on 15 March 2011
I am relatively new to the Sci-Fi genre but this book had me thouroughly immersed in the setting. The book gets you right into the action from the word go and keeps going at pace right until the finalie.
It incorporates enough of the Sci-fi gadgets and futuristic technology that makes the genre what is, while not being burdened with them; The story is still about the characters and the situation they find themselves in rather than a mass of technical gibberish. The story itself has a great deal to offer, not simply in the grandeur of its scope and the impact it has on the characters, but also in the subtle details that leave the reader wondering about things alluded to but not fully explored in this book. Aside from the many carefully detailed references to mythology and hints to the reader about the nature of this literary world that the author has created, there are also so many passages in the book that I can only describe as epic. Starships, motorcycles, guns and warfare used to their full awesome potential resulting in action sequences akin to what we would expect from a hollywood blockbuster.
The main character, an ex-soldier in a futuristic war, is gritty and dark, but with enough personality to have you rooting for him throughout. The rest of the characters are refreshingly original and create an interesting group meaning there's something for everyone.
Finally the plot. Wether a fan of Sci-fi or not the plot raises enough questions and ideas that are relevant to real life that you can't help but feel that there is enough underlying meaning here to keep you and fellow readers discussing the rammifications of the characters choices long after the book is done.
I read this book on the recommendation of a friend and I have to say it's a fairly stunning debut. I certainly can't wait to read more of his work.
on 16 October 2010
Thought this was an enjoyable romp, I read through it in a few days which is always a good sign. It has a touch of the cyberpunk genre which I'm not usually too keen on but this kept my interest throughout. I like my Sci-Fi with a fair bit of violence so the military focus of the book was my sort of thing. I laughed out loud at a couple of points at intentionally funny parts of the dialogue and felt the peppering of humour in the novel was well used.
If you want high cerebral Sci-Fi then this may not be your cup of tea but if you like your Sci-Fi action packed with lot's of dangerous, exotic, characters and guns then this is probably your cup of tea.
My favourite Sci-Fi authors are Neal Asher & Ian Banks, this novel is not like any of theirs but if you like them then like me you should enjoy this.
on 31 July 2011
Veteran is a brilliant debut. The point of view character can be related to easily, but is also, at times, exasperatingly easy to hate. He's a man with flaws, who makes mistakes, and somehow manages to come through the hell that Smith throws at him.
Aside from the lead character the book is brimming with people that you want to know more about. It's a shame, in some respects, that the book is written in the first person at times because I often found myself really wanting to see what was going on with the antagonists, why they were doing what they were doing, and who they really were.
Is the book Military Sci-Fi? I suppose it is, but it borrows a lot more from the Cyberpunk Genre, reworked for a modern audience. Like all great Cyberpunk books I wanted to see the technology working and Smith did a very good job of painting the picture with words. The guns, the mechs, the explosions and space. I was taken there, and I want to go back!
Three centuries from now, the human race has survived a nuclear war and expanded into space, colonising several nearby star systems. During their colonising efforts, humanity has come into contact with 'Them', a powerful and apparently ruthless alien race. War has raged ever since between the two races, a sixty-year cycle of blood and deadlock.
Jakob Douglas is a former British special forces operative dishonourably discharged from the service for organising a mutiny, but still held on the reserve list (thanks to politics). When it appears that an elite alien infiltration unit has breached Earth's defenses and crash-landed near Jakob's home town of Dundee, Jakob's commission is reactivated and he is sent after the creature, triggering a series of events that will have far-reaching consequences for humanity.
Veteran is the debut novel by British author Gavin Smith, and potentially the first in a series (the ending could go either way). This is a fast-paced, action-oriented but sociologically-aware post-apocalyptic, quasi-cyberpunk war story, strongly in the vein of Richard Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs books (Kovacs and Douglas could almost be old war buddies). Veteran, impressively, withstands the Morgan comparison quite well, even if Smith's infectious enthusiasm sometimes overrides his storytelling logic (Earth is simultaneously a technologically-advanced spacefaring world and also a Mad Max-style nuclear wasteland, which seems a bit contradictory). But the book is just so much fun that you don't really end up caring too much that the worldbuilding is a bit shaky in places.
Character-wise, this is a first-person story from Douglas' perspective, and he is a reasonable protagonist, even if the cynical, addictive-personality, ex-soldier with impressive resources is fairly cliche by this point. Douglas has some interesting psychological issues stemming from his background experiences, which are gradually revealed through strategically-placed flashbacks throughout the book, making him a more interesting lead. Some of the other characters are likewise fascinating, such as the psychotically angry embedded combat journalist Mudge; Balor, the egotistical pirate king of New York with a disturbing affinity for sharks; and Rannu, a badass but also ultra-cool elite Gurkha trooper. The female lead, Morag, is also intriguing, although Douglas' feelings of condescending protectiveness towards her does reduce her to something of a cypher in his eyes. This is at least deliberate, and resentment of this fuels Morag's later character development in the book.
