I can't reproduce the quote now, but I once read a statement that went something like: "Tragedy is not good versus evil; tragedy is good versus good, and everyone suffers."
This truly is a tragic story: two sides are opposed, yet neither really has evil intent. The U.N. is acting out of manifest insecurity issues. The Caenans want to be left alone for the most part, but their political leadership is prideful and belligerent. Neither side has adequate information from which to make good decisions. Captain Hersch and his forces are caught in the middle, with inadequate military intelligence about the Caenans' capabilities, and a lack of resources which would allow him to subdue the Caenans without resorting to annihilation. His pacifist sensibilities are offended when it becomes clear that the U.N. has no wish for a peaceful resolution.
The ironic subsequent destruction results from a series of actions that couldn't have been foreseen and couldn't be stopped once they were set in motion.
This was a very well thought out story, and the prose moves with a somber, majestic rhythm through most of it. The battle scenes could have perhaps been a little quicker. Setting, characterization, and dialog are all very strong and seamlessly support the excellent plot. The human element was especially sensitive and well-presented throughout.
The final scene stands out from the rest of the story as being a little bit surreal, but it doesn't take anything away from the overall effect, and in fact provides a satisfying emotional resolution to the story.
It did strike me as a little odd that the U.N. managed to become the governing authority in this imagined future, but stranger things have happened.
I found a problem with continuity:
The problem being that Leonidas wasn't on that ship; she was unconscious on the hangar deck. I understand that Mr. Ferguson wanted to conceal that information, but the solution is a fairly easy matter of omitting Leonidas' name. The reader won't notice."Eagle eleven has entered Caenan atmosphere," the scanner officer announced solemnly, her eyes riveted to her displays. Running on one engine, and struggling with the sizable nuclear missile under its belly, Leonidas was taking Eagle eleven on its one way mission to the Caenan city of Gudyermes. Eagle eleven was barely in condition to fly; with the nuclear missile attached to its belly, it wouldn't be able to pull away from the planet's gravity unless Leonidas disarmed and dropped the missile. The communication systems were damaged as well, although Leonidas could hear messages from Ishtar, she could only respond with bursts of static in Morse code.
Altogether, an exceptionally good job, and I'd like to see more from Mr. Ferguson.