REVIEW SUMMARY: Cool tech and interesting social progression don't make up for utter lack of character depth.
MY RATING: Three Stars
SYNOPSIS: When the alien Qesh invade the planet of Bloodworld the Commonwealth Marines must fly to the rescue. Elliot Carlyle is a Navy Corpsmen on the front lines of this interstellar conflict, attending to wounded marines in the face of enemy fire.
BOTTOM LINE: As Douglas has proven in past novels, he knows his military science fiction. With Star Corpsman: Bloodstar he gives honor to Navy Corpsmen, unsung heroes of warfare. Unfortunately the plot and characters are not quite as utilized as his technical knowledge.
Elliot "e-Car" Carlyle is nearing the end of his training as a Navy Corpsmen for the Commonwealth Fleet Marine Force when alien activity is spotted near the planet of Bloodworld. Orders come down from on high and Bravo Company, the Black Wizards, deploy to investigate. What they arrive to find poses more questions than answers. Bloodworld was founded by technophobic religious fanatics and their loyalties are questionable. Have the Salvationists been conquered? Or have the luddites allied themselves with the Imperial Qesh? One thing is certain, the Qesh are inching ever closer to Earth and the very fate of humanity may rest on the shoulders of Carlyle and the Black Wizards.
William H. Keith Jr. has written a ridiculous amount of novels in his time. Under the pseudonym of Ian Douglas he has written the Heritage, Legacy, and Inheritance trilogies of the Galactic Marines series. Most recently he penned the Star Carrier series as Douglas and this is what first drew me to him. Douglas has a special connection with the Armed Forces, having served during the Vietnam War. It is his attention to scientific detail that makes his work so appealing. A lot of science fiction books could be more accurately described as space opera. Science fiction implies that there is legitimate science at work within the story. It is a lot easier to write a space-oriented novel and forsake the technological details than to perform research and speculate about the future. Douglas knows soldiers but he also knows science.
The science of Star Corpsman: Bloodstar is heavily concentrated in the field of battlefield medicine. Douglas shines light on the majorly overlooked position of corpsmen and medics. Consider this, soldiers get wounded all the time in military sci-fi but how often do the brave men and women who render them care get any recognition? Battlefield medicine has evolved a lot over the years but saving lives is still an uphill battle. You know what they say, "War...war never changes." Nanotechnology has completely changed nearly every facet of life and that applies doubly for trauma care. Carlyle attends to his charges with vials of nanobots, but treatment isn't as simple as injecting the meds and letting the 'bots do all the work. There are still countless things that can go wrong in a damaged human body and nanobots must be specifically programmed to deal with individual problems. Douglas should be commended for not using nanobots as a cure-all to humanities woes. Used responsibly and intelligently they can mean the difference between life and death but they also can be abused for other purposes. There is a lot of medical terminology in Star Corpsman: Bloodstar and Douglas speculates as much about the potential of medicine as he does about the future of war.
The 'bots aren't the only cool tech to be found in Star Corpsman: Bloodstar. Fans of military science fiction love the weapons, vehicles, and gear (or at least I do) and Douglas does not disappoint. There is combat power armor - with jetpacks, 5 megajoule laser rifles, plasma cannons, orbital insertion craft, and giant spaceships that can reduce entire planets to molten crust. There isn't anything super original to separate Star Corpsman: Bloodstar from other military science fiction but Douglas adds the detail necessary to make it seem like a plausible and logical extension of modern technology.
What does separate Star Corpsman: Bloodstar from other military sci-fi is the setting. The galaxy is densely populated, has been for sometime now, and humans are an insignificant blip on the radar. This isn't a new premise but I love the idea of humans hiding on the fringes, eavesdropping on the galactic equivalent of the Internet, watching the collapse of an empire and hoping to avoid detection. Humans have access to the Encyclopedia Galactica, a network of accumulated knowledge that spans the entire galaxy. The problem is that it is not complete. There is a lot of missing and outdated information, leaving the Commonwealth to hypothesize a lot. Bloodworld is another fascinating component of the setting. Hellish planets inhabited by hardy frontiersmen are nothing new but Douglas explains the characteristics that result in such an environment. Bloodworld isn't hell solely for the purpose of the story. It is hell because of where it is and how it interacts with the stellar conditions around it.
It's a shame that Douglas does not apply the same effort to characters and plot that he does to setting and science. Elliot Carlyle is a decent enough guy but he exhibits the same level of personality as a wet cardboard box. Carlyle is efficient in his duties as a corpsman but it was difficult to find a reason to care about him. He is a team player, he frequently acts with bravery and valor. He is badly affected by the death of a girlfriend that he was unable to prevent. By all means he should be likable but he fails to develop as anything more than a vehicle for the plot. If Carlyle is flat then his fellow corpsmen and marines are nonexistent. The characters all behave as one would expect but there is no personality that could be attributed to any one. The plot is as limp as e-Car. What starts off as a routine recon mission ends with a routine counter-invasion. The fanatical Salvationists were probably meant to add some complexity to an otherwise straightforward tale but that angle fails to develop as well. The Salvationists are caricatures of religious cultists and act as such. No shocker there.
Despite a weak plot and weaker characters I do anticipate the next book in the Star Corpsman series. There are possibilities I would love to explore, and Douglas really knows the nuts and bolts of science fiction. The story itself might not be the most gripping of adventures but all the speculation on religion, death, technology, sex, and intergalactic warfare is adequate compensation. If you need a military sci-fi fix then by all means pick up Star Corpsman: Bloodstar. You could do a hell of a lot worse.