On the weaker side, as well as the somewhat inconsistent worldbuilding there is a bit of a Joss Whedon thing going on with the cast of characters getting bigger and bigger as the book proceeds (Smith is ruthless enough to kill a few off, but not as many as you might think) and the focus occasionally dissipates, with some characters vanishing or being present but not contributing anything worthwhile for long periods. There are also a lot of scenes in the second half where the characters sit around debating the plot for long periods rather than getting on with things or giving the reader a bit more credit for being able to figure things out themselves. With another 100 pages or so shaved off the book, it would be much tighter and leaner.
That said, whilst the overall picture of the worldbuilding is confusing, the individual elements such as the Rigs (a city built out of abandoned oil rigs), Crawling Town (a mobile city of motorhomes, caravans and trucks) and the flooded, abandoned New York City are all vividly described, and there's a constant stream of exciting, well-choreographed battles (in the air, on the ground, inside space elevators, underwater, on the surface of asteroids and more) as well as effective reflections on human nature, the military complex and other issues. Smith, in probably his biggest deviation from the Morgan template, also has a wicked sense of humour and some sequences in the book are genuinely hilarious, whilst he has also nailed the team's snappy dialogue and banter quite well.
Veteran (****) is an accomplished and enjoyable debut SF novel. With some better pacing, Smith could easily rise to the big leagues of modern SF authors quite quickly, and I look forward to his next book.
on 5 September 2010
The set-up and introduction of the central character are excellent as is the refreshing start-point location of a future dystopian Dundee. There are some really original ideas and the imagined universe is gritty in a way that reminded me fondly of early Gibson. The alien threat is also imaginatively and originally handled as is the general broken-down Britain which provided some of my favourite scenes of the novel.
Moving further into the book I found the first person narrative a little restrictive as the character was not sufficiently interesting to warrant such a narrative vehicle. He is essentially a small man with a secret encountering a wider universe and the narration could have done so much more by being out of his rather linear head.
The plot moves from location to location in an engaging set-piece fashion yet seems to take a few unnecessary narrative detours that throw the reader off the ride on at least two occasions. The final plot climax and twist is good if a little 2000AD-like in its rapidity and I found myself wishing that the action had constrained itself to Dundee.
I would certainly recommend this book and look forward to the author's future works.
Knowing nothing about this author I decided to buy this, partly because I was told the author is from Dundee and I was in Dundee at the time. In fact the references to Dundee are fleeting, so don't worry if you haven't been to any of the locations described in the book. In this distant future they're pretty much unrecognisable anyway.
A retired and heavily augmented (as most combat troops are) soldier is 'reactivated' to track a 'Them' that has managed to land on Earth somewhere nearby. 'Them' is the name given to the alien race that Earth has been in violent conflict with for 60 years. They are an incredibly violent and single-minded species seemingly intent on obliterating mankind.
Of course nothing is as it first seems and with an increasing collection of very well depicted characters an involved story unfolds and is very well done. There are a large number of action sequences with futuristic weaponry, all very well described. The detail and atmosphere of the battle sequences remind me of the detail found within Iain M Banks novels, but 'grittier' and more personal (no AI battles here - it's all close quarters combat).
The story travels from various Earth locations to deep space and within cyberspace, showing it all with a rich texture. The characters are believable, with their own flaws and eccentricities.
An excellent novel that I could barely put down. I am ordering the sequel straight away.
Other reviews summarise the plot of Veteran well, so I will summarise and say that this is a good debut reminiscent of Neal Asher and Richard Morgan. The setting is evocative and deserved special mention for putting Hull firmly on the SF map. The book loses marks for sometimes reading like a Cyberpunk 2020 adventure and loses focus just before the penultimate battle, when the main character spends several pages having a heater philosophical debate with the villains beofre pulling out his railgun, but overall this is an enjoyable romp with some good ideas. An author to watch.
on 14 October 2011
..or watching Predator I enjoyed reading this but I wish I'd seen my dentist beforehand to protect my teeth against being gritted for so long. A remorseless alien foe, a Gibsonian UK dark backdrop and continuous, relentless violence really takes it out of you, the flashback battle scenes are so inexorable that you are grateful to know that the narrator must have survived to narrate them. I guess that's what the author wanted to achieve and he's good at it - too good. There's an enjoyable straightforward, earthy writing style used in the first person and the hero is surprisingly believable, imperfect, dependent, childish, hopelessly infatuated and even self-deprecating or is that a hint of self-loathing? There are many larger(some literally) than life characters, the sort you would expect a squaddie to know plus one tribute to Hunter S Thompson but the other main characters have some quieter depths and are distinct. Basically this book is one big violent, cynical fight, ciggie and drug-fuelled adventure through the hero's head with some very black humour thrown in. I've bought the next book in the series because otherwise, I keep getting into fights. Try it, just try a little bit, see what it's like, you'll like it, it's not addictive, honest.
on 12 June 2012
This is a great book for those of us who like space opera. The Writer has created a detailed and well thought out universe were the story can play out. It is of course a mix of other well known ideas but with enough unique details of his own to make it interesting. The Characters are also interesting even if we are so caught up in the fighting that we never get to know them all from other aspects. The Writer has also been wise enough not to invent technology that are so advanced that even if it helps the heroes to win their battles we the writers are not left hanging with a lot of question marks concerning how.
