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Literature / The Helmsman Saga

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The Helmsman Saga is a Space Opera series by Bill Baldwin. Essentially a WWII Recycled In Space, it tells the story of Wilf Ansor Brim, an officer from Carescria, a poor and despised province of the Galactic Empire, fighting his way through two galactic wars between his Empire and the League of Dark Stars.

Started in 1985, seven books have been released by 1996. Then, after 15 years (and several years of constant promises), the eighth book was released in December 2011. Also, the other books have been retconned to fix a few inconsistencies and loose ends. Unfortunately, the last couple of those were a visibly rash job, and in 2015, the author died before he could finish the series

  • The Helmsman (1985)
  • Galactic Convoy (1987)
  • The Trophy (1990)
  • The Mercenaries (1991)
  • The Defenders (1992)
  • The Siege (1994)
  • The Defiance (1996)
  • "Last Ship to Haefdon" (2002)
  • The Turning Tide (2011)

The series contain examples of:

  • All for Nothing: Brim's beloved, Margot, having to marry another ruler in order to keep his domain as an ally of the Empire. As soon as the League is on the offensive, the husband joins them with no regard for the marriage.
  • All There in the Manual: There was a glossary and list of units on the Author's website. Some of the books have it at the end.
  • Almighty Janitor: The Siege has a chauffeur being completely unimpressed with Brim's rank - he is a Rear Admiral, and the chauffeur sees enough of them every day. But when he learns Brim's adjutant is Utrillo Barbousse, the highest-ranking Petty Officer in the Fleet...
  • Arms Dealer: Lixor is an entire planet, an Expy of Switzerland.
  • Arranged Marriage: Margot and Rogan LaKarn. It doesn't work out.
  • Assassin Outclassin': An interesting case. An assassin sent to kill Wilf cannot carry out the job because she owes him a life debt, and he accumulates new ones faster than she can repay. And the assassin's code demands that if she can't kill him, she must kill the one who ordered the hit. She does.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: In the first book, Wilf is among a team captured by a League ship. He escapes, manages to kill an officer and steal his clothes. Then he uses his supposed rank to get into the engine room and disable the reactor. He's pretty far along by the time anyone starts suspecting.
  • Bears Are Bad News: The Expy of Russia is inhabited with large bipedal bears.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: In The Defenders, Wilf is stranded on a League planet along with three people. One of them is the Emperor. He states right away that Emperors cannot fall captive, and makes the others swear they'll kill him first.
  • Breaking the Glass Ceiling: The protagonist is the first Carescian to finish the Helmsman Academy by virtue of the Lowered Recruiting Standards law.
  • BFG: The Hador-Haelic space forts have guns which are hundreds of feet long.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": All the time. Alien pigeons, cats, horses...
  • Chekhov's Skill: Wilf's knowledge of the League language is used a lot.
  • Chosen Conception Partner: The ending of Mercenaries reveals that a woman Wilf had a one night stand with made a spur-of-the-moment decision to bear his daughter.
  • Cultured Warrior: Wilf knows a lot of poetry.
  • Dirty Coward: Puvis Amherst. And he leads an entire organization of these.
  • Distant Finale: "Last Ship to Haefdon", a short story taking place half a century after the novels.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: In the first book, after his friends are taken prisoners on an enemy ship, Brim kills an officer and uses his uniform to sneak in and disable the ship's engines. It helps he known the enemy language.
  • Earth All Along: The first books seem to imply the series are set in distant future, but Turning Tide has Wilf's escape pod land on Earth in December 1965.
  • E.T. Gave Us Wi-Fi: At least three races were given the final push toward interstellar travel by interstellar Escape Pods. In the eighth book, a pod is left on Earth - deliberately.
  • False Flag Operation: The League captures a Fluvannian cruiser and use it to attack one of their liners to have an excuse for war.
  • Fantastic Drug: Timeweed. Its use is mandatory for all higher League officials.
  • Fantastic Racism: The League hunts the Bears for their pelts. Wilf himself deals with it a lot in the Empire because of his birthplace - although it gets better over time.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: The third book starts with Brim flying an old cargo ship which breaks down right before landing. After that, he finds a job as a menial aboard a starship, then jumps ship to become a construction worker upon another planet. Then, an old friend sees Brim and finally convinces him to take up a job more deserving of his talents.
  • First Girl Wins: Margot managed to worm back into the story and Wilf's heart no matter what.
  • Future Society, Present Values: In Mercenaries, Wilf is amazed by the fact that a woman has a completely shaved pubic area. Back in 1991, it might have been unusual (and served to emphasize the fact she is from an exotic culture). By the time Baldwin published the rewrite... well, there is no such scene there.
  • General Failure: Megan Trafford. She has a very rich daddy.
  • Genius Ditz: Covall the Wraith, a savant who's good in business, but can't even take care of himself otherwise.
  • Glorious Mother Russia: Sodeskaya, an empire of a race of bipedal bears wearing papakhas, mostly living on frozen planets and inhabiting one sixth of the galaxy.
