It's hard to believe that this trilogy was started back in the 80's when you get into it - it feels so up-to-date. I've read over a dozen other works by Zahn, but was still surprised by how much I enjoyed this trilogy. I couldn't put it down once I started, and the 800+ pages flew by. I especially liked the way that Zahn changes the pace and setting within each book several times, as well as from book to book, and the plot never quite goes where you expect it. The only down side with this particular volume is the sheer...er..volume of it, as it's quite a chunky book and not exactly pocket-size. However, if you like Zahn, you will like this for sure!
As a big fan of Timothy Zahn's books, I was eager to read this book. I didn't think that it was his best work (hence only 4 stars), but once I'd started reading it, I was hooked. The plot took us through several generations of Cobras (cyberneticly enhanced humans), trying to survive on a variety of planets, each with it's own alien wildlife, interacting with intelligent races with their own agenda in mind.
This edition brings together the first three books, written in the eighties, in a military SF series about the cybernetically and biomechanically-enhanced "Cobra" soldiers. It is the first of two trilogies about the Cobras written a quarter of a century apart.
The first trilogy consists of:
1) Cobra, published 1985, story begins in 2403 2) Cobra Strike" published 1986, set a generation later 3) Cobra Bargain published 1988, set another generation on in 2474.
Much more recently Zahn has revisited these stories to produce a second set of three books known as the "Cobra War" trilogy, which is set another generation later (the heroine of "Cobra Bargain" is the mother of one of the main characters in the Cobra War books). This second trilogy consists of
"Cobra" and "Cobra Strike" were published together in one volume as "Cobras Two."
As this series begins at the start of "Cobra," some four hundred years in the future and many light years away on the frontier of human space, a group of human colony worlds are under attack from an aggressive alien race known as the Troft. The first planet they attacked was over-run in only three weeks. In a desperate attempt to stop the invaders, the Dominion of Man creates the enhanced "Cobra" guerillas: the name stands for COmputerised Body Reflex Armament.
The Cobras are indistinguishable from a normal human from the outside, but with a whole host of computer-controlled weaponry and enhancements built into their bodies and their very bones. These soldiers are deadly in combat but the process of turning a normal human into a Cobra is irreversible - which means that those who survive the war will have all manner of problems returning to civilian life afterwards. The novels examine some of the personal and social consequences of turning people into supermen - have they given up their own humanity to save humankind?
Each of the three novels which make up this first trilogy tells the story of a generation of the Moreau family who serve Aventine both as Cobra soldiers and as political leaders.
The first book tells the story of Jonny Moreau who was one of the first generation of Cobra solders from the time he joins the Cobras as a young recruit just after the war with the Troft to an agonising political choice which confronts his thirty years later as a senior politician.
"Cobra Strike" begins a few years after the conclusion of "Cobra" and continues the story both of the world of Aventine and of the next generation of the Moreau family. The main character of this one is Jonny Moreau's son Justin, who follows him into the Cobras, and one of the supporting characters is his older son Corwin, who follows him into Aventine politics. During that book an astonishing request comes from the alien Troft, who the Cobras were originally brought into existence to fight. They ask the Cobras to assist them in dealing with a world called Quasama which they claim poses a threat to Troft and humans alike - and they offer Aventine a hugely valuable payment - no less than five new worlds - if the Cobras could deal with that threat.
The offer seems too good to be true: is that because that's precisely what it is?
Cobra Bargain is set another generation later - the back cover of my copy of the original separately published edition says that it is set in 2474. I can't find this date in the actual text, but it is consistent with the chronology of the series. Corwin Moreau is now a governor of Aventine: the heroine of the book is his niece Jasmine or Jin, who is the daughter of Justin Moreau and determined to follow her father and grandfather into the Cobras.
At first there is enormous opposition to making a woman into a Cobra, but then the need arises for a dangerous mission to the world of Quasama (the world which her father visited in the previous book.) Because Jin is one of the very few people on Aventine who has mastered the difficult Quasaman language, the Aventine authorities reluctantly allow her to become the first female Cobra.
But when she arrives on Quasama, the mission begins to go wrong almost immediately ...