When you read the book you ask yourself why the Earth is still divided into nations when we are fighting an interstellar war. And how can a planet in this condition actually support anything like that. But just leave those questions behind and follow the story. It is one big adventure you should not miss.
The book could have been reduced by a few pages since some of the dialogues are a little bit too long but it is not a major problem.
This is obviously the start of a series of books. I have already bought the next one "War in Heaven" and am hooked enough into this story to start reading it right away.
on 16 June 2010
Veteran is the debut novel from Gavin Smith and a book that I heard of earlier in the year, one that quickly made its way on to my list of books that I must read in 2010. What I liked about the blurb was that is had a no-nonsense, straight to the point feel and was laced with hints of what lies within. It's told in the first person and takes no prisoners with its story and characters, but does both aspects very well indeed. Veteran is a novel that could very easily be up in the top few sci-fi debuts this year and one I see making my overall top ten.
Jakob Douglas is our main protagonist, a former special forces soldier that fought Them during the war and is now retired after beingdishonorably discharge for his role in a mutiny. He's reactivated by his old CO, a man he despises, and must track down an alien infiltrator that has managed to make its way to Earth. With the apparent landing near his hometown of Dundee he's the best, and closest, chance of removing the problem. Armed with his newly reactivated weapons andcyber systems, Jakob is no man to mess with, a fact that becomes apparent very quickly indeed. With certain facts coming to light during his mission, Jakob defies his orders and goes on the run, helping what he swore he would fight against and doing so with the help of a few other ex-comrades and soldiers.
The above is a very brief introduction to what Veteran is about, but suffice to say that it isn't just a normal run of the mill action novel. Jakob is great as the protagonist, and as the story is told in the first person we see him for what he is and how he views the world and others. He's a good character to read, an easy one to like, but he has a deeper personality that slowly reveals itself throughout the novel through events in the here and now and some great flash backs to the time when he was a serving soldier on the front line.Morag , the former whore-turning-hacker, is in her late teens and finds herself part of the group that Jakob essentially leads. This allows a relationship to develop between Jakob andMorag, one that often has Jakob trying to relegate her to a helpless female that is tagging along. While this is far from the case it does show an interesting aspect of Jakob, ofMorag in how she deals with it, and the way that situations are affected because of his view. It's not always a comfortable relationship andMorag is a character that doesn't initially come off as being suited to the story, but Smith is able to use difficult characters and difficult relationships well and by the end I wondered why I had even questioned it.
One of Veteran's strong points is the sheer pace of the novel. From early on we go from scene to scene in an all out action packed rush. The fight scenes are suitably realistic, or as realistic ascyber enhanced super soldiers can be, with the hero never having too easy a time of it. This adds to feeling of unease and showing us that not everything always goes right, making us wonder whether or not things will actually work out the way Jakob wants them to. It also means that while the fast paced sections work really well, the slower paced sections stand out because of it. They need to be there and work well to progress the story, to take it above the bog-standard action adventure it could have been and put it up with some of the better sci-fi novels out on the market. There is a story here and it's told well, but I just wondered if the pace could have been a little more even throughout.
To compliment the story there is the backdrop, an Earth 300 years into the future and 60 years into a conflict with Them. What we see is a rough and degenerate world, the set pieces presenting a dire look at life at the bottom of society: a future Dundee where the poor live on the rigs, a flooded New York city that is home to gangs, and Crawling Town, a place that is constantly on the move and made up thousands of individual vehicles. What strikes me is that despite humanity having the ability to reach the stars and colonise planets, we just don't see much of the higher technological society on Earth. It's there, in glimpses and at times later on in the plot, but most of what we see is the bad side of life on Earth. I suppose that is what happens when the story and characters come from such places, and the first person perspective is never usually a strong point for deep and complicated world building, but I would have liked to have seen a little more present.
One of the real pluses about Veteran is the aliens, Them. Humanity have been fighting them for 60 years, but they're still as mysterious now as the day they were first encountered, still fighting to the bitter end against humanity. The story does focus on this and it's a plot thread that is extremely interesting, culminating in some very interesting events and laying the ground work for what is surely going to be a superb sequel.
Veteran is a very good debut indeed, it has characters that are well fleshed out, a story that makes you want to know the outcome and action scenes galore - enough to satisfy any sci-fi action fan. I was reminded very much of Richard Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs books and the Death's Head books of David Gunn, and Smith should be proud to present such an interesting take on a sci-fi action adventure. The ground work laid here is going to go a long way to make its sequel a must read, one that I will be making sure I pick up upon its release.