Professional Butt-Kisser: Bill Mahris and Sam Yarrow are weaselly sycophants who never show an ounce of independent thought or initiative.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Quite a few.
    • Captain Hayes is the main one, being a skilled tactician who listens to his subordinates, and is willing to back them up when risk is involved, such as ordering an investigation into an Admiral's son in Burden of Proof while also refusing to get caught up in the suspicion against Jen in the third book.
    • Alex Carr is a very good prosecutor, willing to work with Paul and accept his input, as well as listening to evidence that Jen is innocent while prosecuting her.
    • Herdez requests perfection from her subordinates but is trying to improve their skills and isn't mean-spirited when they struggle to keep up with her expectations, while also offering Paul career opportunities once she has her own ship.
    • Sykes speaks in favor of one of his subordinates when the man is accused of stealing peaches using calm logic and is willing to provide wise words of advice to Paul on occasion.
    • Captain Gonzalez is a good-humored commander who doesn't dole out punishments on a whim and keeps a cool head during a tense moment where it looked as if an unarmed ship might be dangerous, in contrast to Wakeman in the last book.
    • Agee, the ships final commander is critical of Paul being Reassigned to Antarctica, seems disappointed that he can't stop that and works to ensure that his final performance review is a glowing one.
    • The members/jury in every court martial except Jen’s (Admiral Fowler during Wakeman’s and Mashiko and Goldberg during Silver’s stand out) all listen carefully to the witnesses, and ask intelligent questions that delve into the heart of the matter, while weighing all of the evidence and witnesses equally.
    • Judge "Hang-Em" Halstead is a portrayed as delivering harsh punishments to the guilty and ensuring that the innocent receive every consideration once their innocence is established, while also ruling carefully on arguments of the opposing lawyers.
    • Randy Diego, at least in terms of being lenient during a captains mast for one of his people, stressing that the guy is a good subordinate most of the time and that he doesn't want him to receive the maximum punishment.
    • Lamont, the Marine Commander in Failure to Obey does a good job of grasping the tactical situation while refusing to judge Sharpe's actions as inappropriate without the support of the facts.
    • Paul himself is reasonable to his enlisted, seeing that they get proper consideration and opportunities while remaining professional.
    • Jen's commander, Captain Halis is shown as concerned for her crew and possessing a desire to see that she's given fair benefit of the doubt when she's accused of sabotage.
  • 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.
  • Redeeming Replacement: All three of Wakeman’s successors as captain of the Michealson have more integrity and intelligence than he does, especially Hayes.
  • Running Gag: "WHERE'S TWEED?"
  • Shout-Out: Petty officer Arroyo, who is demoted by Wakeman for stealing peaches even though sloppy record keeping is more likely to blame, is reminiscent of The Caine Mutiny. Both incidents are even used against the respective captains at their court-martials.
  • 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.
  • Straw Civilian: The sailors admit to having difficulty understanding or mingling too well with civilians on occasion, and both the second and fourth books involve protest groups arriving to hinder their missions and denounce the military. Deconstructed in the fourth book though, where the protestors (who were trying to prevent an attack on an asteroid inhabited by a religious cult, which just caused the various parties involved to attack early to try and prevent problems their arrival might cause) are multi-layered characters who show some gratitude towards the Navy for rescuing some people when things turned ugly. After they leave, Paul tells Sharpe that he wishes they had waited for those people to arrive and try to mediate the situation, saying they might not have been able to make things better, but they sure couldn't have made things worse and deserved a chance to at least try and resolve the situation peacefully.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Fastow in book three feels like a carbon copy of Alvarez from the first two books; both are malingering drug users who end up before the captain's mast.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Isakov can be nice or dutiful at times but insulting and standoffish at others, which is the main reason she’s not part of Paul’s circle of friends.
  • Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: Carr, when she’s prosecuting Jen (although Jen might disagree, at least until the events of Failure to Obey).
  • Textile Work Is Feminine: Referenced but not shown, Carl expects Jen to start knitting, she and Paul are so domesticated.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock: A New Years tradition involves tossing a fruitcake into space.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: Played with, given the regular rotation of officers. Morraine is the classic definition of a tyrant but her predecessor Garcia was pretty stiff-necked too. Smithee, who takes over a supply officer in the final book, is far less accessible, reasonable and easy-going than Sykes (although by practicing hands off managing he’s not that tyrannical). Kwan, the second executive officer, is an interesting version as he is a bit aloof, demanding and poor tempered but is fairly professional and his predecessor Herderez (while much fairer and smarter) was strict herself.
  • Unable to Cry: Carl Meadows, after learning the destroyed civilian ship was unarmed in A Just Determination.
  • 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.
  • Weasel Coworker: Scott Silver and Sam Yarrow. Silver is a Toxic case of The Slacker and always palming duties off onto others while taking credit for their successes. Yarrow is introduced trying to bait Paul into insulting they're superior just so he can get brownie points for ratting him out and professing disagreement with said insult. And when Paul doesn't fall for the bait, and insult Garcia, Yarrow lies that he did anyway rather than give up on his plan.
  • 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.