reviewed by Zeke Teflon
War Dogs is the first book in Greg Bear’s brand new military sci-fi series. It’s a mixed bag. On the positive side, the military action is very well described. And there’s a lot of it. Bear also does a fine job of describing the sheer misery of a soldier’s life, and the terror, callousness, boredom, and resignation it entails.
On the negative side, the writing style is hard to take; it’s seemingly the mutant literary offspring of an unholy union of Ernest Hemingway and Mike Hammer.
Sentences are short. Sentence fragments. Very simple vocabulary. Dropped pronouns. All over the place. Cringe-inducing jargon: “sparkly” (weapons fire in space); “Skyrines” (Marines in space); “the Red” (rather than Mars). This quickly becomes monotonous. Tedious.
I’m exaggerating, but only slightly. Here’s a paragraph from pages 15/16:
“‘Nothing here worth staying for,’ Kazak agrees. ‘Terrible place for a fight–no high ground, almost no terrain. Where are we, fucking Hellas? Why drop us in the middle of nothing?”
But one can become inured to almost anything, even this writing style. A few dozen pages in, it fades into the background, and one can focus on the confusing tale.
And it is confusing. It leaves questions galore unanswered, starting with the initial premise: A small number of emissaries from an advanced civilization (“Gurus”) arrive on Earth and begin handing out scientific and technological goodies, with the provisos that they be shared among nations, and that (yes) humans stop saying “fuck” on Earth and use euphemisms instead–and they do it! Once Earth is hooked on those goodies, the Gurus reveal that they need Earth to supply combat troops to fight a proxy war against their enemies (“Antags”)–on Mars! But why there? Why would the Antags invade dry, desolate Mars rather than Earth? This is one of the many unanswered questions War Dogs raises.
Others include, why would advanced civilizations capable of interstellar travel–in a galaxy teeming with habitable planets (as the Kepler observatory-satellite revealed)–even bother with Earth or Mars? Why would the combat be between humans and Antags rather than, at least primarily, machines? (Bear has one of his characters ask this in the text, so he’ll probably answer it eventually.) What are the strategic objectives of both the humans and Antags beyond simply killing each other? There’s no answer to this one either, not even on the macro scale. As a result, the combat scenes and situations Bear describes take place in a strategic vacuum, leaving the reader perpetually floating untethered in space. And finally, why wouldn’t the Antags just slam Earth with a comet or asteroid to take it out of the war? (Bear describes–very well–a comet strike on Mars.)
Presumably Bear will answer at least most of these questions in the following books. (The only major question he answers arises in the latter part of War Dogs, and mentioning it would constitute a major spoiler, so I won’t.) But even for a series opener that’s supposed to be open ended, War Dogs is unsatisfying.
Recommended only for hardcore Bear fans.
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Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia.