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on 24 September 2015
I found Mr. Robertson's book selling for £1 at a leading national retailers. Curious, I picked it up and read the blurb. It looked interesting so I risked my pound and gave it a whirl. After reading it, I was astounded as to why it cost so little. I was wonderfully entertained by a universe where an Imperial China battles an Aztec empire both on Earth and in space, whilst orbiting the Fire Star planet (Mars to you and me). This is a fantastic concept and I sure hope that Mr. Robertson expands this universe of the Celestial Empire in future publications.

Set in the year 2052 (Chinese Year 4689), the Celestial Empire sees an Earth dominated by two superpowers; Imperial China and Aztec Mexica. Written from the Chinese perspective, the story focuses on how a jaded renegade space ship captain; Zhuan Jie and a cynical soldier; Yao Guanzhong are chosen to lead a suicide mission against the Mexica Dominion. Both are marked men, having put their own conscience above military orders, and are offered the choice of either an honourable mission or death. So, paired with seven other desperate military criminal types, they set off in a stolen enemy vessel to destroy said enemy's asteroid base (Xolotl) whose orbit of the sun brings it close to the red planet. On the way, we learn more about our anti-heroes, their peccadilloes and previous lives. The unit begins to gel as a military force. By the time of their arrival at Xolotl, they are ready for action, albeit nervously. However, here events take a different turn and our reformed crims experience a case of Mission Creep...

The book is a bit formulaic with some predictable characters and a thinning plot. It's set entirely in space whilst orbiting Fire Star (Mars) with many references to Earth and the surface of Mars set in memory flashback. The villains are a little bit stereotypical, but they're enjoyable characters, Agent Wu in particular (I really wanted one of the characters to punch her in the face at least once!!). I also enjoyed the technological descriptions by the author, who avoids any Star Trek/Star Wars type technology, or situations requiring such technology. Mr. Robertson describes an existence set almost entirely in micro-gravity, using real scientific theories and practices to highlight the times when our characters are not weightless.

But above all, the cultural references are what makes this book worth it!! The Mexica Dominion are a bloodthirsty race, requiring consistent human sacrifice in order to fuel their technology. Their warriors are also well explained and described. The author creates a wonderful image of our Chinese anti-heroes too, as they serve their 'Dragon Throne' masters. This is very readable and enjoyable work. I really found it refreshing to read a sci-fi military thriller that focuses on a world where nether the United States nor the Soviet Union/Russia is involved either saving or destroying the universe. Brave choices to use China and an Aztec Mexico too. Bravo!!

An enjoyable book for any sci-fi enthusiast. This is a brilliant concept and should be expanded wider. I'm waiting, Chris Robertson...
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on 11 March 2009
Unfortunately you can't award zero stars for a book. It started off with a different view compared to the ususal USA conquering space and instead goes with Toltec and Chineese cultures. Then it gets formulaic with characters you can't care about and plot set ups you can see coming for over fifty pages.

We need blood to make the ship go, so guess what will happen next? A supply of blood is given, lost, the ship breaks down and has to be rebooted with blood, so who will donate?

We go to blow up an asteroid, guess what some of our people are being held prisoner there, so should be rescue them?

In the final shootout that is 100 pages too long in coming and dealt with too quickly you can see who will die nobly and who will escape.

The start of the book is overwritten, the end underwritten and the whole is considerably less than the parts. A waste of time and money for anyone over 12. Twenty years ago this wouldn't have been published, and the US SF market seems to be following the TV and film studios with always repeating a 'winning' formula.

I doubt that we will ever see a 21st century Simak, Clarke or Dick ever being published unless they turn out a few books that follow a standard formula. Second hand book shops will probably see a great demand for 20 year old SF if the quality of new work doesn't improve.
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on 30 March 2008
The Dirty Dozen translated into SF and done by the numbers. By the time the miscreant band were packed on their space ship and off on their suicide mission, and we then started one-by-one working through their back stories I just wanted it over. And then I realised I didn't actually have to read it - I could just throw it in the bin - and I did. Avoid.
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on 3 September 2008
You start reading with optimism - looks like classic space opera with plenty of techy stuff. After 65 pages its still grinding through intro, by page 200 you are bored and feel insulted - does the author really thing you are so stupid to not recognise the plot has been lifted from elsewhere?

Characters are 'dirty dozen' (complete with flashbacks explaining their background) without the charisma of lee van-cleef etc. Mixed with the 'destoy the death star' plot from star wars. The author must have liked watching 'apocalypto' cos theres some aztec stuff as well.

On the cover Michael Moorcock descibes the writer as 'talented' !?!believe me - this guy is unoriginal, a dull writer, and displays a lack of understanding of the most basic of physics (or martial arts).

Instead - Get 'Downbelow station' by C.J. Cherryh. Much, much better.
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