This three novels in the original "Cobra" trilogy are reasonably well-written, entertaining, and exciting. However, having been published in the eighties during the early days of Timothy Zahn's writing career, I don't personally feel that they are in the same league as the best of the brilliant novels which he has produced over the following decades.
If you read the first three Cobra novels expecting anything like "Warhorse," "Deadman Switch, "The Icarus Hunt" or any of the "Grand Admiral Thrawn" books set in the "Star Wars" universe, you may be disappointed.
Nevertheless if you are into Military SF it is extremely likely that you will enjoy this trilogy, and you will also find that some of the ideas in these books appear to have inspired a number of more recent books by other popular SF writers.
The Cobra Trilogy is an epic piece of work, not only in size but also in scope. It leads the reader through multiple generations of Moreau family, visiting many planets and introducing dozens of characters who participate in the story as it develops, sometimes from one generation to the next. In classic Zahn style, even the smallest detail can later be instrumental to the plot, and the need for Deus ex Machina rarely if ever rises it's ugly head.
Despite the first of the three books being quilty in jumping a lot from place to place, the reader rarely feels like he's missed something vital. Fortunately, this jumping virtually ceases by the second book, and is only used to skip the long, unimportant periods of mundanity so that the reader can quickly reach the next key event.
In a very smart marketing move back in 2004, Baen gathered together this fine series of books and put them into an omnibus edition. This is the first time I've actually encountered Timothy Zahn's writing - although I'd heard plenty about him, but hadn't been in any real hurry to pick up one of his books as I have only a limited enthusiasm for shoot `em up military action science fiction. However I now realise that I was seriously selling Zahn short - his work is far more than that...
The colony worlds Adirondack and Silvern fell to the Troft forces almost without a struggle. Outnumbered and on the defensive, Earth made a desperate decision. It would attack the aliens not from space, but on the ground - with forces the Trofts did not even suspect. Thus were created the Cobras, a guerrilla force whose weapons were surgically implanted, invisible to the unsuspecting eye, yet undeniably deadly. But power brings temptation... and not all the Cobras could be trusted to fight for Earth alone. Jonny Moreau would learn the uses - and abuses - of his special abilities, and what it truly meant to be a Cobra.
It sounds like just one more super-soldier adventure with warfare the staple and the protagonist spending his days dealing with a deadly enemy and corrupt officialdom on his own side... But it isn't. Oh, there's plenty of action, alright. Written with plenty of verve and tension - but the book quickly shoots off into another direction, exploring the far more intriguing political and social aspects of having a bunch of surgically enhanced fighters within a community. While they may be capable of saving a planet from a deadly alien invasion - what happens when the threat goes away and the majority of your force has survived the war?
This is just one of the questions Zahn's enjoyable action-filled series raises - and for my money this is science fiction at its best. Layered in amongst the various adventures are a number of gnarly issues for readers to consider if they wish. Issues such as right versus might; at what stage does one society with superior technology intervene in the affairs of another planet to prevent a perceived threat? How far should a soldier follow orders?
Baen were spot on in republishing this series, as Zahn's writing style and general tone hasn't dated although this series was originally released back in the 1980's. His unfussy style manages to keep the action rolling forward through multiple viewpoints, avoiding the chunks of info-dumping so often prevalent with this sub-genre. It takes a lot of skill to set a storyline spanning several worlds while following a family down three generations as they grapple with another Cobra-related problem, without resorting to several pages of background information in omniscient viewpoint. Some of my favourite authors can't do it - but Zahn can.
I now realise why Timothy Zahn's name still regularly comes up when fans discuss their favourite all-time reads - and I'll be looking out for more of his work. While I don't generally subscribe to the view that the golden age of science fiction writing occurred during the last century - there are too many fine contemporary authors producing excellent work for me to get dewy-eyed about past glories - I'm perfectly willing to add a few books from times past to the pile of books-to-read teetering beside my bed and this trilogy is certainly up there as one of my favourite reads of the year, so far... 10/10
I first read these books over 15 years ago and am pleaseed to say that they continue to please picked it up for a bargain and I am thoroughly enjoying rereading them again. Would recommend to any lover of Sci-Fi.