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Basic plot is a galactic war between two factions, but that's backstory not the focus. The protagonist's side is human, I don't recall the enemy as they weren't really the focus of the story as I remember it. They might have been human as well.

The story starts with the protagonist having already been captured and is being sent to the prison planet, which is only populated by prisoners of war. His identity is kept vague to the reader. He's taken in by the existing prisoners, who have an established hierarchy based on their military rank before capture. I have a memory of forests and maybe tree houses, with that sort of 'wood based' technology, if you see what I mean. But it's vague and I could be mixing this up with another story. I think he is given a bit of a hard time initially, and the prisoners have essentially forgotten about the war. Then at the end of an early chapter it's revealed as a 'twist' that he's actually an Admiral (or some other equally high rank) and is in fact now the highest ranking prisoner on the planet and therefore assumes command. This twist is the thing that stands out most in my mind. He then knocks the prisoners into shape and I think orchestrates an escape and return to the war. I remember it as being reminiscent of WW2 PoW stories like Colditz, but it was a long time ago.

Pretty sure I read this as a paperback in the eighties, or maybe early nineties, and at the time I was reading a lot of second hand books that were written in the 60s and 70s. For the longest time I thought it was a Harry Harrison novel, as I read a lot of his work at that time, but having reviewed his work I can't find it. Might be a short story though as I haven't gone through all the possible collections.

Some additional thoughts. In the early stages where his identity is being kept from the reader, I think the character was quite despondent about being captured. After the reveal I think the dynamic was him being a great military leader, and getting the prisoners to remember they are soldiers and fight back lifts him out of his despondency.

When I talk about wood based tech, I basically mean boy scout type stuff as they don't have proper technology or metal in the prison. Hence tree houses, huts, or something like that.

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    This is an excellent description and a nice first post! Just a note that if you have anything else to add you can always edit your own posts. – TheLethalCarrot Oct 2 at 15:37
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    My first thought is the Vorkosigan story, "Borders of Infinity" (tor.com/2017/06/05/…), but that was a short story, there's no wood-based technology, and part of the issue is that there is no military structure due to how the Cetagandeans have structured things. – FuzzyBoots Oct 2 at 15:52
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    Thanks, I can see the similarities but pretty sure that isn't it. The thing that sticks in my mind most is the reveal that the protagonist is the highest ranking person ever caught, in fact I think he might even have been 'famous' and there was some shock amongst the prisoners when they realise who he is. That doesn't seem to have been a feature of Borders of Infinity from the synopsis. – TPO Oct 2 at 16:01
  • @TPO: No. While Admiral Naismith (also Lord Vorkosigan in his birth persona) was indeed technically an extremely highly-ranked individual (although his rank was self-assigned, long story), he doesn't reveal his identity to the others until near the end of the story. – FuzzyBoots Oct 2 at 16:21
  • This is not the right answer, but a similar book (and an excellent read) is A Planet Called Treason by Orson Scott Card. It is also his first book, I believe. – BlackThorn Oct 3 at 16:11
25

Possibly The Escape Orbit by James White (1965)

Here is a cover from the original 1965 Paperback

original 1965 Paperback

And the 1983 reissue which I remember

enter image description here

Basic plot is a galactic war between two factions

The War is between Humans and chlorine-breathing Bugs.

I have a memory of forests and maybe tree houses, with that sort of 'wood based' technology, if you see what I mean.

The prisoners are given just enough equipment to establish a primitive agrarian way of life

the prisoners have essentially forgotten about the war.

The war has lasted almost a century, and the society on the planet has devolved into 2 factions. "The Civilians" - who have been there a long time and want to forget about the war and move on with colonizing the planet. And "The Committee" - who believes it is the duty of every military person to plot escape. They have been working on a "plan" for many many years, but it just never seemed to be the right time to activate it.

Then at the end of an early chapter it's revealed as a 'twist' that he's actually an Admiral (or some other equally high rank)

The Protagonist is not just another captain, as the other prisoners assumed, but rather a Sector Marshal.

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    This could be it. A quick google says this was called “Open Prison” in the UK, and the cover on Amazon (an oddly coloured lander ship) looks familiar. I thought the title had the word ‘Prison’ in it, and the rank of ‘Sector Marshall’ definitely rings a bell. I’ll get a copy from somewhere and see. Thanks for hopefully solving something that’s been bugging me for years! – TPO Oct 2 at 21:50
  • The “By the author of Star Surgeon” might also explain the association in my mind with Harry Harrison, as I have his book “Spaceship Medic” and for some reason always linked that with this mystery book. – TPO Oct 2 at 21:55
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    Wowza! The non-human on white-background cover of The Escape Orbit at top bears no small resemblance to the the Fithp of Footfall! – Lexible Oct 3 at 4:37
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This reminds me of Revenge of the Damned, one of the Sten series by Alan Cole and Chris Bunch. The story starts in a POW camp on a prison world. The enemy are the Tahn, human but not part of the Empire the Sten serves. Sten was recorded as a prisoner under another name ("Horace" something, don't recall the last name) because his friend Alex had switched his dog tags as their ship lost power and and enemy started to pour in through the many rents in the hull (end of the previous book, Fleet of the Damned). These stories were heavily styled after WWII fictionalizations -- Fleet after the loss of the Philippines near the beginning of the war, and Fate after the German prison camp system, specifically harking back to Colditz.

You have the rest of it -- Sten winds up, not commanding the prisoners in the Colditz analog, but as "Big X", in charge of coordinating all escape attempts, then (because of his background as a spy, as well as all prisoners having been trained in how to be bad prisoners) winds up running a lot of operations from inside the prison before the final escape. These books (nine in the series, as I recall -- don't have my bookshelf where I can see it at the moment) came out in the early to late 1980s, and are well worth rereading (still available in ebook form, at least).

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    Unless it was renamed, the book after "Fleet of the Damned" was "Revenge of the Damned" 8 books in the series, One of my favorite series. But its been years since I last read it. – NJohnny Oct 2 at 18:10
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    You are correct, thanks. I've probably read the series half a dozen times, most recently a few months before I got a Kindle. – Zeiss Ikon Oct 2 at 18:15
2

While it is probably not the book you're looking for due to the year it was released in (1998), Echoes of Honor is the first book that came to my mind.

The protagonist's name is similar to the person you recall as a possible author (Honor Harrington ~ Henry Harrison); the main character (MC)'s death is heavily implied in the first chapters; the prisoners don't immediately recognize the MC's identity; she is revealed to be the highest ranking officer on the prison planet where the majority of the action takes place; and she orchestrates a rebellion and an escape.

There are two factions: the Star Kingdom of Manticore and the People's Republic of Haven. There is, however, no wood weaponry I can recall.

  • This is an informative answer. You could improve it further by adding quotations from Echoes of Honor to back up your statements. If this is the work that is being looked for, it will help TPO to recognize it as well as creating a firm basis for discussion. – Invisible Trihedron Oct 3 at 21:24

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