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: There are at least four examples. One is clear Good Adultery (Margo). The rest... well, not so clear.
  • Government Drug Enforcement: All of the League State Sec are addicted to timeweed from childhood.
  • Honey Trap: The Trophy and The Mercenaries each have a case. The first time, Wilf is warned, the second time, it's a bit worse. The retconned versions add a third example
  • I Can't Dance: Wilf has a lot of problem with that. He does tend to warn his partners in advance.
  • Insurance Fraud: In The Turning Tide, it turns out some businessmen tend to exaggerate the worth of cargo aboard their transports, and then leak out the convoy routes to the enemy.
  • Invisibility Cloak: Bender ships.
  • I Owe You My Life: The Turning Tide has an assassin fail to kill Brim due to a life debt forbidding that.
  • Long-Runner Tech Marches On: Book 5 - Wilf has a paging unit as a senior officer. Book 7 - Wilf has a mobile phone. Book 8 - he sends SMS messages.
  • Lost Superweapon: The Hador-Haelic space forts. They are well remembered and in plain sight, actually, and still in pristine condition after thousands of years... it's just that no one remembers how to power the guns up.
  • Lowered Recruiting Standards: Before the First Galactic War, only nobles were accepted into the Helmsman Academy. Wilf is from the first batch of commoners to be allowed in due to the combat losses.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Subverted; while Brim thinks how to tell his four year old daughter he's her real father, it turns out enough hints have been dropped for her to figure it out already.
  • Mexican Standoff: Defenders feature one with starships over a transport bearing Brim and some Imperials.
  • Mistaken for Servant: Happens to Brim is Siege. He is later introduced officially to the woman who made the mistake. Fortunately, they both take it in good humor.
  • Neutral in Name Only: The CIGA (Congress for Intra-Galactic Accord) are officially an organization intended to prevent another war between the Galactic Empire and the League. In reality, they are largely League agents tasked with effectively dismantling the Empire's military.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Averted. At least, emergency rations state which races they are good for.
  • No OSHA Compliance: In book 3, it is mentioned being a menial on a civilian ship is risky - during a takeoff, they aren't given time to strap in. Somewhat averted in other cases - when Brim attempts to disable an enemy ship's engine while disguised as an enemy officer (using a blaster rifle), for example, he knows one of the options will fry him, but the engine will shut down before it will damage the ship.
  • Old Flame: Margot. And Claudia, to an extent.
  • Ramming Always Works: In the Mercenaries rewrite, that's how they take out the League space fort.
  • Really Gets Around: After book 7, Wilf has a lot of one night stands - nothing to do.
  • Recycled In Space: Even the figures of combatants for individual battles are taken from World War 2.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: The first thing the League does on conquered planets is destroying their collaborators.
  • Rock Beats Laser: An interesting example in the Galactic Convoy. A city constantly suffers from airstrikes which no one sees. Now, it is known that the League has invisible ships, but no one understands how they make their weapon fire invisible. It's not until Brim actually sees it that they realize that the Leaguers are simply dropping bombs.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Margot and Onrad. The former is a spy in the first book the latter is a very capable fleet commandsr
  • Shoot the Hostage: Well, not shooting, but threatening to shoot works nicely on the League, because they believe Brim when he says the hostage will be executed anyway for failure and they only need to recover the expensive equipment.
  • Shout-Out: Captain Verger Antillies, a space station which must be taken out by a torpedo attack which gets right to the reactor, a planet named Throon...
  • Standard Sci-Fi Fleet: No Battlestars or carriers (at least yet), but everything else seems to be present. Fighters have been retconned in with the new rewrites. The last book does have the heroes visiting an Earth carrier, perhaps it was intended they pick up the idea.
  • Superweapon Surprise: The Hador-Haelic space forts activate right in the middle of a major combat.
  • Tank Goodness: The series are mostly space-based, but books 1 and 6 contain a bit of tank fighting.
  • Telepathic Spacemen: Nadia Tissuard. And a lot of people on her planet.
  • The Empire: The League.
  • This Is Reality: In book one, Wilf Brim has a last stand against three League ships, and muses that Big Damn Heroes only arrive in time in books.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: The League.
  • Uncoffee: Cvcesse'.
  • We Will Have Perfect Health in the Future: At least parasitic diseases have been exterminated.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Anna Romanoff is the most noticeable example. The author eventually retconned that in the newer edition.
  • Winged Humanoids: A'zurnians. The Leaguers break the wings in half - roofed concentration camps are too expensive.
  • Worthy Opponent: Both Wilf and Kirsh treat the other that way.
  • You Need to Get Laid: Stated explicitely by Brim's First Officer in Mercenaries. She is really sorry - they both are - that the protocol stops her from helping out in that regard.
  • You Are in Command Now: In the first book, Brim has to do it all the time. Either the commander has been captured, a Dirty Coward, or away overseeing some trade negotiations (those are three different commanders).

Alternative Title(s): Helmsman Saga