Top positive review
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Entertaining, even if not entirely original
on 10 November 2014
As others have noticed, this book contains various themes that can be found in previous pieces of military science fiction and that are pulled together here. The themes are inspired by the works of other military sci-fi authors, such as Robert Heinlen, Joe Haldeman and John Scalzi, which are explicitly listed in the book’s commercial blurb, but there are others as well. One scene (the battle of Detroit) is even inspired by Black Hawk Down and the battle in the streets of Mogadishu. For those who have read these books, you may get the impression that this one is bit of a “pot pourri” at times, with lots of ingredients thrown in and mixed up. To be fair, however, the mix works out pretty well, most of the time and there are some interesting comparisons to make, with Marlo Kloos’ universe of the “welfare rats” being much grimmer than the original that inspired it. Nevertheless, at times, the book may seem to border on the caricature.
You get the theme of over-populated and largely polluted Earth, with the “North American Commonwealth” (the NAC, a substitute for the countries that actually belong to the Alena treaty: Canada, the United States and Mexico) alone packing a population of three million and the whole planet an (implausible?) thirty billion. The population is divided between those that have jobs and earn a living for themselves and the “welfare rats” living in crime-ridden and crumbling welfare tenements and receiving two thousand calories of tasteless processed food a day. Our hero, one Andrew Grayson, is one of these second-class citizens and comes from one of these depressed neighbourhoods in Boston. His only way out, since winning win the lottery by drawing a ticket for a colony ship settling off-world is a pipedream, is to join the armed forces, and its supposed privileges.
This where the theme of the brave, loyal and dutiful “grunts” and their NCOs, all of which are let down by their mostly scheming and/or incompetent officers, except, of course, those which have risen from the ranks. They are the “silent heroes” who get handed hopeless jobs and, at best, token rewards for having accomplished them against all odds or used as scapegoats by “pencil-pusher” officers when something goes wrong and there is “bad PR” as a result.
You also have the theme of the space colonies on painstakingly terraformed planets. Here again, the interpretation is a rather grim one. It costs a fortune and takes decades to make each planet habitable. It also costs a fortune to transport people in space and populate the planets and cryogenisation does not seem to be on the cards in this series. The point here is that, far from alleviating Earth’s over-population issue, the colonies are one of the major drains on the resources of the major powers, and on the NAC’s in particular.
A fourth theme is that of human pan-continental states waging a kind of “tepid war”, neither really “cold”, because they go up against each other and attack each other’s space colonies, nor “hot” because the conflict does not erupt into full blown (nuclear) war on Earth. The conflict has been opposing the NAC and the Sino-Russian Alliance for the last half century, and it is a second source of government spending expenses, with the welfare spending being the third.
A fifth theme is the arrival of unknown, near invincible and all-conquering aliens also looking for new “real estate”. Apart from their appearance, which is deliberately at odds with their advanced technologies but which I will refrain from describing in order to avoid spoilers, they are deliberately shown as inhuman. They are neither “nasty” nor “nice” aliens. They just come in huge seed ships and take over the new colonies one by one, filling them up with carbon dioxide, destroying the human settlers directly if they resist and making the planets simply inhabitable to mankind.
The main value of this book for me was that the story was entertaining, exciting and easy to read, even if quite predictable. The “military action” is rather good, even if the characterisation does include a number of stereotypes (the “no messing” Sergeant Fallon, in particular). As long as you do not start probing too much and wondering to what extent any of it could really happen in a century or so (the action takes place from 2108 onwards), you will spend a few pleasant hours, or at least I hope you will. I did and this is my reason for rating this book four perhaps generous stars.