REVIEW: Sixteenth Watch by Myke Cole

4/5 stars — Cole brings niche expertise to a novel with broad sci-fi appeal

The older I get, the more I appreciate media focused on female characters in middle age and beyond. Sixteenth Watch protagonist Jane Oliver is a Coast Guard commander in her fifties, and her storyline grapples with topics like processing grief and managing PTSD against the backdrop of a singular plot: training a team to win a quasi-military reality show in space.

Of course, events move in an unexpected direction as tensions between various factions both foreign and friendly ratchet to the breaking point, and Oliver and her crew end up embroiled in what could be the beginnings of war. One of my favorite aspects of the story was the emphasis on members of the military seeking to deescalate conflict rather than meet violence with increasing violence.

My only real quibble with Sixteenth Watch, and the reason I gave it four stars instead of five, was that I felt the pacing in the second half of the book was rushed. At just over three hundred pages, this is a relatively short novel; I think it could’ve done with more room to expand upon the “reality show in space” aspect of the plot even though that rightly ended up pushed to the side as the story became more serious and the stakes higher toward the end. I also disliked how one fairly significant detail (the fate of Oliver’s daughter) was left unresolved. After everything Oliver went through in the story, I felt she deserved a more complete resolution one way or the other.

In every other regard, this book blew me away. With its snappy dialogue and colorful characters, plus the unexpected escalation of the danger level and what that did for the shape of the story, Sixteenth Watch captured my imagination and held my attention. Here are a few additional bits and pieces that stood out to me

  • one of the coolest concepts for a title I’ve ever come across. From the book’s glossary: “16th Watch — a colloquial term to refer to any military duty anywhere in space. It refers to the 16 sunrises seen on the old International Space Station (ISS) in a single earth day.”

  • Jane Oliver being consistently, heartbreakingly relatable: “She would be happy for the happiness of others, and if she couldn’t feel it, then she would damn well fake it.”

  • the USS Obama as the flagship of the Navy in space

  • the rivalry-plus-romantic-tension situation with an officer of similar rank from a different military branch. They had such good chemistry! “She could feel Fraser’s presence like the heat of a close fire…”

  • detailed worldbuilding, down to being able to differentiate new structures from old ones because their materials were still shiny

I enjoyed Sixteenth Watch even more than I expected and recommend it highly to fans of military sci-fi. It will likely appeal to readers who enjoyed the Honor Harrington series by David Weber. I’m excited to move on to Cole’s fantasy series next!

Content warnings: death of a loved one, depictions of PTSD and severe grief, war-typical gore/violence/death, brief scene related to suicide