The start of a long series about a long retreat – Xenophon in space – is written by a former Navy officer. Vexingly, the novel focuses exclusively on the fleet admiral who is thrust into command after a disastrous battle and who rises to every challenge. Each challenge is described in advance in tedious internal dialog, and then discussed afterward in councils of war, in discussion with the flagship’s perfect Captain, and in further discussion with a civilian co-president who conveniently asks questions that any starship officer would know but that we, naturally, do not. The author is very interested in the details of ship handling but sometimes loses his grip on special relativity. Worse, his fleets are unreasonably huge and contain a host of ships – destroyers, light and heavy cruisers, battle cruisers and battleships – all of which seem to have the same weapons complement. This makes no sense. When not preaching, though, the book is entertaining and does manage a clever and (I think) fresh First Contact moment when an officer finds a looted safe in an abandoned enemy base and observes that the safe-cracker used a drill bit that was neither English nor Metric. In those non-standard drill holes echo the horns of elfland.